Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Digital Inclusion

Mobile tech helps drive e-commerce in Central Africa

Article Image
Mobile technology has emerged as a key driver of e-commerce across Africa, and a new report says it has the potential to generate significant social and economic benefits, particularly in the Central African region.

The new report from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA is calling on the governments of Central African nations to adopt policies which are more conducive to e-commerce, including better access to digital services and more public-private collaboration.

In a report titled "Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications," the authors warn that the 11 countries in question are falling behind their peers.

The report said that e-commerce activities globally have been boosted by rising mobile Internet and smartphone adoption, as well as the ease and convenience that mobile devices bring to the process of online shopping. From around two-thirds of e-commerce retail sales today, mobile is forecast to account for more than 73% by 2022.

E-commerce is also growing quickly in Central Africa and mobile connectivity and payments are key to gaining momentum. By the end of 2020, there were 16 live mobile money services in ECCAS serving nearly 50 million registered accounts.

"Central Africa is budding with economic potential and e-commerce can accelerate that growth," said Angela Wamola, the GSMA's head of Sub-Saharan Africa.

"The GSMA is proud to partner with the ECA on this report bringing our knowledge of how digital technologies can propel sustainable development to the work. We hope it will inspire action from policymakers and stakeholders in the region," she said.

The report also found that women and young entrepreneurs in particular are increasingly using e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, reducing inequalities and helping local value creation.

ECCAS expands digitally

The digital economy in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) is expanding rapidly, driven by the strong adoption of mobile services.

ECCAS is made up of the nations of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Overall mobile subscriber penetration in the sub-region grew from just 18% at the start of the last decade to 42% by the end of 2019, the authors say. Meanwhile, the number of mobile Internet users had reached 46 million by the same date.

"This trend is facilitating the creation and consumption of new digital services, which are transforming the way people communicate, live and work," the report said.

E-commerce is a key component of the digital economy, allowing buyers and sellers to interact and transact online regardless of time and location.

Several e-commerce providers have emerged across the sub-region in recent years, serving both the domestic and global markets. Jumia, is an example of this and is Africa's largest e-commerce company with operations in 11 countries across the continent.

Mobile platforms dominate customer visits for retailers in Africa. For example, for Jumia Nigeria in 2019 mobile devices accounted for 85% of customer visits. In contrast, only a quarter of total e-commerce sales in the US were completed over mobile devices in 2019.

Social commerce is also gaining momentum in ECCAS, boosting uptake of social media services and lowering barriers to entry for small businesses.

The report said that Facebook is by far the most popular social media service in ECCAS with a total user base of 14 million as of January 2021. It has become the preferred platform for many e-commerce entrepreneurs across the region.

Central challenges

Despite this progress, all 11 countries in Central Africa are falling behind when compared to their peers. In ECCAS, retail services are still predominantly traditional and informal.

"The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that around 90% of transactions across Sub-Saharan Africa occur through informal channels. This is partly because of entrenched consumer attitudes and shopping behaviours. However, there is growing momentum towards modern and more formal channels, with e-commerce playing an increasingly important role in the evolving retail landscape," the report said.

The report's authors believe the region can progress quickly if governments enact policies to accelerate digital and e-commerce services. These include enhancing digital and financial inclusion, taking the right approach to data regulation, addressing key challenges in the business environment, and leveraging stakeholder collaboration.

"Mobile network operators must play a critical role to accelerate digital inclusion, economic diversification and sustainable development," said Antonio Pedro, director of ECA's sub-regional office for Central Africa.

"If governments act now, Central Africa can be more competitive and collaborative for the benefit and inclusion of all citizens."

*Top image source: GSMA report Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


SA startup Sendoff is digitizing funerals

South African startup Sendoff is a full-service funeral app that is digitizing the way funerals are organized.


SA's Homemation wants smart homes to be seamless

Through its Control4 operating system, South Africa's Homemation highlights that operating smart homes should be a seamless experience.

More Innovation hub

Partner perspectives

5G is lighting up the future of North Africa
By Chris Meng, VP of Huawei Northern Africa Carrier Business Department

The moving target that is telecoms fraud
By Clémentine Fournier, Regional VP Sales, Africa, BICS

How mobile operators in Africa can address signalling threats and secure the network
By Katia Gonzalez, Head of Fraud and Security at BICS

All Partner Perspectives

Latest video

More videos

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: June 2022

By Omdia Analysts

5G was the major news trend across Africa in June, as Orange became the first operator to launch 5G in Réunion and operators in Senegal accelerated their 5G plans despite spectrum delays.


Omdia View: May 2022

By Omdia Analysts

SpaceX-owned Starlink's plans to launch a satellite broadband service in Africa was a major highlight in May 2022, says Omdia's analysts.

More Guest Perspectives

Upcoming events

Africa Tech Festival
November 7-11, 2022
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Flash poll

All polls

Archived webinars

Africa Green ICT: Lighting Up a Sustainable Continent

The ICT industry is the leading industry in the commitment to carbon neutrality, whose focus has shifted from setting ambitious targets to taking initiatives. The push for zero-carbon and for green energy development, it isn't just about CSR – it's also good for sustainable business.

The path to sustainable development requires green energy. Governments are looking at potential policy approaches to make green energy more widely available and affordable. Without sustainable energy, there will be no digital transformation and no chance of making Africa more economically competitive in the post-pandemic era.

Africa Green ICT Webinar 2022 will bring together ICT industry leaders and senior industrial analysts to provide insight, best practices and key learnings on how to achieve zero-carbon targets and practice green development in Africa.

More Webinars

Sponsored video

More videos

AfricaCom perspectives


Digital inclusion as a catalyst for economic empowerment: Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu

Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu talks to Connecting Africa about how digital payment solutions and mobile money are transforming the lives of small business owners, women and marginalized groups in East Africa.


Accelerating women in STEM: In conversation with GirlCode's Tinyiko Simbine

GirlCode co-founder and CFO Tinyiko Simbine talks about why it's important to help girls and young women excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.


How Poa Internet is unlocking meaningful connectivity in East Africa

Poa Internet's CEO Andy Halsall shares his views on what it takes to develop last-mile connectivity and get Africans online in a meaningful way.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up