Bridges Africa met with Alioune Sarr, the Senegalese Minister for Trade, Consumer Affairs, the Informal Sector, and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, to discuss e-commerce and related policy priorities for Senegal and Africa.
Ecommerce is radically transforming the global economy On a practical level, what are the barriers that are still curbing its growth on the African continent and that need to be overcome?
Ecommerce is growing rapidly in almost all the world's regions. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD), global ecommerce sales reached US$25.3 trillion in 2015. In Africa, although forecasts for growth are positive, with a growth rate that should increase from 2.2 percent in 2013 to 2.5 percent in 2018, ecommerce is still dominated by a handful of countries, including Egypt (US$3.9 billion), Ethiopia (US$0.06 billion), Ghana (US$0.09 billion), and South Africa (US$1.2 billion).
The challenges with which African countries are faced in the context of ecommerce – and which hinder its development – are multifaceted. They are linked among others with infrastructure (including problems related to access to electricity, information technologies, and communication and logistics); the reliability of ecommerce platforms (implementing security measures for IT solutions and certifying these platforms); the low level of use of electronic payment methods (a penetration rate of banking services estimated at approximately 24.7 percent in African countries, low usage of credit cards due to the low purchasing power, underdeveloped financial system, prevalence of cash transactions, etc.); the nascent legal framework in this area (certain aspects of ecommerce are rarely taken into account by the legal framework, in particular when it comes to the protection of personal data and privacy as well as intellectual property and the fight against cybercrime); alignment with international legal instruments (lack of effectiveness when it comes to enforcing legal texts, etc); the lack of IT knowledge and skills related to ecommerce from companies as well as consumers (critical mass of human resources that is still insufficient, limited capability of R&D, etc); as well as the lack of national policies and strategies on ecommerce.
You have previously emphasised the fact that Senegal needs a “proper policy” on ecommerce. Is this already being developed? What are your government's objectives in this area?
Senegal has ecommerce sites (approximately 60) in various sectors, electronic payment methods (Paydunya, Orange money, Wari, Joni-Joni, Poste-cash, etc.), logistics and delivery services (Rapidos, Tiak-Tiak, Carrapide, etc.), and a legal and institutional framework for ecommerce. It therefore fulfils a large amount of the conditions necessary for the development of ecommerce, but does not have a policy on this topic with a clear vision, strategy, and action plan that combine all the dimensions or fields related to ecommerce.
The fourth pillar of the “Digital Senegal 2016-2025” strategy calls for the diffusion of digital tools and solutions in key economic sectors, including ecommerce. In this area, planned actions include updating the relevant legal framework, setting up interoperability conditions among electronic financial services platforms, launching a programme to promote electronic financial services, and launching a programme to support the creation of ecommerce sites with a focus on local products and offering the possibility of electronic payment.
In order to handle the ecommerce dimension of the implementation of the "Digital Senegal 2016-2025" strategy, my department has been working on designing a coherent policy for ecommerce. As a result, in addition to the existing institutional framework, a national consultative framework was set up on 26 January 2017 to create a synergy of actions. It brings together players from the public sector, the private sector, and civil society that are involved in ecommerce.
Furthermore, my department has submitted a project on designing a National Ecommerce Development Strategy to the Executive Secretariat of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF). This project, the implementation of which is planned for April 2018, will enable us to carry out an in-depth diagnosis of ecommerce in Senegal, identify clear actions to roll out in order to develop ecommerce on a national level, and leverage opportunities on an international level, while also building a statistical database.
Ecommerce is often presented as an area that is particularly promising for women's economic empowerment. In your opinion, how can this potential be best utilised to generate economic opportunities for African women, in particular Senegalese women?
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), only one third of all the companies in the world are run by women. Most of the companies run by women are micro and small-sized businesses with limited potential, in particular in developing and transition countries. According to the results of a survey conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in 2015, the rate of entrepreneurial activity among women in Senegal was 36.8 percent, compared to 40.5 percent for men.
Through the opportunities offered by ecommerce, combined with its rapid development, significant economic opportunities can be generated, in particular for women, by reducing transaction costs, simplifying the access of women (entrepreneurs, craftswomen, product manufacturers, and processors) to domestic and international markets, strengthening the efficiency and competitiveness of micro and small-sized enterprises, and removing constraints on supply capabilities for business-to-consumer trade, which does not need to send products in large quantities.
To help women benefit more from ecommerce, we need a strong political will to:
- Increase the training of women in the use of information and communication technologies,
- Prioritise development areas, in particular digital entrepreneurial projects by women,
- Increase women's access to digital economy resources and opportunities,
- Lower the gender digital divide