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The development of e-commerce in West Africa

E-commerce, short for electronic commerce, refers to the buying and selling of goods and services over the internet. It encompasses a wide range of online transactions, from retail sites and online marketplaces to business-to-business trading. E-commerce allows customers to browse and purchase products or services at their convenience, often offering a seamless and secure payment process. Additionally, it provides businesses with a platform to reach a global audience, manage inventory, and streamline their sales operations, ultimately revolutionizing the way commerce is conducted in the digital age.

The development of e-commerce in a country is influenced by various factors, including market size, internet infrastructure, payment systems, regulations, logistics, consumer behavior, technological innovation, cultural factors, and the competitive landscape. These parameters collectively shape the environment for e-commerce and impact its growth within a specific country.

Due to these factors, e-commerce has rapidly advanced in countries with well-established digital environments, while progress has been slower in others. Fortunately, various measures are being implemented to enhance the development of this increasingly crucial sector in national economies.

UNCTAD'S and ECOWAS' joint effort to boost e-commerce in West Africa

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in collaboration with UNCTAD, has developed a regional e-commerce strategy with the aim of bolstering economies and fostering job creation in West Africa. The strategy, formulated based on the specific needs of ECOWAS identified in UNCTAD's recent eTrade readiness assessment for the region, is anticipated to propel e-commerce development and bridge the digital gap in the region.


Shamika N. Sirimanne, the director of technology and logistics at UNCTAD, expressed her optimism about the newly endorsed strategy, emphasizing its transformative potential in advancing regional digital integration and e-commerce growth. She highlighted the significance of UNCTAD's enduring partnership with ECOWAS in supporting this milestone initiative.


Crafted through an inclusive and collaborative process involving diverse stakeholders, the strategy is geared towards expediting structural transformation and economic expansion. It aims to promote regional integration by diversifying economies and creating employment opportunities.


Key features of the strategy include initiatives to instill trust in the e-commerce supply chain through the implementation of updated legal and regulatory frameworks, reliable digital payment methods, secure online marketplaces, and facilitating connections between e-commerce participants and high-quality products via secure logistics and delivery services. Moreover, it seeks to enhance the reliability of e-commerce data by establishing a regional e-commerce observatory and bolstering the data collection and analysis capabilities of ECOWAS member states. These efforts are designed to facilitate evidence-based policymaking and garner targeted support from development partners in the region.


A pivotal aspect of the strategy is its focus on addressing the digital vulnerabilities of specific groups, such as women, youth, individuals with disabilities, and informal cross-border traders in e-commerce. Beyond enhancing e-commerce accessibility for these groups, the strategy aims to actively involve them as entrepreneurs and leaders, thereby contributing to the creation of more job opportunities.


The ECOWAS e-commerce strategy is reinforced by robust governance and implementation frameworks. While the ECOWAS Commission will be tasked with overseeing the strategy's implementation, member states will play a pivotal role in driving implementation at the national level. The engagement of civil society and private sector entities will be facilitated through an e-commerce community forum and expert groups, underscoring the inclusive nature of the strategy's execution.


“The Commission will continue to work with Member States to address some of the broader challenges hampering access, affordability and adoption of e-commerce in the region but this needs to be done in tandem with direct policy interventions to improve business conditions for existing and potential e-commerce merchants and build resilient businesses that deepen intra-regional trade” said Massandjé TOURE-LITSE, Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Agriculture at the ECOWAS Commission.

Overall, the ECOWAS regional e-commerce strategy stands as a significant step towards advancing e-commerce, fostering economic growth, and promoting inclusive development in West Africa. And while the institution's efforts definitely go in the right direction, there are other challenges to be addressed within each country concerned.

By Natou D.

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