unctad.org | eWeek Opening Session - Coping with COVID-19 crisis in Africa: what role for trade and digital policies?
Statement by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
eWeek Opening Session - Coping with COVID-19 crisis in Africa: what role for trade and digital policies?
Virtual Meeting
27 Apr 2020


I bid you virtual welcome to UNCTAD’s eWeek 2020, which amidst the extra-ordinary constraints of physical distancing, this year is embracing digitalization even further with this new virtual concept of our annual multi-stakeholder eCommerce Week dialogue.

In just a few short months, the COVID19 pandemic and its unprecedented shockwaves have profoundly transformed the world economy, with many uncertainties and an overall grim outlook for their near future. But we’ve also witnessed striking signs of solidarity across continents, and especially commend efforts of healthcare professionals worldwide.

The United Nations system as a whole has been fully mobilized to protect people’s lives and their livelihoods and UNCTAD is an integral part of these effort supporting MS as they adjust to the fractured economic environment. These troubled times remind us of the importance of multilateral cooperation. These are times when the UN can and must play a central role.

The crisis today unfolds in a much more “digitalized” environment compared to the last economic and financial crisis that hit the world in 2008-09. Digital technologies have grown tremendously over the past 10 years and are being used as a critical tool in maintaining business and life continuity. Since the great recession a decade ago :

  • the number of smartphone users has increased from a few million to 3.2 billion;

  • the number of Internet users has surged from 1.6 billion to 4.1 billion;

  • the number of Facebook users has grown from 100 million to 2.4 billion;

  • the number of online shoppers has more than doubled and

  • the value of B2C e-commerce has surged from less than $1 trillion to more than $4 trillion

However, at the same time huge divides remain. Only one in five people in LDCs use the Internet, and in most developing countries well below 5% of the population currently buy goods or services online. Lack of Internet access at home also limits the possibilities for students to be connected if schools are closed down. Insufficient quality of broadband services is hampering the ability to use teleconferencing tools.

This year’s virtual eWeek offers a series of 15 webinars covering issues such as Trade Facilitation, Data Privacy and Cyber Security, Competition and Consumer Protection, but also Women empowerment; ePayments; Measurement issues, and regional perspectives on Africa, notably with today’s session and a session on e-commerce readiness in the ECOWAS region.

Allow me to express my warm gratitude to all the partners involved in making this eWeek as rich, diverse, and stimulating as possible. This eWeek is the result of the joint efforts of many stakeholders, including donors and member States. Several of the partners of the eTrade for all Initiative, which UNCTAD has had the privilege to coordinate over the past 4 years, have actively taken part in the preparation of the online sessions. The eTrade for all Initiative aims at offering developing countries the support they need to successfully engage into the digital economy by identifying financial and technical assistance opportunities available from the international community. The mobilization of the international community in favor of the digitalization of developing countries remains essential in these turbulent times.

I hope that the live sessions during the eWeek will further contribute good ideas and lessons on how we can best leverage digital technologies as we adapt to and try to overcome the crisis. This will require much attention to the health crisis, but also a lot of attention to the economic fallout and required responses at the national, regional and international level.


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