Botswana launches strategy to diversify economy through e-commerce

29 October 2021

Botswana gears up to diversify its economy by moving from mining minerals to mining knowledge.

Botswana IT technician
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Supplied by Botswana.

Botswana, a landlocked African nation, is betting on the knowledge economy as one of the key routes to diversifying from its dependence on minerals and agriculture.

In October it launched its new national e-commerce strategy, which puts e-commerce and the digital economy at forefront of efforts to ensure the flow of digitalized content and information, goods, services and data.

This, the nation believes, will support the growth of a knowledge-based economy.

“Botswana’s national e-commerce strategy is a milestone in the strengthening and diversification of Botswana’s economy and efforts to foster trade and the growth of our businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Mmusi Kgafela, Botswana’s minister of investment, trade and industry.

“The strategy is a very important component of Botswana’s current policy for driving post-COVID-19 recovery and transformation. Botswana stands to benefit considerably from it. I would like to commend UNCTAD for working with us in developing a strategy that is comprehensive yet user-friendly.”

The launch of the National ICT Policy Review and E-commerce Strategy for Botswana took place on 21 October at a virtual event attended by more than 185 participants (watch the event recording). Mr. Kgafela gave a keynote address.

E-commerce critical to high-income ambitions

At the event, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said e-commerce was essential to achieving Botswana’s high-income economy ambitions.

“While known primarily for its ability to serve as a new distribution channel with lower barriers of access to markets, e-commerce can play an important role in helping developing countries grow trade and industry, boost productive capacity and facilitate integration into global value and supply chains,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

The event was the culmination of UNCTAD’s technical assistance to Botswana at the request of its trade ministry.

The work was supported by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Trade Related Facility (TRF) funded by the European Union.

“The official launch of the strategy is one of the TRF success stories that can be told in the future, something it has helped to achieve,” said Jan Sadek, the European Union’s ambassador to Botswana.

The latest available estimates indicate that only under 5% of Botswana’s population engage in e-commerce activities.  However, preliminary data from e-commerce companies indicate strong growth in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overcoming challenges to e-commerce

The strategy seeks to leverage Botswana’s strengths while tackling the bottlenecks and challenges that impede the expansion of e-commerce in the country.

The diagnostic addressed how e-commerce offers countries with small populations, such as Botswana, opportunities to tap larger overseas markets and promote exports.

Ensuring that e-commerce contributes to inclusiveness is another key goal of the strategy.  The plan is based on five key strategic thrusts ranging from growing business and the private sector to growing Botswana’s knowledge economy.

Over 40 specific recommendations are included, addressing issues such as critical information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, empowering enterprises and adaptation of key industries to keep pace with the fourth industrial revolution. 

Towards development goals

The strategy aims to support Botswana to achieve its Vision 2036, the country’s 11th National Development Plan and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

For this UNCTAD and the Botswana trade ministry conducted a comprehensive diagnostic of the status of e-commerce in Botswana, making use of UNCTAD’s integrated framework methodology based on eight key pillar areas.

The pillars include ICT infrastructure and telecom services; payments and financial services; logistics and trade facilitation; legal and regulatory environment; electronic platforms; skills development; awareness-raising; and e-procurement.

The strategy is a product of an inclusive process involving broad stakeholder consultations at various stages to capture their concerns and aspirations. It leaned on UN inter-agency cooperation and partnership and established short, medium and long-term targets and policy recommendations for implementation.

The UNCTAD ICT Policy Review Programme conducts national assessments, develops strategies and provides policy advice to countries requesting assistance in building and maintaining a dynamic and responsive ICT policy environment.