Capacity-building needed to harmonize e-commerce legislation in the ECOWAS region

07 December 2015

An assessment of the state of e-commerce legislation in the Economic Community of West African States revealed that progress has been made in harmonizing legislation in the region but that more work is needed, especially in the areas of electronic signatures, consumer protection and taxation procedures.

The strong growth of electronic transactions within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has made harmonizing e-commerce legislation a priority for the region and its vision of creating a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive community built on good governance.

In 2013, ECOWAS asked UNCTAD to support it in its efforts to create a harmonized legal framework. In response to this request, UNCTAD trained 315 lawmakers from the region on the legal aspects of e-commerce. And it gathered 69 ECOWAS government representatives during 3 regional workshops in 2014 and 2015 to assess the state of e-commerce legislation in the region.

The results of the assessment were published on 30 November 2015 in the Review of E-Commerce Legislation Harmonization in the Economic Community of West African States.

The review looked at six specific areas of e-commerce legislation (see the table below) and found that almost all member countries had adopted legislation in at least one of the areas. But only two countries had done so for all six areas.

Of the six areas under review, electronic transactions and data protection and privacy showed the highest levels of adoption, with 53 and 40 per cent of countries having laws in these areas. On the other end of the spectrum were cybercrime and cyber security (27 per cent) and consumer protection online (33 per cent).

Table 1. Status of e-commerce laws in the ECOWAS Member States, 2015
ECOWAS e-commerce
          Source: UNCTAD, 2015

When asked about the challenges their countries face in adopting e-commerce legislation, the ECOWAS government representatives said that the major hurdle continued to be a lack of understanding of the legal issues related to the different areas. More than three-quarters said this was true for the legal issues related to privacy, more than two-thirds for those related to e-transactions and cybercrime, and over half for those related to consumer protection.

The review therefore called for more capacity-building initiatives for policymakers, legislators, the police, the judiciary and prosecutors. They should focus on the legal challenges posed by ICTs and e-commerce and the benefits of legislation.

The review also recommended creating and strengthening enforcement agencies, such as a national Computer Emergency Response Team, to manage and monitor electronic services, protect the processing of data and combat cyber offences. In addition, UNCTAD encouraged ECOWAS to establish regional enforcement agencies to reinforce the countries' efforts at the national level.


E-commerce laws of ECOWAS Member States can be found on the UNCTAD Global Cyberlaw Tracker.

Graph 1 - State of e-commerce laws in ECOWAS, 2015
ECOWAS e-commerce
UNCTAD-ECOWAS seminar on cyber-legislation, Dakar, 11-14 February, 2014
Participants sharing their experience and discussing the benefits of the seminar