New strategy set to boost e-commerce in West Africa

11 July 2023

With support from UNCTAD, the Economic Community of West African States has developed a regional e-commerce strategy to diversify economies and create jobs.

The ECOWAS strategy aims to include digitally vulnerable groups such as women, youth, people with disabilities and informal cross-border traders in e-commerce.
Default image copyright and description

© Shutterstock/ Wazzkii | The ECOWAS strategy aims to include digitally vulnerable groups such as women, youth, people with disabilities and informal cross-border traders in e-commerce.

The Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) endorsed a regional e-commerce strategy for the organization’s 15 member nations on 7 July.

The strategy will boost e-commerce in West Africa through specific measures responding to the needs of ECOWAS, identified by UNCTAD’s recent eTrade readiness assessment for the region.

“The newly endorsed strategy is the beginning of a transformative journey, aimed at bridging the regional digital divide and boosting e-commerce development,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of technology and logistics at UNCTAD.

“It is a milestone that UNCTAD is proud to have supported, in the framework of our longstanding partnership with ECOWAS,” Ms. Sirimanne added.

Multistakeholder process

Developed through a multistakeholder and participatory process, the strategy aims at accelerating structural change and development, and fostering regional integration through economic diversification and job creation.

“ECOWAS is committed to increasing the adoption and use of e-commerce to promote the implementation of the ECOWAS Vision 2050 for an inclusive and sustainable development for the region,” said Massandjé Toure-Litse, commissioner for economic affairs and agriculture at the ECOWAS Commission.

“The e-commerce strategy will support the digital-driven structural transformation of the economies of Member States, and deepen regional trade integration,” the commissioner added.

Boosting economic resilience

ECOWAS member nations are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Togo.

Among them, 11 are least developed countries that are generally more vulnerable to external shocks. The new strategy seeks to mitigate such vulnerability and make the region’s economies more resilient to future crises.

The strategy will enable the ECOWAS Commission to better support trade ministries in the region and help member nations diversify their economies and leverage new economic and trade opportunities through e-commerce.

Building trust, providing better data

A secure environment is needed to reassure e-commerce users and further its adoption.

The strategy aims to build trust along the e-commerce supply chain through a harmonized and updated legal and regulatory framework, reliable digital payment methods, secure marketplaces or websites, and connecting e-commerce buyers and sellers with high-quality products through secured logistics and delivery services. 

It also aims to provide reliable data on e-commerce by establishing a regional e-commerce observatory and improving the capacity of ECOWAS member states to collect and analyse data.

This should eventually lead to better-informed, evidence-based policymaking in the region and targeted support from development partners.

Empowering the vulnerable

The strategy shines a spotlight on digitally vulnerable groups including women, the youth, people with disabilities and informal cross-border traders in e-commerce.

It will not only make e-commerce more accessible to these groups, but also actively involve them as entrepreneurs and leaders to help create more jobs.

“We have seen, through UNCTAD’s work with women entrepreneurs, that the approach of empowering vulnerable groups can be particularly successful and inspiring, with the potential to lead to a truly inclusive e-commerce environment,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

Joint efforts to implement strategy

To deliver on these ambitious goals, the ECOWAS e-commerce strategy is supported by rigorous governance and implementation frameworks. 

While the ECOWAS Commission will facilitate strategy implementation, its member states will lead implementation at national levels.

Civil society and private sector actors will also participate through an e-commerce community forum and expert groups.

“Robust coordination at both the national and regional levels will support the implementation by members states,” said Kolawole Sofola, acting director of trade at the ECOWAS Commission.

ECOWAS is the fourth African regional economic community to develop a collective e-commerce strategy. It follows the development of an e-commerce strategy by the African Union and comes ahead of the African Continental Free Trade Area’s digital trade protocol currently under negotiation.    

The work on the regional ECOWAS e-commerce strategy is supported by core donors of UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme – Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.