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The EU said it was committed to helping Africa build a single digital market so the continent could enjoy the transformative power of e-commerce, as is the case in like Europe. The EU said that assuring affordable broadband connectivity, improving digital literacy and skills, promoting digital entrepreneurship, and using digitalization would be an enabler of sustainable development by deploying e-government, e-commerce, e-health, e-education, and e-agriculture in Africa.

The European Union Digital Economy and Society Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, speaking at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s ( UNCTAD) E-Commerce Week, affirmed the EU’s commitment to helping Africa build a single digital market so the continent could enjoy the transformative power of e-commerce, as is the case in Europe.

The EU wants Africa to benefit from the experience and expertise garnered by Europe since “the digital revolution doesn’t stop at the borders of the EU,” she said. Gabriel stated that though digitalization accounts for only €250 million out of the €30 billion of official development assistance given by European institutions to African countries, the role of digitalization as a driver of development is significant.

Availability of government services online raises their quality; and access to mobile phones by young entrepreneurs equips them with tools to provide customized solutions to local problems, Gabriel argued. Guided by this conviction, the European Commission published details of its first strategy on digitalization for development – Digital 4 Development ( D4D) –in May 2017. The focus of the policy is to mainstream digitalization across development policy and promote the principles of the European digital single market in developing countries. Assuring affordable broadband connectivity, improving digital literacy and skills, promoting digital entrepreneurship, and using digitalization as an enabler of sustainable development by deploying e-government, e-commerce, e-health, e-education, and e-agriculture have been identified as the four main priority areas of D4D.

Gabriela expressed EU’s readiness to support its African partners in creating a Pan-African digital market, which would allow citizens and businesses fully to benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital revolution. Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy, ICT, and Tourism, confirms that such collaborative work is in currently in progress. “Since February 2018, we have been implementing in collaboration with the European Commission the launch of the policy and regulation initiative for digital Africa ( PRIDA), to foster universal, accessible and affordable broadband across the continent,” she said.

Abou-Zeid said PRIDA is a three-year project which promises to improve the quality of the internet and support continental integrating projects, including the Single African Air Transport Market, launched in January 2018 and the Continental Free Trade Area ( CFTA), launched on 21 March 2018 in Kigali. She said the African Union wants to ensure the new technologies foster inclusive growth while abating inequalities and reducing unemployment on the continent. “All technology can also result sometimes in joblessness, and we want to make sure this does not happen when we transform our economies,” she said.

“I think the beauty of e-commerce and of the internet is that it is a great equalizer,” Jérémy Doutte, co- CEO of Jumia, Nigeria’s leading online shopping mall. Doutte said that e-commerce affords allows entrepreneurs the luxury of starting their own shops without the stress and money that go into real estate and various permits and licenses. He urged the government representatives attending the UNCTAD’s E-Commerce Week to avoid making policies that dissuade small businesses from e-commerce. For instance, he said, the governments on the continent do not enforce the payment of value added tax on informal businesses when they are offline. But once they venture into e-commerce, they are forced to pay. He opined that such policies do not encourage small businesses to explore the advantages of e-commerce.