With the tenth BRICS Summit in Johannesburg concluding with some bold decisions and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation scheduled for September in Beijing, it is an opportune moment to reflect on the development trajectories of African countries and China and to evaluate the Technological perspectives and new innovations are valid for the kind of economic transformation that Africa seeks to achieve.
Africa still faces countless development challenges, some old, some relatively new. As new challenges constantly arise, they can seem overwhelming. Under these conditions, it is essential that the key actors in the continent, particularly in the economic sphere, thoroughly evaluate the set of tools at their disposal that will allow them not only to promote the economic transformation of Africa, but also to help all African countries. . to realize their development aspirations at a faster pace than before, but causing less damage to the environment. Electronic commerce is a key pillar here.
It is often cited that one of the reasons why China has managed to develop at the rate it has is that, during its industrialization process, it had the types of technologies that allowed it to overcome many of the obstacles that many of the economies who industrialized before facing each other. As Africa's largest trading partner, China has an important role to play in supporting African economies in this endeavor, because e-commerce companies such as Alibaba have a vital role to play in facilitating Africa's economic growth and expansion. For example, they can expand access between the two markets and make their exchanges more effective.
So, where is e-commerce currently in Africa and what role could it play in the future? E-commerce in Africa is experiencing a rapid rebound both in terms of sales of goods to African consumers and sales of African producers and traders. For example, Alibaba.com saw an increase in the transaction value in Africa of 188 percent and 389.9 percent in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Most of this growth has been in the "core economies" of Africa, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco, as well as in markets such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan and Algeria.
While this growth is relatively small base, its pace is indicative of the fact that conditions are conducive to explosive growth in e-commerce in Africa. The high penetration of mobile telephony, the growing penetration of the internet – which currently stands at around 35 percent – and the fact that almost 300 million Africans have mobile wallets, eclipsing the number of Africans with bank accounts, means that the The need for traditional commercial infrastructure can be avoided.
Achieving this would require players like Alibaba to have already established a strong position in the African e-commerce market, with 4.2 million consumers making purchases through its AliExpress retail portal in 2017, to develop solutions that fit to the African context and to the consumer.
In addition to helping Africa's growing middle class to bypass traditional, often more expensive, retail channels, e-commerce platforms are also allowing African producers to reduce many of the barriers to accessing markets throughout the world. world. This is crucial for Africa, as it seeks to embark on a path towards industrialization at a time when other regions already have a broad reach and presence in world markets. Electronic commerce acts as a leveler for emerging African producers and industrialists seeking to find foreign markets.
As high-level key meetings take place between China and Africa, the importance of electronic commerce fostering cooperation towards meeting the development goals of the continent should be considered, especially given the ability of electronic commerce to accelerate certain elements of the process of economic expansion.
The author is a visiting researcher at Peking University.