Electronic commerce (e-commerce) seems increasingly to be a
hot topic at ICT meetings I've been attending. It strikes me that
there is some confusion about objectives.
From one perspective, e-commerce is already feasible in Africa
wherever there is Internet access. Africans are free to use their
international credit cards (cards valid outside their issuing country)
to buy online whatever they wish from (primarily) American vendors.
Of course international credit cards are not presently issued in all
African countries, are they? I'd imagine they are available in South
Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Mauritius. I know they are issued
here in Kenya, which also has domestic credit cards, valid only in
I'm not a banker, but my understanding is that some kind of
clearing system is required, perhaps governed through the central
bank. In countries where this is not in place, the only people who
have international credit cards are those with bank accounts
All this raises the issue of access. Banks require certain levels of
annual income before they issue international cards, $12,000 or
higher in some places. And there are probably few products from
America of interest to those with low incomes, particularly once the
cost of shipping is added in.
So is the discussion of e-commerce really then principally about
Africans purchasing local or regional products? Sometimes at
meetings, the discussion seems to confuse this with ability to
purchase products from outside of Africa. What is the development
I've heard some discussions about various ways to address the
access problem, particularly for local purchases of local products:
With respect to the income requirement for obtaining a credit card,
perhaps income requirements are lower for domestic cards not
valid outside the issuing country. Prepaid cards, or debit cards,
may have no income requirements at all.
All presuppose a national system for verifying funds available at the
point of sale, which is in the present context the Web. This
requires a clearing system for issuing banks. I was shown a
printed copy of a Web story about a new clearing system in
Zimbabwe, based on a private business handling clearing in behalf
of banks. Is that working well? Does it work for domestic cards, if
those are available? Or only for international ones? I did not get
Not everyone has Web access. At a recent meeting I heard a
presentation by an NGO interested in offering telecenter services to
allow persons to purchase local products as well as products from
outside Africa via the Web. I wonder if telecenters might offer
financial services as well, receiving cash payments from customers
in return for placing orders over the Web for them with a telecenter
Few businesses in many parts of Africa seem to see a demand for
domestic online orders. Most of the attention seems to be focused
externally, e.g. domestic hotels offering bookings to international
travelers via the Web -- I can book a room at the Sheraton in
Kampala, or a car and driver from ExperTravel in Accra. Ethiopians
in America can order a sheep in Addis from Ethiogift for delivery to
friends there during high holidays, though presumably Ethiopians in
Addis will simply buy their sheep gifts directly.
To encourage local marketing to locals, some are proposing to use
a shopping mall kind of service, where a host offers businesses a
Web page and credit card service on which to market their goods.
Who should these hosts be? What's keeping them from doing
this? Why don't we see this now? There's lots of commercial off-
the-shelf software available to set up vending sites, but do potential
hosts of vending sites know this? Is the software too expensive?
What other factors need to be considered? What role should
donors play, if any, to support the development of e-commerce?
Or perhaps I should ask, what role should donors not play? 8*)
Jeff @ Nairobi
Tel +254 (2) 581473
Email [log in to unmask]
PO Box 30261