The rise of e-commerce platforms in Africa presents a unique opportunity for businesses to expand their market presence and tap into a wider consumer base across the continent. With the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), e-commerce has the potential to play a pivotal role in driving intra-African trade and fostering economic growth. However, several challenges hinder the full realisation of this potential. 

Unlocking Market Access and Overcoming Barriers

E-commerce platforms serve as a gateway for African businesses to transcend traditional market boundaries and reach consumers beyond their local markets. One of the key impacts of e-commerce on intra-African trade is the elimination of physical barriers and reduction of transaction costs. In the past, conducting trade across borders within Africa was often challenging and expensive due to logistical constraints. E-commerce has transformed this landscape by enabling businesses to connect with customers in different African countries without the need for physical presence or costly distribution networks. By eliminating these barriers, e-commerce enables small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access markets that were previously inaccessible.

Despite the advantages of e-commerce, online shopping engagement among Africans remains low, with only 30% of the population participating. In contrast to the substantial turnover of $1,100 billion in Asia, regional business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce transactions in Africa generated a modest $22 billion. Similarly, the value of digitally delivered services in Africa amounted to $30 billion, significantly below the impressive $790 billion in Asia. These figures underscore the substantial disparity in e-commerce activity and the untapped growth potential in the African market.

Challenges to E-commerce Development in Africa

The development of e-commerce in Africa faces obstacles, including limited internet penetration and access, hindering its full potential. With only 30% of the population accessing the internet, many are unable to benefit from online platforms and services. Reliable internet infrastructure is essential, especially in remote areas, where connectivity issues and slow speeds persist. Another barrier is the limited number of people with bank accounts or access to mobile money services, hindering secure and convenient online transactions. These challenges impede the growth of e-commerce in Africa. The absence of secure internet servers is another factor limiting e-commerce development. Online security is paramount for both businesses and consumers engaging in digital transactions. Without robust and secure internet servers, the risk of data breaches, identity theft, and other cyber threats increases, leading to concerns about privacy and trust in e-commerce platforms. Inclusively, unreliable postal services hinder the delivery of products and services in e-commerce transactions. The lack of a well-established and efficient postal system in some regions makes it difficult for businesses to ensure timely and secure delivery of goods to customers. 

Addressing Governance and Regulatory Issues

With AfCFTA, cooperation and collaboration between African countries can be initiated to address governance and regulatory issues that hinder intra-African digital trade. Consumer protection, authentication, data localisation, cross-border data flows, cybersecurity, and data protection are key areas that require attention. Active participation from governments, private sector entities, and relevant stakeholders is crucial in developing robust unified legal frameworks that protect consumers, promote trust, and ensure the secure flow of digital transactions.

Growth Potential and Investment

Africa experienced a remarkable 240.4% growth in e-commerce between 2014 and 2017, surpassing other regions! Venture capital funding for e-commerce enterprises has also increased, indicating growing investor interest in Africa’s e-commerce potential. As e-commerce markets in other regions begin to stabilise, Africa is poised to become a frontier growth market for e-commerce investment and development.

E-commerce marketplaces in Africa are currently concentrated in Southern Africa, North Africa, East Africa, and to a lesser extent, West Africa. Regardless, significant parts of the continent still have limited e-commerce activity due to lower population densities and underdeveloped e-commerce infrastructure. Opening more digital marketplaces and expanding broadband coverage are necessary steps to foster inclusivity and enable broader participation in continental e-commerce transactions. E-commerce has the potential to also foster inclusive trade by empowering traditionally marginalised groups, such as women and youth, and bridging the gap between rural and urban areas. With the right policies and infrastructure in place, e-commerce can create economic opportunities and enhance financial inclusion.

For women, e-commerce provides a level playing field, allowing them to overcome traditional barriers and establish successful businesses. Online platforms offer a wider customer base and enable women entrepreneurs to showcase their products or services, boosting their financial independence and contributing to gender equality in the business landscape.

Similarly, e-commerce opens doors for youth employment by providing avenues for entrepreneurship and digital skills development. Online marketplaces allow young innovators to launch startups and harness their creativity and contribute to economic growth. In rural and remote communities, e-commerce can bridge the gap in access to goods and services. By enabling online purchases and connections with essential services, individuals in these areas can improve their quality of life and economic prospects. SMEs also benefit from e-commerce as they can compete on a global scale, reaching larger markets and competing with larger corporations.

To fully leverage the potential of e-commerce in promoting inclusive trade, governments and stakeholders should focus on several key actions. First, investing in digital infrastructure and expanding broadband coverage is crucial to ensure wider access to e-commerce platforms, particularly in remote areas. Additionally, providing training programs and capacity-building initiatives to enhance digital literacy and entrepreneurship skills will empower individuals, especially women and youth, to participate effectively in the digital economy.


The growth of e-commerce in Africa presents immense opportunities for intra-African trade and economic development, particularly under the AfCFTA. However, overcoming challenges such as limited internet penetration, inadequate digital infrastructure, and governance issues is essential for unlocking the full potential of e-commerce. By fostering public-private partnerships, promoting regulatory sandboxes, and creating favourable investment environments, African countries can drive e-commerce growth, enhance market access, and promote inclusive economic development. 


Tami Koroye is a PhD Candidate at the University of Bradford, and a fellow at Ominira Initiative. 

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Tami Koroye

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