By Derrick Silimina
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging on, e-commerce is booming in Africa with the continent’s rapidly growing Internet users shopping more online.
Enhanced e-payment innovations and technical security solutions are also making it easier for consumers to use e-commerce platforms.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recently reported that the number of online shoppers in Africa had surged annually by 18 percent since 2014. Rapid Internet penetration through smartphones over the past decade has hugely contributed to the growth of Africa’s e-commerce.
In Nigeria, 81 percent of consumers are shopping more online, while Kenya and Ghana have registered 79 percent of consumers in online purchases. A Mastercard study on consumer spending has revealed that 68 percent of South African consumers are shopping more online since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, show that the total value of e-commerce in Africa reached $16.5 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $29 billion by 2022.
Growing consumer base
In Zambia, local consumers equally appreciate the value of shopping online. “I usually make orders online for beauty products to stock my hair salon, and after the transaction, my products are delivered within a month through the local agent,” said Juliet Mutemwa, an enthusiastic e-commerce businessperson.
“My clients appreciate my services because from a short Internet search on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms, I can supply quality products to the satisfaction of my customers, and make 100-percent profit [margin], which is not possible if I was to travel abroad to buy the same commodities.”
Just like in other African countries, e-commerce is extending retail services in Zambia to small towns and rural areas, where there is limited availability of goods. Certainly, retailers are increasingly leveraging technology to drive sales and to better engage with customers.
John Nkole, an auto spare parts dealer who also shops on Alibaba, one of the leading online platforms for global wholesale trade, said online shopping is the future for entrepreneurs as it drives the wheel of global commerce with ease.
For this reason, the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone (ZCCZ), the China Commodities City Overseas Investment (CCCI) and the Belt and Road Joint Research Center (BRJRC) of the University of Zambia to create the Zambia-China Cross-Border E-Commerce Industrial Park.
The signing of the MoU came in the wake of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, and the launch of African Union Agenda 2063, projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as the initiatives of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Summit, which are all conducive to advancing trade relations and promoting e-commerce.
“The MoU will further facilitate the establishment of the Zambia-China cross-border e-commerce logistics platform to enable and ease the completion of product transactions and distribution of bonded goods from Zambia, China and the neighboring countries stored in the bonded depot,” said past ZDA Director General Mukula Makasa said during the virtual MoU signing ceremony in Lusaka on September 19.
Collaboration on e-commerce
Makasa said that the purpose of the MoU is to establish a framework of collaboration aimed at fostering trade relations between China and Zambia, adding that the areas of cooperation include, among others, the establishment of the China-Zambia Cross-Border E-Commerce Training Center.
He disclosed that the institutions involved hope to collaborate on sending staff from Zambia’s well-performing micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and outstanding college students to China for training, so that they can master the practical skills for e-commerce.
The former Director General stated that the collaboration will also help link products of Zambian MSMEs to international buyers through an online portal. Other areas of collaboration include the creation of a platform for the export of high-quality Zambian agricultural side-line products and industrial finished products to neighboring countries and the Chinese market.
Speaking at the same event after the virtual MoU signing ceremony, ZCCZ Chairman Oscar Liao stated that the Chinese economic precinct is composed of two zones with different functions, including Chambishi Multi-Facility Economic Zone (MFEZ) in Copperbelt Province and Lusaka East MFEZ in Lusaka Province.
“We firmly believe that the ZCCZ will continue to flourish in the new era of China- Africa cooperation,” Liao said. Liao revealed that as of June 2021, the total number of enterprises in ZCCZ had reached 77, with cumulative sales revenue of more than $22 billion and cumulative tax revenue of more than $800 million, driving local employment to nearly 10,000. CCCI African Region General Manager Jack Gao said his company, a leading enterprise in the field of trade and commerce in China, aims to serve the global small and medium enterprises, and build a shared trade service platform.
“The CCCI digital trade hub remains committed to facilitating import and export between Yiwu in China and hub-countries, providing one-stop service to help overseas MSMEs sell products in China and buy from China easily,” he said. BRJRC Co-Director Andy Liu Zhao said his center at the University of Zambia is the first specialized research institution on the Belt and Road Initiative in Zambia, jointly established by the University of Zambia and the Belt and Road Institute of Science and Technology of Zambia.
“The center will focus on cultivating human resources for cross-border e-commerce between China and Zambia, nurturing local Zambian influencers, and promoting the development of China-Zambia e-commerce industrial park in collaboration with others,” he noted.
Meanwhile, newly appointed Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Chipoka Mulenga, who recently described the ZDA as the engine of the Zambian economy during a familiarization tour of the agency, said,
“We are in dire need of new investments and increased exports for job and wealth creation. The government is in a hurry to bring development, create jobs, provide social amenities and elevate the living standards of all Zambians.”
In terms of exports, the Southern African country is developing a sweet alternative to its reliance on the volatile copper trade: a thriving international market in organic honey produced in the country’s northwestern forests.
From modest beginnings, Zambia’s honey sector has grown to producing approximately 2,500 tons per year and employing over 30,000 people as most of this production is exported, bringing in vital foreign exchange.
Under a honey export protocol reached between Zambia and China in 2018, many Zambian beekeepers and honey traders are accessing the lucrative Chinese market directly.
“There is a huge market potential in the Far East now for organic honey exports, not only to China but to the entire Asian market. E-commerce will definitely enhance and facilitate trade of our products,” said Aaron Kafuta, one of the local processors of raw organic honey and wax from bee farmers in the Miombo forests of the central Zambezian woodlands.