By Akanimo Sampson
Several brick-and-mortar businesses in Senegal are moving online to continue operating as the coronavirus pandemic rages.
The government is facilitating this transition and the delivery of essential supplies by fast-tracking the implementation of e-commerce policies and reforms.
The country’s trade ministry has created an e-commerce platform that provides easy access to websites of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that sell essential goods.
The platform facilitates the distribution of necessary food, hygiene and health products, federates the SMEs and encourages more traditional businesses to go online.
Senegalese Trade Minister, Assome Aminata Diatta, says “we want to ensure people have access to the things they need to ride out this crisis. We are also developing an ecosystem favourable to e-commerce and local production.”
For the Director of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Technology and Logistics Division, Shamika N. Sirimanne, “we commend the Senegalese government for taking steps that are helping pave the way for the country’s digital transition.”
The e-commerce platform created by the Senegalese government has attracted a wide range of operators.
So far, about 60 businesses have either joined or shown an interest in joining the platform. They range from firms providing e-commerce, logistics and payment solutions to those helping entrepreneurs set up e-commerce operations.
Chief Executive Officer of Gainde2000, the company that helped create the platform, Ibrahima Diagne, says “we’d like to help businesses reach consumers in all the major urban centres, especially beyond Dakar, where current e-commerce services are concentrated.”
The platform now serves as an information portal with contact details of various e-commerce operators, but it’s aimed at pooling and optimizing goods distribution by creating a national consortium of e-commerce operators, open to all producers and merchants.
“For this to happen, businesses have to move from a purely competitive mindset to a cooperative one. They should be willing to share a common marketplace infrastructure that benefits the whole e-commerce ecosystem”, Diagne adds.
Besides the e-commerce platform, the trade ministry has launched a second platform to support its market monitoring activities through online mapping of available stocks of essential foodstuff across the country.
UNCTAD’s eTrade readiness assessment of Senegal conducted in 2018 recommended, among other measures, getting e-commerce businesses actively engaged in a public-private dialogue, especially in the development of national and regional e-commerce strategies.
In response, the Senegalese government launched a national e-commerce development strategy in December 2019, supported by the Enhanced Integrated Framework.
It also created the National Council for Digitalization, which guided the development of the strategy in collaboration with an e-commerce working group that handles the country’s participation at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The work enhanced policy coordination.
The government’s implementation of other recommendations of the assessment has resulted in improved Internet connectivity and affordability, thanks to reforms and more open markets, as well as private investments by telecom operators and internet service providers.
Further, Senegal is revising its legal framework and has drafted a personal data protection bill for parliamentary review. It’s also rolling out new e-government initiatives such as Smart Senegal, a quest to use digital technology to enhance socio-economic development.
The use of mobile money services has boomed and fintech firms are actively promoting new solutions that aggregate different e-payment platforms.
However, more needs to be done to enhance the interoperability of different platforms, particularly between banking and mobile money operators.
The government is also supporting information, communication and technology (ICT) and business process outsourcing firms to become export-ready and access export markets for services.
It’s doing so through the implementation of an ad-hoc strategy, assisted by the International Trade Centre and funded by the Netherlands.
In addition, digital startups are thriving and are slated to benefit from a tax exemption scheme introduced by a new law, which entered into force in January.
UNCTAD is supporting the Senegalese government to build on its achievements and strengthen the country’s e-commerce development agenda.
It’s mobilising a wide range of development partners, particularly eTrade for all partners, to spearhead the implementation of the national e-commerce development strategy and other recommendations of the assessment conducted in 2018.
They include updating and improving ICT and e-commerce data on users and transactions to enhance the government’s capacity in designing evidence-based policies affecting the sector.
Other priority steps are establishing full interoperability of e-payment solutions and rolling out a massive sensitisation and a communication campaign on the benefits and risks associated with e-commerce.
UNCTAD will continue to support the development of the Senegalese e-commerce sector and digital economy, a critical lever for economic growth and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.