Africa needs to boost internet penetration as COVID-19 disrupts trade: UNECA

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Much still needs to be done for Africa to increase internet penetration as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the continent’s trade and socioeconomic condition, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said on Tuesday.

According to figures from the ECA, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa are the only countries where the share of internet shoppers exceeds 8 percent, while the trend is below 5 percent in “most other countries” in Africa.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we do business, and this should be an accelerator for digital transformation. Sectors like education, health, trade, food delivery, events and conferencing experienced unprecedented demand for technology,” an ECA statement quoted Mama Keita, director of ECA’s Eastern Africa region, as saying on Tuesday.

The ECA director made the statement during a virtual dialogue on how women digital entrepreneurs are contributing to Africa’s digital transformation on the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent figures from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) showed that only 28 percent of Africans used the internet in 2019, while online shoppers are relatively still few in the continent.

Experts attending the virtual dialogue also stressed that in the wake of COVID-19, there is an urgent need for African enterprises to digitalize and tap into enormous opportunities offered by e-commerce.

Noting the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, Keita also stressed that Africa’s projected GDP growth of 3.2 percent for 2020 is now expected to be a sharp contraction.

Keita further emphasized how COVID-19 crisis and containment measures have upended almost every aspect of life, affecting big and small enterprises, disrupting supply chains, causing the decline of export revenues and interrupting the tourism, transport and logistics sectors significantly.

The ECA director, however, noted that East Africa’s economic growth, although highly impacted too, is expected to remain the largest in Africa.

“COVID-19 pandemic should be used as a game-changer. It should serve as a wakeup call underscoring the urgency to turn Africa’s structural vulnerabilities into opportunities” she noted.

The ECA director also said that the overreliance on imports from the rest of the world of essential goods such as medical, pharmaceutical and food items, should be reduced considerably and gradually be replaced with local production.

The online dialogue event was organized by the United Nations and provided a platform for women founders of digital businesses from different African countries to reflect the dynamism and variety of the digital landscape in the region, it was noted.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent reached 736,288 while the number of deaths related to the pandemic rose to 15,418, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.
The Africa CDC said 391,898 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered across the continent.

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