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DIGITAL COMMERCE

There’s a $700 billion opportunity for African countries over the next five years if they can close the gender gap of mobile phone ownership, according to GSMA, the mobile trade body. It bases that estimate on the commercial opportunity for mobile operators and the expected boost to GDP as more women get phones.

The smartphone is important for internet connections on the continent as we all know and they’ll become increasingly affordableas new entrants bring more affordable (< $50) smartphones and (~$20) “smart feature phones” to market.

In fact, GSMA has also estimated there will be 500 million mobile internet users in Africa by 2020 with up to 70% of mobile subscriptions to be internet-connected by 2030.

One of the big beneficiaries of these optimistic data points will be digital commerce, says a new report from consulting firm BFA, commissioned by Mastercard Foundation. The report defines digital commerce to include everything from e-commerce retail and sharing/gig economy to platform economy and digital trade. Digital commerce is still 1% of retail commerce in Africa, compared with 14% and above in countries like the United States and China.

But digital commerce could have a massive impact on African countries especially with their young and increasingly urban demographics. “Most African policymakers do not yet have a clear and comprehensive voice on the issues at stake or a national stance toward them,” cautions BFA. Egypt is the only African country with a national e-commerce policy.

The impact on African jobs could easily be an opportunity or a significant problem. As noted previously with so many African jobs in the informal sector (up to 85% says the International Labor Organization), there are not many formal African jobs to be disrupted by technology. BFA says there’ll be a new category of connected African workers with smartphones called iWorkers who’ll make up more than 10% of the labor force by 2030.

Governments shouldn’t wait around for these changes to happen but instead “test and learn” to improve and update policies for a changing world. It’s already happening, African micro-entrepreneurs are using platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook to do business even though the platforms weren’t originally designed to do so.

And consider that this is happening even though low trust and unfamiliarity are still huge issues in most African markets. Up to 85% of e-commerce transactions in Africa still being a payment-on-delivery.

This is why policymakers should work on improving the commercial environment and anticipate the needed policy changes needed to take advantage of a sector that could generate more than $500 billion a year by 2030.

— Yinka AdegokeQuartz Africa editor

STORIES FROM THIS WEEK

Zimbabwe has a new currency—again. The launch of the new RTGs dollar by the central bank hasn’t been widely welcomed by ordinary Zimbabweans or economists, writes Chris Muronzi in Harare. The failure of the Zimbabwean bond notes and a turmoil-ridden economy had made clear the conditions were not right for a new currency, according to central bank chief John Mangudya. He said that days before introducing the new currency.

Africans pay a hefty economic price to uphold their democracies. During election season in many African countries, politicking usually takes precedence over governance or the economy. But with major national projects on hold or abandoned, private businesses shuttering operations for weeks during election season and investors wary of possible violence, it all adds up to a high cost for some of the continent’s leading democracies.

How Brexit might have helped free Britain’s last African colony. The people and descendants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean have been protesting for many years about their expulsion from their homeland by the British government between 1967 to 1973. The UN’s International Court of Justice ruled in their favor and Olu Alake explains how this could have been all so different but for Brexit.

A Chinese state-owned shipping operator and a Dubai-backed firm are battling for ownership of a strategic African port. This year, a Chinese state-owned shipping firm and a Dubai-backed ports operator will face off in a Hong Kong court for control of Djibouti’s strategic Doraleh Container Terminal. Abdi Latif Dahir analyzes what this means for UAE-Djibouti relations, stability in the Horn of Africa, and the future of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Ethiopia’s original coffee brewing culture is ready to go global. Ethiopia may have introduced coffee to the world, but Africa’s largest producer has few local brands. Now, with a large diaspora introducing Ethiopian cuisine abroad, and consumers craving authenticity, entrepreneurs plan to expand in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. But as Lynsey Chutel reports from Addis Ababa, exporting the coffee culture may require some watering down.

The African pangolin’s future is bleak as illegal Chinese demand and local corruption drive up poaching. Unlike rhinos and elephants, pangolin poaching has not attracted high-level conservation efforts and law enforcement. But recent high profile seizures of pangolin scales in Nigeria and Cameroon have triggered concern and investigations into the wide scope of trafficking in the endangered mammal, finds Amindeh Blaise Atabong in Yaoundé.

CHART OF THE WEEK

What does president Buhari’s re-election mean for Nigeria’s economy? After winning a second term in office, Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari will again be tasked with reinvigorating Nigeria’s struggling economy. But analysts tell Yomi Kazeem that with Buhari expected to stick to economic policies from his first term, Nigeria’s economy will likely remain “stuck in a low-growth cycle.”

OTHER THINGS WE LIKED

How the West is complicit in the shadow rebellion in Chad. In early February, France revealed it had bombed Chadian rebels who had crossed from Libya to prevent a coup against president Idriss Deby. But as Ben Taub writes in The New Yorker, the situation underscores how Western states prioritize short-term solutions to the complex issues facing fragile African states.

Wole Soyinka in conversation with Henry Louis Gates Jr. In this conversation published in the New York Review of Books, the Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka and Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. discuss everything from race and Obama to Trump and Putin, the class divide in Nigeria and South Africa, and the burst of creativity by African women writers.

Chiwetel Ejiofor has an expansive view of Africa in his Netflix movie. British-Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut is “widely accessible” and treats the African characters and their story with dignity and respect, writes Hannah Giorgis who interviewed the Hollywood star for The Atlantic. The Netflix movie The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is based on a book by Malawian author William Kamkwamba.“I just always felt and recognized when I was reading the book that the struggles that they face aren’t created out of air,” says Ejiofor.

ICYMI

AFRINIC Fellowship. Persons representing small organizations, universities, and media outlets can apply to help improve their nation’s internet policy development at the meeting of the regional internet registry for Africa (Mar. 15)

The Nigeria Prize for Science. Both Nigerian and non-Nigerian scientists and researchers dealing with issues around climate change can apply for the annual prize which awards up to $100,000 (May 3). 

KEEP AN EYE ON

Algeria’s president files papers for a fifth term (Mar. 3). Amid a weeklong anti-government protest and internet cut-offs, the ailing 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to file formal papers for re-election ahead of the Apr. 18 presidential vote. 

US assistant secretary of state for African affairs visits Africa (Mar 4-22). Tibor Nagy will travel to Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo to promote strategic US economic, trade and security relations.

Africa Nouveau Festival (Mar. 8-10). The three-day music and arts festival brings together artists and curators from across Africa in Nairobi to celebrate and reimagine Africans and the world around them. 

*This brief was produced while listening to Anyina Boa by Master Bob Akwaboah & His Supreme Internationals (Ghana). [Bonus: 0. ’10 sec of Anyina Boa for the loop used in DJ Juls/Mr Eazi’s Teef Teef]

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, Zimbabwean RTGs dollars and Ethiopian coffee beans to africa@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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