COVID19 affected the trade in Africa but the fatal pandemic confirmed that e-commerce is urgently needed for business in the continent.
Press Writer on African Affairs
It was a lunch for a business forum in Khartoum. I was with a friend who was running a medium-size business in West Africa. We were at the best table viewing the confluence of the White and Blue Niles. Our discussion focused on the idea of joining an e-Trade network which is a new e-commerce platform for Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa. I suggested would be better for us to join as early as possible. My view struck my friend as a good idea, he liked the place and looked around admiringly, “Even the billionaires in the lunch couldn’t get this table because they came too late.” he said
Again, I suggested to my friend to join the new e-commerce platform. “Why be in hurry? Is it going to be closed?” My friend said humorously. I said, “It definitely will remain open, but you are where the billionaires would normally be, at the best table, African SMEs should take every advantage of doing business online. This is the only way to compete with large firms or foreign businesses; join early and go online.”
After the COVID19 all things have changed dramatically but not against online business. In contrast, the fatal pandemic confirmed that e-commerce is urgently needed for Africa. Experts explained how the pandemic increased the e-commerce and e-services within African cities and local markets when people are not able to go for ordinary shopping. The sales offers and online marketing witnessed a big boom. African local SMEs started to hire technical assistants to help them reach their clients and customers. Although the total size of African trade and industries decreased during the pandemic, e-commerce has proven again it is highly recommended for the survival of trade and industry in Africa; especially for SMEs.
Ae-Trade Group, the first and the widest continental e-commerce platform provider is serving the continent’s markets and SMEs in partnership with African countries and the African Union. It is more than a platform, it is one of five groupings transforming Africa’s social-economic environment. According to A-eTrade, this digital transformation will happen only by enabling African countries, communities, people, and SMEs to leverage modern technology and to get online.
Things became clearer after I got closer to the founder of the group Mr. MuluAlem Syoum and I discovered that he loves Africa and he takes the best from the global human experience to the mother continent. He starts from the right advantage point – looking at the future not remaining stuck in criticizing the past and present difficulties. He is building on available success and achieving more by building on areas of failure – what a brilliant initiative! “We, in the Ae-trade Group feel that we are capable of building a business culture that would be truly successful in working with Africans especially the youth, to make Africa competitive in today’s rapidly changing world”, said MuluAlem Syoum, CEO Chairman of the Board of Ae-trade told me.
Mulualem speaks numbers and plans to achieve real goals with partners. He said at the event of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and A-eTrade partnership’s goal is to create 600,000 SMEs in 4 years with 22 million jobs, and 5 million SMEs in 15 years with 80 million jobs. “This is ambitious and achievable according to our robust program in partnership with the private and public sector across the continent. We welcome the solid partnership, which we are building with the ICD and the Islamic Development Bank Group in general,” he added.
The group could be the best and the most efficient development arm for the African Union to promote African SMEs in agriculture, industry, trade, and other local businesses of goods and services through regional and continental markets. In short, it fits well into the era of AfCFTA. The Group will start with bringing together partners from public and private sectors to develop projects that will deliver opportunities and the benefits of information and communication technologies into the hands of African entrepreneurs. This step is an injection of new lifeblood into the emerging e-commerce sector at a local level. One more step, A-eTrade as multi-stakeholder and clusters of African professionals’ groups, this “booming sector” will be united by the goal of establishing a continent-wide e-commerce platform and also implementing an e-empowerment program for Africa.
I was very excited and delighted to meet a friend from Eswatini named after the African kingdom also known as Swaziland. It was at Skylight Hotel, Ethiopian Ta’em Cultural Restaurant. Eswatini was the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Manqoba Khumalo spoke to me with an imbued African spirit on how to build our continent based on knowledge. He was clear on how to unify African great expectations in one African dream and how to integrate African markets into one common market. “AfCFTA is the top priority because the Intra Africa trade is less than 15%, e-commerce can boost Intra-Africa trade and give it a big push. Ae-Trade is focusing on SMEs and that is vital for creating jobs, the youth unemployment in Africa is 45%,” said Minister Manqoba Khumalo.
A-eTrade Group launched its first regional office for the Southern African region in the Kingdom of Eswatini followed by its Western African regional office in Conakry, Guinea. The event of A-eTrade at Skylight Hotel was addressed by the Prime Minister of Eswatini Ambrose Dlamini. Ethiopian former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and other African leaders, experts, and officials. The event shows the success of A-eTrade in real partnerships with both state and non-state actors.
The first milestone in A-eTrade partnerships was the Memorandum of Partnership signed in October 2018 with AUC represented by the Department of Trade and industry. Mr. Mulualem Syoum said at the event the goal is to expand markets for African goods and services by enabling digital transformation across Africa. “Our commitment is to focus on and support SMEs in Africa which have already shown their proficiency in using mobile phones to run and expand their businesses. We believe, our approach brings much more employment opportunities and efficiencies in both the public and the private sectors.”, he said.
The first Memorandum of Understanding and all others followed represent how A-eTrade defines itself as a multi-stakeholder operation for state and non-state actors and even Diaspora and individuals all can fit in one of these four categories of Members, shareholders, customers, and partners. Unquestionably, A-eTrade – AUC Memorandum is a part of Boosting Intra-Africa Trade BIAT using primarily, new information and communication technology.
During the 33rd AU Summit, the CEO of the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding and an Action Plan 2020- 2022 with the A-eTrade Group. ICD, the private sector arm of the Islamic Development Bank Group, was represented by the senior adviser to the CEO Ikbal Daredia while A-eTrade was represented by Mulualem Syoum.
In February 2020 A-eTrade signed in Addis Ababa a 20-billion US dollars financial agreement to advance e-commerce in Africa. The group signed several agreements with Islamic Development Bank Group, COMESA Business Council (CBC), and 30 African Leather and Leather Products companies.