Hosting this year’s Africa eCommerce week will go down as one of Kenya’s proudest moments on matters trade. By hosting the Africa’s eCommerce forum last week, jointly with the European Union and Africa Union, Kenya has affirmed its leading role and influence in the continent’s growth and rubber-stamped its position as a fast emerging economic powerhouse in the continent.
Key striking feature of the forum is the effort to help unlock the potential of e-commerce in the region. The delegates will deliberate on electronic commerce e-commerce, especially how information and communications technologies could be harnessed for economic growth and sustainable development.
In recent years, Kenya’s participation in global e-commerce has grown steadily. The Kenya Business Review recent reports ranked Kenya second among the top seven countries experiencing fastest growth in technology and e-commerce in Africa. Senegal is on top of the list.
Emerging nations should take advantage of eCommerce. Kenya is shifting to e- commerce, with most of the Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) being run by young people. Therefore, young people in Kenya are key drivers for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development – UNCTAD’s “trade for all” initiative which promotes use of online tools to promote developing nations participation in global trade.
Studies affirm that youth are the power behind Kenya’s great influence in technology and eCommerce, not just now, but in the next decade. This is because Kenya’s youth exhibit the zeal, energies and creativity required to drive innovation.
With eCommerce, business activities and transactions are being conducted online and through social media platforms. The use of mobile internet and mobile banking has been a key driver of eCommerce in Kenya. This can be attributed to the fact that about 87 per cent of the Kenyan population that own mobile phones have access to mobile internet, a majority being young people.
A significant proportion of the Kenyan youth prefer self-employment, rather than being employed. This gives young people an edge in driving technology and eCommerce. Kenya thus needs to explore and exploit ways of applying technology to promote economic development especially among its youthful population. In particular, there is need to leverage technology in expanding the frontiers of business.
Kenyan government has to invest in training its youth in programmes that give them skills that would spur development in technology fields, and catalyse growth in different industries. The on-going education reforms should make innovation one of the key pillars. Similarly, technical and vocational colleges in the country should be revamped to provide competitive and beneficial technology programmes.
This will equip young people with the much-needed skills that the government and private sector industries require in order to operate and transact business on e-platforms. This will not only lower the cost of doing business, but also increase Kenya’s competitiveness.
Young people expect the government to move quickly to develop programmes that will strengthen innovation in the country. Supporting youth in developing technological solutions that drive eCommerce is one sure way of empowering “youth to create jobs for the youth”. To realise this, Kenya needs to exploit all its potential to finance innovation that will spur socio-economic development, and see the country tap into global eCommerce.
Most importantly, there is need to address issues of market access especially for young entrepreneurs in the country. The creation of new markets, and the ease of access to existing markets; through favourable policies that keep away cartels and bureaucracy would be a welcome move in growing Kenya’s participation in global eCommerce and cross-border trade.
It is now a foregone conclusion that youth represent creativity and talent that Kenya and other countries in Africa need to achieve socio-economic progress. With 80 percent of Kenya’s population being persons aged under 35, it is crucial that young people are prioritised in global trade and development agenda.
Most importantly and as Dr Kofi Annan once remarked, “a society that fails to tap on the creativity and energies of its young people will be left behind”. Kenya must not be left behind in this big scramble for the cake that is global eCommerce.
Raphael Obonyo author of Conversations about the youth in Kenya.