E-commerce: DRC not in race despite ICT enthusiasm

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Kinshasa, DR Congo

The race for e-commerce supremacy in sub-Saharan Africa, currently spearheaded by Nigeria and South Africa, seems to be a no-contest and a no-go area for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) despite its recent ICT gains.

Lack of awareness and adequate policies, an ineffective post system and mistrust of consumers to shop online, as well as the non-existence of legal and regulatory frameworks in areas related to infrastructure and delivery of electronic services, appear to be the key roots of the problem.

First of all, the word e-commerce (commerce électronique in French) does not find a definition in DRC legislation, academic Jeff Kabisoso Muwowo argued in Fiscalité du Commerce Electronique en RDC, a working paper published in 2010.

Though the word internet is mentioned in the legislation, he pointed out that there was no legal text that ever referred to e-commerce in any telecommunication law in this mineral-rich nation.

For diaspora returnees who live in cashless societies, life is proving to be a nightmare.

“I’m having serious problems to re-adapt because everything here evolves around cash, no credit cards and local e-commerce sites are nowhere to be found,” George Masudi, who recently returned to his birthplace after more than 30 years abroad, lamented.

“What is e-commerce? I don’t know this word,” Mimi Okito, a flashy businesswoman operating in the Central Market of Kinshasa, said in reply to a Biztechafrica question.

“I heard about shopping online, but I don’t know how it works. I prefer dealing in cash because the internet is full of bad guys waiting to chop your money within seconds,” Okito said.

Security concerns remain an important impediment to e-commerce, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said.

“Honestly speaking, shopping online is an unknown culture to us. Cash is king in this country,” internet café manager John Mavitidi told Biztechafrica.

The lack of statistics to assess the current state of e-commerce in the DRC makes it difficult to understand the seriouness of the problem, technology analyst Jean-Albert Longange said.

In 2010, the internet and other e-commerce sales transactions averaged 13% of total turnover in countries for which data were available, OECD said.

E-commerce sales topped US$1 trillion worldwide for the first time in 2012, with the US still holding the largest share and China having the highest number of people – nearly 220 million – buying goods online in the world, according to a eMarketer study.


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