Regional integration: a driver of growth for African digital SMEs?

10:45 am
 – 12:00 pm
eTrade for all

eTrade for Women Masterclass | Policy Dialogue

In this Policy Dialogue “Regional integration: a driver of growth for African digital SMEs?”, representatives from international institutions, policy-makers and top digital entrepreneurs from the region will present and confront their perspectives on ways to foster digital entrepreneurship while supporting Africa’s regional integration, for an inclusive and sustainable recovery.


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital transformation of the economy and the recent acceleration of e-commerce across the African continent could be a powerful force towards economic recovery and market integration. By nature, digital technologies provide solutions that allow to connect producers and consumers across physical borders. E-commerce can make it easier to sell goods and services faster and at a lower cost. Over recent years, a vibrant digital ecosystem has developed across Africa, taking advantage of such opportunities. Economies from East-Africa, in particular, have seen the emergence of small and medium sized digital businesses operating in different sectors, such as online marketplaces and platforms, digital payment solutions, or digital support services.

Yet, despite the potential of digital technologies to boost intra-African trade, doing business across borders in Africa remains difficult. According to the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business” survey, environments in Sub-Saharan Africa to export and import goods still lag behind, as compared to other regions of the world. UNCTAD eTrade Readiness Assessments also show that in spite of significant strides in African countries’ readiness to engage into e-commerce, some structural constraints continue to impede the emergence of an enabling environment to take better advantage of digitalization.  When consulted about engaging in intra-regional trade, digital entrepreneurs report facing several challenges, from poor connectivity and transport infrastructure, complex and costly compliance procedures, or a lack of harmonized payment system across countries.

Removing regulatory and logistical obstacles to cross-border trade and building a more conducive policy environment could unleash huge business opportunities and build better digital ecosystems.

Some of the questions that will be discussed

  • What are the key obstacles faced by digital MSMEs in the region to trade across African markets? How do these also apply to women-led digital businesses?
  • How can on-going regional integration processes, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), support the emergence of continent-wide opportunities for digital businesses?
  • What lessons can be derived from the COVID-19 pandemic insofar as it relates to e-commerce? And how has the pandemic impacted women digital entrepreneurs?
  • How can governments support the regional integration agenda while meeting the business needs of digital SMEs, including women-led ones?
  • How can the private sector help leverage the potential of regional integration for e-commerce and digital trade to generate positive spill-overs?
  • How may initiatives such as eTrade for Women contribute to raising the voices of women digital entrepreneurs in this broader context?


  • Ms. Clarisse Iribagiza, CEO and co-founder of HeHe, eTrade for Women Advocate for Eastern Africa
  • Ms. Ify Ogo, Regional Coordination Specialist on AfCFTA, UN Development Programme (UNDP)
  • Ms. Diane Sayinzoga, Head of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) & Export Facilitation, Rwanda Development Board
  • Ms. Mercy Wanjau, Ag. Director General, Communications Authority of Kenya
  • Ms. Nekesa Were, Director of Strategy, AfriLabs Foundation

Moderated by

  • Dr. Monica Kerrets-Makau, Academic Director for Africa, based at Thunderbird School of Global Management Center of Excellence, Nairobi, Kenya

The eTrade for Women Initiative

This Policy Dialogue is part of the second  eTrade for Women Masterclass for Eastern Africa: “Unlocking the power of digital entrepreneurship in uncertain times”, organized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The eTrade for Women initiative was launched by the United Nations in 2019 in partnership with eTrade for all. The initiative aims to empower women by combining the transformative power of female entrepreneurship with the positive impact of digital technologies.

More information about eTrade for Women is available at: