Rwanda man pays gas with credit card.

Rwanda steps up policy efforts to spur e-commerce growth

UNCTAD supports Rwanda to develop a strategy to ease digital trade and make progress towards leaving the group of least developed countries.

As a landlocked economy undergoing massive transformation, Rwanda is increasingly gaining international attention for its forward-looking digital policies.

Such policies, in part, aim at boosting the country’s emerging digital economy through a coordinated “whole-of-government” approach, and could be strengthened by a national e-commerce strategy as outlined in a report recently published by UNCTAD.

“E-commerce growth is a unique opportunity to open access to international and local markets for our small and medium-sized enterprises. It can help strengthen the private sector’s contribution to national growth,” says Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, Rwanda’s minister of trade and industry, in the report’s foreword.

The UNCTAD report outlines a five-year strategic plan to foster an enabling e-commerce environment in Rwanda, with detailed frameworks for governance, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

“The strategy would support e-commerce development and ease digital trade in Rwanda through actionable initiatives,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

These initiatives cover areas such as e-commerce platforms, data, entrepreneurship, innovation, financial services and digital payment solutions, as well as access to finance.

“It would further bolster Rwanda’s efforts to promote sustained and inclusive development through digitalization and e-commerce,” Ms. Sirimanne said. “It could also inspire other countries in the region.”

Lever to exit least developed country status

Rwanda, one of the most densely populated nations in sub-Saharan Africa, has made progress towards graduating from the UN’s category of least developed countries, where it has been since 1971.

For example, over the past decade, mobile phone ownership has steadily increased, reaching 78.1% of Rwandans in 2022.

With such a strategy, Rwanda will be better equipped to capitalize on e-commerce for the benefit of businesses and consumers, as well as optimize the delivery of government services.

The report is the result of a long-standing partnership between UNCTAD, the Rwandan government and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Germany’s development agency known as GIZ, the International Trade Centre and the UN Commission on International Trade Law also contributed to the strategy.

Helping women thrive in e-commerce

Another key aspect of the strategy is enabling more Rwandan women – particularly those living in rural areas – to benefit from the digital economy.

This would require reducing telecommunication costs, while making it more affordable for women to use and own devices such as smartphones and computers to ease e-commerce.

Other initiatives featured in the report aim to improve women’s digital skills and knowledge, as well as access to financial services to help grow their businesses.

These initiatives would further bolster existing programmes in support of Rwandan women’s participation in e-commerce.

These include UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative, under which Rwandan entrepreneur Clarisse Iribagiza served as one of UNCTAD’s first cohort of seven eTrade for Women advocates to inspire and support the next generation of women digital entrepreneurs in developing countries.

More broadly, UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme assists developing economies to enhance their readiness to engage in e-commerce in a beneficial manner and integrate into the global digital economy.

UNCTAD will hold its eWeek 2023 event from 4 to 8 December 2023, bringing together ministers, thought leaders, industry experts, civil society representatives and practitioners from around the world to explore the key trends, opportunities and challenges that will shape the future of the digital economy.

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