Gaborone – When 29 year old Christopher Benn first set up his e-commerce business, Skymart Botswana, there was no blue print on how to tackle the world of e-commerce, in Botswana. However, five years down the line the entrepreneur has succeeded in setting up a market based business that connects local sellers with buyers from all over the world.
The site now boasts, 120 sellers, selling over 4000 different products and receives between 2000- 3000 visitors daily.
Despite these business successes Benn is quick to point out the many challenges that come with running an e-commerce enterprise in the country. The first being the need to convince buyers that e-commerce is a safe way to shop.
This challenge was also reflected in the 2014 Botswana Household Access and Individual Use of Information & Communication Technologies Survey which showed that e-Commerce is still very small in Botswana.
Of the total population, only 4.6 percent of people in Botswana were found to use e-commerce. E-Commerce Purchases were mainly done with sellers in SADC, Europe and America. With 37.1% of purchases being made from sellers in the SADC region while 36% were from sellers in Europe and 20.5% from sellers in America and only 8.4% were from local sellers.
Benn also highlighted other challenges he currently experiences, which include unreliable internet connections and working in a business environment where e-commerce is not yet fully understood. He concluded that new legislature and policies are needed to cater for e-commerce entrepreneurs and consumers.
“We need new laws to cater for online merchants. If you just look at the current business licensing procedures in the country, they are not relevant to online businesses. Right now to operate a business legally you need a trading license from the city council, and they require you to have premises. This is not relevant for us because we are online we are not trading on the street like other businesses with physical premises. So there should be a new license for online merchants,” he said.
He further added that they also need more laws to protect sellers. As currently “the Department of Consumer Affairs focuses on protecting consumers but they do not have laws in place to protect the seller and market-place from fraudulent transactions.”
Luckily for Benn and other e-commerce entrepreneurs the Botswana Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry has also taken note of the many challenges that come with e-commerce, and plan on developing a national e-commerce strategy.
The facility was set up to provide financial and technical support to SADC member states to assist them to implement their commitments under the SADC Protocol on Trade and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and the SADC EPA group.
The TRF consists of two windows of funding. The SADC Protocol on Trade window where member states who have ratified the Protocol on Trade can access up to 1.4 million Euros, and the EPA window where member who have signed the SADC EPA can access up to 1.2 million Euros.
As a signatory of the SADC EPA and one of the states that has ratified the Protocol on Trade, Botswana has access to both windows (up to 2.6million Euros) under the TRF.
Mr Fudzai Pamacheche, the SADC Secretariat EPA expert, confirmed that the financing agreement for the project was signed by the SADC Secretariat and the Government of Botswana in July 2017 and Botswana has been granted 398 400 Euros to develop the strategy.
Pamacheche further explained that the project will include the development of the strategy and the accompanying legal framework, and will help to make online transactions more widely acceptable.
He added that with most transactions now happening online this is a key project that will help to facilitate the trading process and directly benefit the citizens of Botswana.
“E-commerce is looking at building platforms that allow individuals to do online transactions and currently most people are making money transfers online, using their phones. So in essence individuals would actually benefit as Botswana does not have clear cut policies on e-commerce and this project will allow the country to introduce key policies that will make electronic transactions more widely acceptable,” he said.