The post: An Essential Infrastructure for the Development of E-Commerce in Africa

Published on 1st February 2017

Pan African Postal Union (PAPU), as a specialized Agency of the African Union responsible for development of postal services in Africa, is 37 years old today and therefore ranks amongst the oldest specialized institutions on our continent. Since its inception on 18th January, 1980 by the then Organization of African Unity (OAU), we can say with certainty today that PAPU has steadily played its role (and grown from strength to strength!) in spearheading this key responsibility for all member states through coordination of development activities, as well as providing technical and strategic support for the postal sector in collaboration with our long-standing stakeholders, while safeguarding the interests of African posts on the international scene. I must add that it is currently the largest intergovernmental Restricted Union affiliated to the Universal Postal Union.

The postal fraternity is committed to further develop and put its extensive global network at the disposal of governments, customers, businesses and other stakeholders to spur growth and prosperity for the benefit of all citizens of the world. This resonates very well with the new vision for the postal sector, known as “Vision 2020” which is built on three pillars: Innovation, Integration and Inclusion, the now famous “3is”. Innovation is shared, promoted and driven – not as a luxury, but as a reality for all. Full integration of networks at the national, regional and global levels is a reality. The postal sector’s unique ability to foster the inclusion of populations, economic actors and territories is fully recognized and exploited by Governments, development partners and international organizations.

It is fully in sync with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, especially in the areas of integration, socioeconomic inclusion and trade facilitation. A perfect illustration of this was the workshop organized in Addis Abeba in December 2016 by the African Union Commission on the contribution of the post to the implementation of these two lofty agendas.

During the 2013-2016 cycle, in full realization of its enormous potential as an essential communication and trade facilitation infrastructure, and consequently an important catalyst for national development, Africa’s postal fraternity, alongside key stakeholders, notably, the African Union Commission and the UPU, has worked out an ambitious infrastructure development project, namely the electrification and connectivity project, to cover all post offices on the continent. This project was endorsed at the highest level of the African Union in January 2016 and is now set for implementation as one of the continent’s top priorities. The same holds true for the “Addressing and Post Codes” project financed and championed by the African Union in close consultation with the UPU and PAPU.

In fact, vital contacts have been made to ensure that leading global financiers participate in these projects that are aimed at providing high quality physical, electronic and financial solutions to Africa’s citizens regardless of their location. Our ultimate goal, more than ever, is to leverage on postal networks to foster the economic development of Africa’s rural populations and remote locations.

In a nutshell, the postal infrastructure has a solid track record of trust with customers which has been built and nurtured from time immemorial. It has an unparalleled grassroots reach that is well connected globally. It also takes pride in its versatile internally developed and tested financial services competence which has now been upgraded, automated and branded as International Financial System (IFS) to handle money transfers and online payments on a secure platform. The international postal system (IPS) has been developed as well to handle parcel post on both the domestic and international segments.

Consequently, notwithstanding the need for connectivity and addressing, which are definitely preconditions – but not ends in themselves – all this goes a long way to illustrate that the post is poised to increase its momentum for immediate takeoff and development of e-commerce in Africa, while playing its intrinsic and rightful role as a hub for an integrated three-dimensional network (physical, electronic and financial),operating under one roof. Leveraging on its extensive network of post offices with a solid presence in both urban and rural areas, Africa’s post is set to position itself in the e-commerce market as a linchpin on this fast-growing segment of the new economy.

In this regard, I am happy to announce that under the auspices of the UPU and as part of the quadrennial Regional Development Plan for Africa (RDPA) for the 2017-2020 period, we are currently working on a key project code-named Ecom@Africa, aimed at developing and implementing virtual platforms for e-commerce as well as “smart” storage and distribution systems in each of the five regions across Africa. God willing, this will be making the headlines very soon…

In conclusion, I would like to recognize the role the UPU and the leadership of the International Bureau in particular, as well as the African Union Commission continues to play in positioning Africa’s postal sector as a strategic player, with a view to helping the latter to tap into the emerging e-commerce business opportunities.

I have no doubt, therefore, that the postal family will ultimately live the dream of fostering inclusive social and economic development of Africa, while successfully growing its own business. As the saying goes: “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”

By Younouss Djibrine

PAPU Secretary General.

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