Where To Set Up Your African E-Commerce Business

Where To Set Up Your African E-Commerce Business

Have you ever contemplated setting up an African E-commerce business?

I will never forget an article, which I read in 2012, titled ‘Want to become an Internet Billionaire? Move to Africa. The reason why this article is so meaningful to me is because it kicked off my curiosity about the new entrepreneurial wave in Africa when the whole ‘Africa Rising’ narrative received still little attention. Stumbling over this thought-provoking article has something to do with where I am today with africajumpstart.com.

You see, I had worked on the continent for over a decade as a Senior Program Officer in International Development, and still, I was completely struck by what I read. All I knew were slow loading servers that could make sending an e-mail a real headache and I would never have imagined that Africa is ready for E-commerce (nor was I really aware of the fact that Africa was indeed moving fast into a new entrepreneurial and economic era). 18 month later I launched my online Africa coaching and consulting site africajumpstart.com, and today I am working on my second E-commerce business with my business partner John-Paul, the co-author of my book ‘101 Ways to Make Money In Africa’, which we recently launched. We are hugely excited about our new e-commerce concept that we have been entertaining for some months now. We are ready, and I will tell you more about it once we strike some tiny gold nuggets with it. 

Running an E-Commerce business has great advantages – anywhere in the world. Firstly, it allows you to tap into a growing global trend, secondly and for me more importantly, it also allows for a great deal of personal flexibility and freedom. This is in particular true when you do not sell certain products that need local production or storage, but you sell information, you create market or networking platforms, or you sell the products and services of others. Some Africans have even become rich with building popular gossip and celebrity blogs, which they now run like a business.

A hotel booking site like Nigeria’s hotels.ng or jovago.com for example, the download of Nollywood films through iRoko TV, or a job site like jobberman.com are among the most successful online businesses on the continent without the need to store products and ship them from one house to another. You could still continue to run these businesses from anywhere in the world if you wanted to change your country of residence. And if a major security threat breaks out, your e-commerce business can continue to prosper across borders.

Frankly, I love this kind of e-commerce. Because it allows me to run my business from Frankfurt, London, Boston, Nairobi, or Gaborone….I can sit at the pool site of a hotel in DareSelaam running my company while my main audience is from the US, UK, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Germany (currently in that order).  It’s the sense of freedom, flexibility, and spontaneity that I love. And I made a conscious decision to pursue that alongside driving my other African passions, which are agriculture and women development.

What about you?

Today, I want to give you some insights into the best locations to set up an African E-Commerce business on the continent. The good news is that Internet speed has improved manifold in several African countries over the last two to three years.

Ok, so I did the leg work. According to Netindex, the highest broadband download speed on the continent can currently be found in

Madagascar        14.1 Mbps,

Seychelles           11.32 Mbps (stand of May 2014),

Namibia               9 Mbps.

Just for comparison, the global average is 22 Mbps , the US has 33.2 Mbps, the UK has 29.6, and Switzerland has a very high download speed of 42.9.

All three African locations may be good for the strategic set up of a regional office, the markets size in these countries however is small and not very dynamic in comparison to other African countries. 

According to Internetworldstats.com, the highest Internet penetration (top 10) in Africa can be found in:

Madagascar        74.7%

Mali                       72.1%

Malawi                 70.5%

Morocco              61.3%

Seychelles           54.8%

Egypt                     53.2%

South Africa        51.5%

Tunisia                  46.2%

Kenya                   47.3 %

Nigeria                  39.7%


Right, so below is my top 5 listing for Sub Sharan Africa E-commerce locations considering the following parameters

– Internet speed

– Level of Internet utilization (penetration)

– Local market size, positive dynamics, and consumer adaptation towards E-commerce

– Growing E-commerce trends


1. Nigeria


Nigeria is without a doubt a very exciting market for e-commerce, both as a basis for your start-up and a market you may want to target from elsewhere. Some of Africa’s most successful emerging E-Commerce businesses have started in Nigeria and expanded further from there across the continent. They include jumia.com, kaymu.com, and konga.com who have opened new stores across Africa. Nigeria has a huge population in a single market, there is a large segment with a high spending power, Internet penetration is high, and Nigerians are getting increasingly used to order online. According to a MasterCard survey (2014), 56% of respondents had shopped or intended to shop online via their mobile phones. In short, you can tap into a conducive e-Commerce environment. However, with 5.8 Mbps Nigeria has a slower download rate compared to power houses Kenya and South Africa, and the notorious traffic (if products need to be transported locally) and frequent electricity cuts can be your biggest challenge. Go solar if you are running most of your business operations in Nigeria.

2. Kenya

With 7.6 Mbps, Kenya is among the best locations for Internet speed in Africa, Internet penetration is high, and according to a MasterCard survey, 56% of respondents had shopped or intended to shop online via their mobile phones – this is as high as in Nigeria. E-commerce is really a growing trend in Kenya and several well-known online businesses have emerged from this East African country already. Kenya is a great market to start your online business or to target customers from afar. Some of its most favorite local e-commerce businesses include car auction site cheki.co.ke and bidorbuy.co.ke, where anyone can sell. Kenya is very often the next stop for Nigeria based e-commerce companies planning to expand.

3. South Africa

South Africa is another top market for E-Commerce in Africa. A significant segment of the population is ready to buy online (33%) although it is lower than that in Nigeria or Kenya. The trend is slightly different as more recently there is an increased interest in online ticket sales and special restaurant, travel, and event deals. One of the newly emerging local E-commerce companies that are hugely successful is Yuppiechef, an online company that sells premium kitchenware brand. Its founders have decided the company will make the effort to wrap products in beautiful packaging accompanied by a hand-written note. Some analysts in the industry say that this special attention to detail and care has contributed to the success of Yuppiechef, which is featured across various media channels as a success story.

4. Ghana

Ghana has the highest Internet speed in the West African region, and although Internet penetration is a little low at 20% there is certainly a growing local market for E-commerce, although it is less dynamic than in Africa’s three economic power houses. Ghana is a great strategic HQ location for regional expansion including into Nigeria and Ivory Coast, which is a dynamically upcoming market with a fast growing upper class who has significant spending power. Just make sure you have French translation options featured on your site.

In September 2013, Ghana’s first ever E-commerce Expo opened, which is another sign for a strong market trend; perfect timing to position yourself. Here is another tip: It may help to be aware that record numbers of African Diasporans from the United States are looking at Ghana, both to relocate to or to create links with. This is a development you can pro-actively integrate in your business sales and marketing strategy. Ghanaian entrepreneur Catherine Hagan has just done that: Her new company Makowla, is an eBay marketplace for African and Africa-inspired designers and her main clientele sits in the US.

5. Tanzania

This is a bit of an interesting one and not the most obvious choice, but I decided to include Tanzania, as more news has come out of the country in the last couple of months regarding the fast growing trend in e-commerce. In November 2014, following its recent successful launches in Cameroon and Uganda (another upcoming e-commerce market by the way), Africa’s leading online retailer JUMIA has opened shop in Tanzania. During a recent survey in Dare-salaam most respondents who used online services said they had a positive experience and will continue to shop online using mostly mobile devices.

And :  Diaspora

I need to add this one: If you are based outside of Africa and you cannot see yourself relocating now or in the future, running an Africa e-commerce business from abroad targeting African consumers and companies, will be one of your best bets. Just keep in mind that online and mobile payments are still restricted in many parts of Africa, it is therefore important to be very well aware of the niche you are targeting and which payments methods are accessible for them.

My list above is not complete, but it gives you some overview. Rwanda for example is successfully grooming new e-commerce entrepreneurs in its tech hub Klab – many of them are targeting the East African region. If you are planning to set up an online business in Northern Africa, Egypt and Morocco are your best markets both in terms of speed, penetration, and consumer adaptation.

Internet connectivity is continuing to improve and grow at a fast rate across the continent, increased number of online businesses are emerging, and African consumers will continue to make more purchases online. There are  still several challenges you will face when running an African e-commerce business, but if you choose the right country and the right niche, I believe now is the best time to tap into this emerging trend and to position yourself well before the wave takes off.

Now it’s your turn: What motivates you to start an Africa E-commerce business ? Please feel free to share any feedback with us in the comment section below.

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Dr. Harnet
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion is the Founder of africajumpstart.com and co-author of the book '101 Ways to Make Money in Africa'. She coaches individuals and consults existing companies assisting them to make smart and strategic business decisions in Africa’s new emerging markets faster and more confidently. Dr. Harnet also regularly writes for the renowned DHL powered publication howwemadeitinafrica.com. Get in touch to inquire how she can be of assistance to your own Africa business endeavors: harnet@africajumpstart.com

User Comments ( 6 )

  • I have been following your website info and blogs and I must say that I am amazed. WHERE DO YOU GET TIME AND SOURCE the information to write all this. Do you have a team that hand that? what does it cost you to get it all together.
    I am trying a start up on providing information to improve trade between Zambia and DRC but I am finding it challenging. On way of driving traffic was to write articles but I seem not to have enough resources to move from one point to another, let alone time as well as I have a full time job.

    What can be done about it? please advise.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Alain
      Thanks for your kind words and your question. I have started Africa Business Jumpstart as a business, so yes, several hours go into the research and writing up of my posts each week. I won’t lie, it is a lot of work, but as I also work as a consultant and coach the reading and keeping myself informed is also part of the job. I do all of it by myself – we are a one-woman show 🙂 But I have featured s few guest posts where marked as such.

      Getting traffic to your site is not easy, it can take several months or even a year or more of weekly blog writing. But then you have a rare niche with the Zambia-DRC trade, which will make it easier to shine through. But if you have not much time, I can suggest the following: write guest posts for other sites that have more traffic and ask them to publish and link back to your site, Or, if researching and writing is not your forte and you have little time, you can aggregate existing web news and articles relevant to your niche on your site. Set up google alerts to find such articles and then you just need to copy- paste them and ideally make a reference to the original source. This may be the best way froward for you.

      I hope this helps! And welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart!

      Best wishes

  • Sara

    Dear Dr Harnet, inspired and motivated by your blog and articles . we need to see more people especially women doing bisinesses in Africa. Am at its early stages Of working towards it:) keep shining and inspiring us. Thank you.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Sara
      Great to see that you feel inspired to start your own business. Welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart and I hope my blog will provide guidance to you!
      Best wishes!

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