Africa: where payments are unlocking digital commerce

In most African countries, payments start from an everyday resource: the mobile phone. Whether it’s at a mom-and-pop shop or a restaurant, paying for a streaming platform or a concert ticket, in a physical or online environment, transactions are done in a completely digital way regardless of internet connection.

A digital payment is made from a QR Code in Uganda. Picture: Wiza Jalakasi

Africa has a significant level of digital payment penetration, reaching about a third of the population across the continent and almost half in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is higher than in many major developing economies, including India, Mexico, and Indonesia, according to the latest numbers from the World Bank Global Findex. Much of this adoption is due to factors like Africa's pioneership in mobile money, growing internet access, high cell phone penetration, and a good dose of creativity and innovation a traditional characteristic of rising markets.


of Sub-Saharan Africa's population has already made a digital payment. This is higher than in some major economies, including India, Mexico, and Indonesia.

Cash started to become digitized in Africa even before the internet, through technology on SIM cards that allowed people to transfer and receive money using basic phones the genesis of mobile money. It was the first-ever account for many Africans, pushing financial inclusion in the continent in an affordable, accessible direction. These digital payments slowly expanded to P2P (person-to-person) transfers, remittances, and merchant payments, in a mobile-led revolution.

Meanwhile, access to more traditional financial services advanced, and bank transfers became widespread, instant, and mobile-friendly, especially in South Africa and Nigeria.

“You are able to leapfrog people from not having any financial services to using the phone to provide a lot of financial services,” said Ralph Mupita, CEO of Africa's largest mobile network operator, MTN, in a recent interview with Bloomberg.

It is now time for the next big leap in Africa: digital commerce.

Although payments are rather digitized, consumption isn't: only 11% of Africans are digital commerce users, per the World Bank. With mobile money and mobile internet more ubiquitous in the continent, it is not a lack of connectivity that explains why digital commerce in Africa has yet to ramp up. The issue consumers face is a lack of offerings and, more so, a lack of payment connection.

Young population to fuel digital market in Africa

The young, digital-savvy African consumer is keen on digital products and services. Many of them bypass the "sorry, this content is not available in your region" message by using VPN services to unlock streaming, gaming, and other digital subscriptions still unavailable on the continent. Sports fans also turn to VPN to watch rugby and major competitions like the World Cup – mostly on their smartphones.

It is not an easy process, though. Several websites and forums on the internet teach consumers from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and other African countries to use VPNs for streaming. For smartphone users, it is an even more complex process involving creating a new account and many switchings on and off.

Spotify's arrival in Nigeria, Kenya, and other African countries back in 2021 was received with a mix of celebration, relief, and humor by consumers. "Finally, I used VPN for too long," "long overdue," "bye-bye, VPN," and "but I've been using it for two years now" were some of the comments at the time.

A comment from a Spotify user in Nigeria, back in 2021, when the company announced its official arrival in the African country.

Jokes aside, global digital companies that launched their services across Africa are experiencing strong growth on the continent. Uber, the ride-hailing company, reached the milestone of 1 billion rides in Africa last year, including rides for its successful food delivery service Uber Eats. For Spotify, African and Asian markets already represent 30% of active users, being its fastest-growing region for user acquisition. The Barcelona-based Glovo, a delivery platform, has 30% of its geographical footprint in Africa, with operations in seven countries across East, West, and North Africa.

"This is a start; we plan to reach more countries on the continent," Netflix's sub-Saharan Africa policy director, Shola Sanni, said recently in a press conference. The streaming giant is investing in local content production to fight growing competition and entice more users to its platform.

Emerging markets like Africa offer higher growth rates, new users, and an untapped market opportunity for global companies, which are starting to keep an eye on the region and target African countries in their expansion plans. 

The continent has some of the fastest-growing rates worldwide. It is a region of 1.4 billion people, with about 60% of the population under the age of 25. The median age in Africa is 18 years old, compared to 38 in North America and 42 in Europe, per the UN. By 2030, Africa will have a potential market of over 1 billion adults — surpassing China and India

By 2030, Africa will have a potential market of over 1 billion adults – surpassing China and India.

18 years old

is the median age in Africa, versus 38 in North America and 42 in Europe.

Consumer expenditure is also rising across Africa. The continent-wide economy faced ups and downs in the last decade. Still, the region's GDP is expected to grow at a pace of 6% per year through 2027, per the IMF, with double-digit growth in major economies such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.

By 2030, 250 million Africans will join the consuming class, according to a McKinsey report. It is "a reminder of the potential embedded in Africa’s future consumption," stated the document.

The latest World Consumer Outlook raises a fresh perspective on Africa's economic potential: Over the next decade, the top five African countries (Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa) will add more in consumer spending than the top five in Europe (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Poland, and Russia). "This entails an opportunity for business to tap into new and expanding markets, benefiting those that can effectively understand and cater to the preferences and needs of African consumers," reads the report.

Over the next decade, the top five African countries (Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa) will add more in consumer spending than the top five in Europe, per the World Consumer Report.


is the projected CAGR for Sub-Saharan Africa's GDP through 2027, above the 5% worldwide average.

The opportunity is even higher for digital industries. African markets should record a double-digit growth over the next five years, from online retail to gaming, from cloud to digital ads — in most cases, considerably higher than the global average. 

Some digital industries, like podcasts, are rising as a platform for underrepresented groups; others are a perfect fit for the mobile-driven consumption habits of Africans, such as streaming and gaming.

While Africa still only accounts for a small share of the global digital market (between 0.5% and 4%), it will "continue to see growth thanks to improved mobile internet infrastructure, affordable access to the internet, and the growing number of smartphone users," as stated in the 2023 Newzoo Global Games Report.

Africa's digital market will continue to see growth thanks to improved mobile internet infrastructure, affordable access to the internet, and the growing number of smartphone users.

Growing internet access should boost the African digital market in the upcoming years. By 2030, the internet penetration in the region will reach an average of nearly 70%, according to Euromonitor — a considerable jump from 45% in 2023. Markets such as South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and Egypt are pushing the rates up, with over 75% of the population already connected to the internet. Internet speed is also getting faster: in 2022, seven African countries moved up over five positions in the Speedtest Global Index for internet download speeds.


of Africans will be connected to the internet by 2030. 

Most of the access revolution is due to mobile connectivity. Currently, 83% of the African population is covered by a mobile broadband network, according to GSMA. Affordability is still a barrier for many, but the cost of a smartphone and data has decreased by approximately half in Sub-Saharan Africa in the last five years. In Egypt, 50% said they have used their phones to buy online, while Nigeria and Kenya were at 41% and 40%, respectively, according to the latest GSMA report on Mobile Internet Connectivity.

"Africa’s young, underbanked population is increasingly using mobile phones to bridge gaps in services. That’s opened a lucrative and fast-growing space," reads a recent article from Bloomberg.

"Africa’s young, underbanked population is increasingly using mobile phones to bridge gaps in services. That’s opened a lucrative and fast-growing space," reads a recent article from Bloomberg.

With major tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, investing in the region, there is a growing belief that access to the internet can contribute to Africa's development. In parallel, economic growth will help to increase technology infrastructure and diminish the digital gap in the continent, contributing to fostering digital commerce.

"I really believe that technology can be a way for us to solve the continent’s problems with African solutions," said Mayowa Kuyoro, a McKinsey partner in Nigeria, in a recent interview

But the story isn't over once a digital service is officially available on the continent. This is when another potential blocker arises: payments.

A mobile money agent shop in Africa. Credit: Sebastian -

Africa: where payments are unlocking digital commerce

Payments are critical to unleashing the potential of this continental market, connecting digital players to a market of 1 billion people. One of the first questions that comes to the consumer's mind when a digital product or service enters a new market is, "How can I pay for this?"

"For Spotify to fully penetrate the Kenyan market, they should definitely consider Lipa [a BNPL payment option] or M-PESA [mobile money service] for the premium version," said a consumer when Spotify arrived in Kenya back in 2021. The streaming player currently offers a pay-as-you-go option for M-PESA, with no auto-renewal option.

The same happened to Uber: in 2023, the company introduced mobile money payments in Kenya, following "years of frustration from customers." "Previously, riders who wished to pay for trips via M-PESA had to request the driver’s M-PESA number and send the cab fare directly to them. While this method worked for some, it did not involve Uber, leaving it up to the driver to remit their commission to Uber," reports Tech Cabal.

In online forums, African consumers share advice on how to pay for Disney+, since "all methods" they tried "failed," or how to use PayPal for services that won't accept local payment methods.


of Africans own a credit card, according to the World Bank.

The frustration is justified: most payments in Africa are made in cash or with alternative payment methods since card penetration is as low as 3% region-wide, per the World Bank. In a continent of over 50 countries, preferences vary according to the region, in a hyper-fragmented market. Mobile money prevails in East Africa, while bank transfers have a higher share in Nigeria and South Africa. Digital wallets and cash-based platforms have some relevance in markets like Morocco and Egypt, but cash is still king in most parts of the continent.

"There is a high degree of fragmentation in the African payments space," comments Wiza Jalakasi, Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX. "This is why it's so hard for digital companies to get good coverage across the continent."

Among all 150+ mobile money services, 270+ wallets, and 500+ banks in Africa, few of them are actually integrated with digital commerce, providing local payment options for online purchases. "You can transfer money to another person, you can use mobile money as a bank account, but you can't use it to pay for a digital subscription or buy from most websites because the majority of merchants simply don't offer it yet," says Jalakasi.

For many years, this was a matter of market maturity. There needed to be more online consumers in Africa to justify the effort from fintechs, banks, and telcos to integrate with digital commerce players. At the time, the underlying challenge was giving every African access to a financial account and a payment method which is yet far from being exhausted.

Now, with over half of the African population owning an account coupled with rising internet connectivity, these digital payment methods are reaching a significant level of adoption. Merchant integrations like those made by Uber and Spotify in Kenya are justified and needed.

Digital payments are reaching a significant level of adoption in Africa, to the point that merchant integrations are justified and needed.

"There is an entirely new set of customers in Africa that companies should consider right now," says Jalakasi. From his perspective, in the next 3 to 5 years, more and more international platforms will accept native payments in African countries. "There is a huge opportunity lying in front of these companies. It's going to be a really big trend."

This process is already taking form. Merchant payments are making up a growing share of mobile money volume, which started purely as a P2P and cash-in/cash-out instrument. Fintechs specializing in business payments are surging across the region, while regulators and central banks develop infrastructure to support real-time digital payments for consumers and companies.

Finally, online merchants are starting to integrate with local payment methods.

"There is an entirely new set of customers in Africa that companies should consider right now."

Wiza Jalakasi

Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX

Young population to fuel digital market in Africa

Offering local payment methods can allow digital companies to access a larger addressable market in Africa while contributing to the development of Africa's online commerce itself.

From the consumer point of view, new payment integrations can contribute to lower prices, once money is accepted natively. Exchange rates, fees, and other charges can be reduced or cut, while demand rises as more consumers have access to digital commerce.

Expanding the reach of mobile money, electronic transfers, and other native payments to international commerce will also expand their scope and functionality: in addition to paying utility bills or making transfers, consumers can use their favorite local payment method for their online subscriptions or travel. When local payment methods get global exposure, they become more useful.

"Ultimately, money movement means economic movement. African countries can see payments happening in their local currency, which impacts the digital economy and the whole economy as well," says Jalakasi, from EBANX.

"Ultimately, money movement means economic movement. African countries can see payments happening in their local currency, which impacts the digital economy and the whole economy as well."

Wiza Jalakasi

Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX

For companies, a seamless payment experience can contribute to higher revenues and, in the case of Africa, scalability. Some mobile money services and fintech companies are present in several African countries, while cross-border commerce has been propelled by trade alliances across the continent.

As the fintech and banking ecosystem evolves, new and more sophisticated financial services, including credit, Buy Now Pay Later, and instant payments, will be built at scale and accessible for most Africans, driving online and offline consumption.

While this is still a very nascent movement, companies that jump on this opportunity will be earlycomers to a hyper-growth digital market that is poised to grow as fast as Southeast Asia and Latin America.

"The journey is just beginning, and this is an exciting opportunity," points out Jalakasi.

The big 3: how South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are pushing digital adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa

In a nutshell

  • South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are the digital powerhouses in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading in internet connectivity, population, consumer spending, and digital commerce.

  • Kenya is the homeland of mobile money, with 90% penetration and high adoption of digital payments. The country is at the forefront of innovation for mobile money, with features like virtual cards and soon-to-be recurring payments.

  • In South Africa, 78% of the population has access to the internet and 85% to an account. Bank transfers are the most popular payment method as online shopping takes off.

  • Finally, Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is a key market for digital companies, with 65% mobile penetration and a whopping 210 million consumer market.

The uptake: These three countries alone represent about half of the digital commerce in Africa and are untapped opportunities for global companies.

South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are the keystones of the digital economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. In a continent of over 50 countries, these "Big 3" nations are the leading economies of Southern, East, and West Africa respectively. With large populations and a significant GDP per capita, each nation is driving digital transformation in its own region, pushing smaller countries to adopt financial services and online commerce.

The Big 3 currently represent almost half of Africa's digital commerce. They have higher levels of digital finance, internet access, and online shopping than the rest of the continent. Their young, relatively well-educated, and tech-savvy populations are pushing digital products and services adoption, turning these nations into promising digital commerce markets.

"South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are already a huge digital market that global companies have often overlooked," says Wiza Jalakasi, Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX. "If you cover only these three countries, you have a huge addressable market, with good levels of online consumption and steady growth prospects."

But of course, each of these markets has its own cultural preferences, especially when it comes to payments.

"South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are a huge digital market often overlooked by global companies. They have good levels of online consumption and steady growth prospects." 

Wiza Jalakasi

Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX

South Africa, the digital powerhouse in Africa

South Africa, one of the continent's leading economies, gives a glimpse into the future by driving the adoption of digital products and services in Africa. Gaming, digital content, and Software as a Service (SaaS) are some of the verticals booming right now, yet few global companies have jumped on this opportunity. It's a ready-to-go market thanks to its internet connectivity, potential consumer spending, and payment availability.

The country has consistent levels of internet connectivity, with around 78% penetration in line with some high-income nations. Digital payment adoption is significantly ahead of the African average at 70% (versus 46% continent-wide). Despite slow growth and inflationary pressures in recent years, South Africa's economy is among the largest upper-middle-income markets on the continent, with a GDP per capita of around USD 6,500.

Digital commerce, however, is relatively restricted, at 47% penetration, per PCMI (Payments and Commerce Market Intelligence). Online shopping in South Africa is still limited to a small portion of the population, most with higher income and above-average education levels. Nevertheless, digital purchases reached almost USD 7 billion in 2022, according to PCMI making it the third-largest market in Africa and are expected to grow 16% annually through 2026.

That puts South Africa as a leading digital market on the continent and brings to light its exponential growth potential once more consumers embrace digital commerce.

Some industries are notably moving the needle on digital adoption in South Africa: gaming, social media, and SaaS. 

Gaming is benefiting from a high mobile penetration across Africa. The region is poised to be the fastest-growing global market in 2023, expanding by 7% more than twice the global average. South Africa is the second largest African market in revenue, with a large community of game developers and players, according to Newzoo.

“These initial numbers for gaming in Africa are promising, but the longer-term trends of population growth, internet penetration, and smartphone adoption paint a picture of incredible growth for gaming on the continent,” said Jackson Vaughan, managing partner at venture capital firm Konvoy, in a recent interview with CNBC.

The same trends are also pushing digital content in South Africa. Almost half of South Africans use a social media network, more than three times the region's average of 13%, per market research company Insider Intelligence. The influencer economy is booming, with local agencies popping up to connect influencers to brands

“We have the fastest-growing population in the world. People are coming online for the first time at a rapid pace. Most of that over 90% is via mobile phone. There’s a really strong appetite for content,” Carry1st CEO Cordel Robbin-Coker told CNBC. (Carry1st is a gaming startup headquartered in South Africa).

"Compared to other African markets, South Africans are not sensitive to price and not scared to pay for subscriptions. This contributes to the growth of digital subscriptions in the country."

Wiza Jalakasi

Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX

The country also has a strong developer community, spurring the South African SaaS market. Almost half of the Cloud/SaaS revenues on the continent come from South Africa, where the industry is expected to grow at an impressive 25% per year throughout 2027, per Statista.

"Compared to other African markets, South Africans are not sensitive to price and not scared to pay for subscriptions. This contributes to the growth of SaaS services in the country," said Wiza Jalakasi, Director at EBANX.

Finally, the South African online retail space is well developed compared to other African countries, with international brand presence and local giants such as Takealot, which has a 37% share in South Africa and 3% across the continent, per Euromonitor. 

Now, global behemoths are paying attention to the country: Amazon will expand into Africa, starting with South Africa and Nigeria, by the end of 2023, while fashion retailer SHEIN ranks as the most downloaded shopping app in South Africa's Google Play store.

“When you get a big player like that [Amazon] into the economy, it demonstrates the potential that sits within this market,” said Takealot's CEO Mamongae Mahlare in an interview with Bloomberg.

Payments to propel digital commerce growth in South Africa

South Africa stands as an African outlier when it comes to payments: instead of the omnipresent mobile money, the most common payment method across the country is electronic transfers, for both physical and digital commerce. They amount to over 80% of all retail transactions in South Africa, according to South African Reserve Bank data compiled by Briter Bridges.

Banking penetration in South Africa is considerably more significant than in the rest of Africa, with 85% of the population owning an account and almost 60% having a debit card. This is due to the historic banking structure in the country: 5 out of the top 10 banks in Africa are in South Africa, and the number of bank branches per capita is more than double the rates in Nigeria and Kenya, per the IMF.

Credit cards, however, are just as rare as in other parts of the continent: only 10% of South Africans own a credit card. Moreover, due to cultural preferences, some consumers still prefer to pay with cash.

"The current payments system, while highly sophisticated, primarily serves the fully banked community. For a large part of the population, cash serves as the primary tool to transact and continues to dominate the informal economy," states the latest annual report of PASA (Payment Association of South Africa).

This poses a challenge for digital commerce adoption: finding alternative payments to cash and credit cards, which is crucial for reaching more consumers and raising conversion rates.

Finding alternative payments to cash and credit cards is key to propelling digital commerce growth in South Africa.

Currently, the most used payment method in South African digital commerce is cards, according to PCMI. This helps to explain why digital commerce hasn't ramped up in the country yet since credit cards have negligible penetration among the total population. "There is certainly a pent-up demand for digital commerce in South Africa that will only be brought to light once merchants start offering alternative payments," said Jalakasi.

Bank transfers like EFTs and Instant EFTs are currently the most used alternative payment in South African digital commerce. They have a consistent share of digital commerce volume (22%) thanks to their reliability and cost-effectiveness. The higher-than-average bank penetration in South Africa also helps to push their usage in everyday shopping.

For these transfers to ramp up in digital commerce, merchants must integrate with the different South African banks. Fintechs like Ozow are taking advantage of this opportunity, connecting with several banks and offering a unique integration for users and companies. 

​​Nigeria's digital development spurs West African digital commerce

The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, is experiencing a surge in financial innovation, which is expected to push digital payments and online consumption across the region. 

An African giant with over 210 million people, Nigeria still needs to catch up to regional averages for digital adoption: 30% of adults made a digital payment in the last year, and 48% bought online, per the World Bank and PCMI.

But since the 2010s, several regulatory policies have been introduced in the country to promote financial innovation and enable digital payments, with relative success. Open banking framework, instant payment rails, and new licenses to non-bank institutions have brought more players to Nigeria's financial landscape, reaching underserved consumers.

Today, Nigeria is home to over 164 innovation hubs, per a Mastercard report, and four of Africa's seven unicorns (a startup with a value of over 1 billion). With a strong focus on mobile technology, which has a 65% penetration among the population, the country gradually increased account ownership and improved financial access. Mobile money ownership has grown from 16% to 22% in 2022 alone, according to GSMA.

Now, the spread of smartphones, which account for 44% of all mobile phones in Nigeria, is expected to accelerate the development of new financial innovations, turning Nigeria into an "awakening giant," as stated by GSMA's report.

"The truth is that any innovation with a real-life impact in Nigeria has a huge effect, given the country's sizeable population," says Jalakasi. "With all these recent changes, the Nigerian digital economy will grow exponentially over the next few years."

An African titan with 210 million people, Nigeria is witnessing a surge in digital payments and internet access.

This movement should also positively affect West Africa as a whole, prompting the region to adopt digital payments and, ultimately, online shopping.

Of course, there are bottlenecks to be tackled: internet connectivity is limited, at 47% penetration, and speed is among the slowest in the world. Nigeria's Naira floating against the US dollar has also been challenging, with a shortage of dollars and a substantial currency depreciation. "It is ultimately a good thing for international businesses. Eventually, it will find a new stable zone," said Wiza Jalakasi, from EBANX.

The country's large and growing population of young, tech-savvy consumers inclined to buy from international brands makes Nigeria a go-to market for digital companies. It is no coincidence that Nigeria is home to Jumia, the African e-commerce behemoth, which operates in 11 countries and owns a 2.2% market share in the continent, according to Euromonitor.

Streaming is also a solid digital vertical in Nigeria, accounting for 31% of Africa's market and growing at double-digit rates through 2027. Looking for growth, Amazon and Netflix are battling for consumers outside the saturation of the US and European markets, while locals like Showmax and MyGOtv fight to maintain their 30% share.

"The video streaming market in Nigeria is still relatively young, but it is growing rapidly. The country has a large and growing population of young people who are increasingly interested in streaming content. This is a major opportunity for streaming services," reads a recent article from BusinessDay Nigeria.

Nigeria's large population of young, tech-savvy consumers inclined to buy from international brands makes the country a go-to market for digital companies.

The dawn of alternative payments in Nigeria

There is a growing demand for cashless transactions in Nigeria, both for physical and digital purchases. This is not only thanks to the scarcity of paper money and incentives from the government but also due to a behavioral change in consumers, who are becoming more mobile-driven and digitally savvy.

As a result, electronic payments hit a five-year record in Nigeria in 2022, according to NIBSS (Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System), driven by alternative payments such as bank transfers and, to a lesser extent, mobile money.

Bank transfers work on a 24/7 basis in Nigeria, connecting banks and mobile money operators with full interoperability and in real-time. Nigerians can transact through a cell phone, a POS (point of sale) machine, a mobile banking platform, an ATM, or the internet at any time of the day or year. Bank transfers are so popular that they are used for everything from bill payments to a restaurant check, from a P2P transfer to an online purchase.

This is reflected in digital commerce: about a quarter of online purchases are made via bank transfers, per PCMI, which makes them a must-have for digital companies wanting to sell in Nigeria.

In fact, due to the ubiquity of bank transfers and the growing penetration of smartphones, even cash on delivery has become an electronic payment in Nigeria: once the shipment has arrived, the consumer pays with an electronic transfer through their cell phone. Cash payments are becoming as scarce as paper bills.

In parallel, fintechs such as Paga and OPay have been developing new forms of alternative payments in Nigeria, primarily through mobile. These new payment methods have many of the features of bank transfers, providing consumers with an account number, full interoperability, and instant confirmation. Their share in digital commerce is still negligible compared to cards or transfers, but this should change in the coming years.

"This is happening faster than I thought, and it's ultimately a good thing because it gives options to consumers and promotes access to financial services," says Jalakasi.

More recently, mobile money has been steadily growing in Nigeria, although its volume still represents a minor part of the country's GDP: around 9%, per IMF data, compared to 57% in Kenya. In 2022, West Africa was the region with the highest number of new mobile money accounts worldwide, according to GSMA, with most of this growth coming from Nigeria.

Bank transfers are the preferred payment method in Nigeria, while alternative payments are flourishing in the country and should propel digital commerce growth.

Finally, the significant share of card spending in Nigeria's digital commerce is another sign of the market's untapped potential, given that only 1.6% of Nigerians own a credit card, per the World Bank. 

Kenya, from a mobile money pioneer to a fertile ground for digital commerce

Kenya, a mobile money pioneer with one of the highest rates of financial inclusion in Africa, is a no-brainer market for digital commerce players, especially for mobile-based verticals like gaming, social, and streaming. 

With higher rates of digital literacy than the African average, the country has already been through the initial phase of financial inclusion: 79% of the population has an account, and 76% has made a digital payment more than in Brazil and South Africa, according to the latest World Bank Global Findex.

Financial inclusion in Kenya has a name: mobile money. Kenya has been a global pioneer in this technology since 2007 when the M-PESA platform started to be developed by the largest mobile network operator in the country. For the first time, people could send and receive money through a feature phone, without needing a bank account or an internet connection it is all done via technology on the SIM card. Fifteen years later, over 90% of the adult population owns a mobile money account and declared to have used it in the last 90 days, per GSMA consumer survey.

A mobile services shop in Marsabit, Kenya. Credit: Martin -

76% of Kenyans have made a digital payment, a milestone prompted by mobile money.

The numbers are impressive: in a country of 53 million people, there are 77 million registered mobile money accounts, according to the Central Bank. 

New steps are now being taken for this technology to become more inclusive. In 2022, merchant interoperability was implemented in Kenya, allowing consumers to pay any merchant regardless of their mobile money provider. Mobile money is also making inroads into small and medium businesses, as the Central Bank raises the limits for daily transactions with an eye on business payments.

In parallel, Kenya laid the foundation for rapid growth in digital commerce. In addition to digital payments, Kenyans are highly connected, with 97% of the population covered by a 4G network, and 44% owning a smartphone, according to Euromonitor.

Digital commerce amounted to USD 4.1 billion in 2023, according to PCMI, with an expected growth of 20% per year through 2026. Meanwhile, the Kenyan startup ecosystem is strengthening within Silicon Savannah, Nairobi's technology community, helping to boost digital literacy.

97% of Kenya's population is covered by a 4G network.

​​Nigeria's digital development spurs West African digital commerce

Mobile money has a significant level of adoption by Kenyans in almost every aspect of their day-to-day life: P2P transfers, bill payments, merchant payments. However, integrations with online merchants are still scarce until now.

"Digital commerce was not a priority for telcos. The priority was to finish capturing the offline market opportunity, especially in smaller markets," said Jalakasi, an early mobile money user. "Now, they will move on to the next game: online payments."

Major digital companies like Spotify, Netflix, and Uber have already started integrating with mobile money in Kenya, a movement that other businesses should follow.

The lack of integrations up until now also explains why cash on delivery has a high share of online commerce in Kenya, per PCMI: most of these transactions are actually paid through mobile money at the moment of delivery.

"Online payments are the next game for mobile money services in Kenya."

Wiza Jalakasi

Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX

This should diminish as mobile money becomes integrated with more online merchants. With that, digital commerce will also grow since more Kenyans will be able to buy online through their cell phones.

"The digital economy remains a bright spot with significant growth in mobile money and digital payments," reads a recent report by FSD Kenya. This fintech research institute states that "e-commerce is surging" in the country. According to the World Bank Global Findex, the adoption of online shopping in Kenya is still low, at 16%, which indicates a latent market opportunity.

Some of these features are already being put in place: mobile money services like MTN MoMo and M-PESA already offer virtual cards for consumers to pay for online purchases. More recently, M-PESA announced the development of recurring payments the first of their kind for mobile money.

Innovations like these have the potential to not only push online commerce in Africa but also "drive financial inclusion by providing access to payment systems normally reserved for banked individuals," as stated by GSMA.

"The digital economy remains a bright spot with significant growth in mobile money and digital payments."

FSD Kenya 'State of The Economy' report, 2022

The next African digital frontiers

There is a lot of excitement beyond the big economies in Africa. Across the continent, countries are in a quest to diversify their economy away from dependence on oil or agriculture. Digital and financial services have been key drivers of this transformation, and digital commerce is expected to flourish in several countries in the next couple of years. 

Countries like Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia have a significant smartphone penetration, low cost of data, and a push for digital services. They should become the next African frontiers for digital commerce companies.

"These are the sleeping giants of Africa," says Wiza Jalakasi, Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX. "People spend a lot of time connected, and there is a great potential for digital and physical goods sold online." 

Africa's new digital powerhouses follow a similar strategy: a lot of intention from the government, a push for competition between telcos and fintechs, a move to digitize money in traditional value chains such as agriculture and tourism, and increased access to mobile internet and digital infrastructure.

"These are the sleeping giants of Africa: countries with a significant smartphone penetration, low cost of data, and a push for digital products and services."

Wiza Jalakasi

Director of Africa Market Development at EBANX

The East Africa digital sprinters

East Africa, where mobile money was first introduced, is not only the region with the highest levels of digital payments in Africa. It is also set to outperform the rest of the continent in economic growth, thus being a key region for companies looking to expand globally. 

The main economies of the region are organized under the East African Community, an economic bloc aiming to achieve a common market and monetary union in the near future. By now, the member states already have a customs union and are joining forces to promote affordable internet, investment opportunities, and a common regulatory framework. 

East Africa is an excellent opportunity for digital companies that want to grow along with the economy, pushed by a young and digital-native population.


The fifth most populous country in Africa, Tanzania is experiencing a boost in digitization and steady economic growth (10% per year on average through 2027, per IMF) that should drive digital commerce adoption in the coming years.

Mobile money penetration is at 72%, while regulators encourage competition: the country of 65 million people has four big telcos competing with each other, with full interoperability. This, combined with a reduction in transaction fees by the government in 2022, has contributed to affordable internet access: Tanzania has the lowest cost of data in the region.

The country is also home to a vibrant startup ecosystem in Zanzibar Island, giving tax incentives and promoting higher education in the tech field, which should push the adoption of digital products and services.

A mobile money payment made through an app in Tanzania. Credit: Wiza Jalakasi


Uganda has been pushing for digitization and financial inclusion by following the same path as its neighbor, Kenya.

Mobile money is owned by 54% of the population, and transactions doubled in the last three years after a new regulatory framework encouraged competition. Today, mobile money in Uganda has interoperability, and users can also count on value-added services, such as paid interest for mobile money balances.

Uganda is also one of the world's top refugee-hosting countries. This has boosted mobile penetration since refugees rely on SIM cards to communicate with their families and to send and receive money. 

The country has a rising tourism industry, comprising 7.7% of the country's GDP.

A mobile money agent shop in Uganda: in recent years, several telcos and fintech players have jumped into the country's market. Credit: Wiza Jalakasi


The country of 20 million people has implemented an ambitious digital infrastructure strategy to boost connectivity and reduce data costs. Internet penetration is at 30%, but mobile connectivity is growing fast: Zambia was the most improved country in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of mobile connectivity, with a major jump in coverage. 4G network reach went from 9% to 69% between 2014 and 2021, per GSMA.

Mobile money has been a key driver for Zambia's digital transformation, currently owned by 58% of the population. It's a significant jump from five years ago when the penetration rate was 14%. Now, mobile money services outstrip banks, which reach only 21% of Zambians, according to Finscope Zambia

Digital commerce in Zambia is expected to thrive over the coming years, while new population segments, such as farmers and women, are digitally and financially included. It is no coincidence that the country has one of the highest growth rates of online industries in Africa: there is "an explosive growth of tech services" in the country, per a World Bank report, and digital commerce is forecasted to expand by 16% per year by 2027.

Sources: Euromonitor International, Statista Market Insights. World Bank Global Findex
* 2023 data, per Statista Market Insights ** of adult population, per Statista Market Insights

West Africa

West Africa is now driving growth in mobile money and financial services adoption in the continent. Between 2014 and 2021, mobile money boosted account ownership across most countries. Home to some of the most populous nations in Africa, the region is set to push the growth of digital commerce in the continent. 


Ghana is among the digital leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa, becoming a regional reference in promoting access to the internet and digital payments. Mobile money is growing at 20% per year, with an impressive 87% penetration rate among its 34 million inhabitants. Consequently, digital payments are adopted by almost 65% of the population, one of the highest rates in the continent. 

The country's government has actively contributed to the development of financial services, encouraging competition. In 2022, it implemented a regulatory sandbox framework expected to encourage new entrants and products into the market.

With a substantial cell phone penetration, Ghana should see growth in digital verticals suited for mobile usage, such as gaming, social, and streaming.


Mobile money awareness is almost universal in this Francophone country, with ownership at 62%, per BCEAO (Central Bank of West African States)

Competition in the payments sector is heating up with emerging fintechs such as Wave defying telco-led mobile money companies. Colorful stickers for mobile money services pop up in Dakar's stores, reflecting the growing competition in the market. Consequently, prices have decreased, and new value-added services such as credit and virtual cards are now offered. 

Senegal's economy is expected to flourish in the next years, rising 7.5% annually until 2027, turning the country into one of the most dynamic markets in Western Africa for digital companies.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast has been one of the mobile money leaders in West Africa, with an 83% ownership rate and a digital payments penetration of 46%. Ivorians’ aversion to traditional banks and high cell phone penetration has boosted mobile money, which is expanding its services to credit and mobile apps. 

More recently, early-stage startups based in the country started to offer financial services to underserved customers, aiming at the French-speaking African countries' population, with good rates of success. Djamo is one of the most well-known fintechs in Ivory Coast, offering interoperability between banks and mobile money, virtual cards for online shopping, and autosaving products.

This innovation wave, combined with strong economic growth of 7% annually through 2027, should push digital commerce in the Ivory Coast.

Sources: Euromonitor International, Statista Market Insights. World Bank Global Findex
* 2023 data, per Statista Market Insights ** of adult population, per Statista Market Insights

Northern Africa

Closer to Europe and with strong ties to the Middle East, Northern Africa has a large Muslim population, and its countries share similar consumer habits. Cash payments are rooted in day-to-day activities, with account and credit card penetration being relatively low. While consumer expenditure and internet penetration are higher than in the rest of Africa, alternative payments are decisive for digital commerce to flourish.


The second largest economy in Africa, Egypt has higher-than-average mobile phone and internet penetration rates. With rising disposable incomes, Egyptians are turning to digital commerce to access a broader range of products and services, especially from abroad.

The cross-border market has grown significantly, fueled by a growing middle class and a young population drawn to international brands influenced by their proximity to Europe and the Middle East.

Alternative payments have been crucial to digital commerce and the economy: 73% of Egyptians are unbanked, and only 22% have a credit or debit card, making the country heavily reliant upon cash transactions. Digital wallets and cash-based payments are very popular, even among banked consumers.

For digital wallets, Egyptians have the habit of topping up with cash and then using it to pay for bills, goods, and services. Cash-based payments, on the other hand, are usually done in a bedrock of Egypt's commerce: the koshk (kiosk). These physical shops that sell food, cigarettes, and other small-ticket items also receive payments for online purchases through a reference code informed by the merchant at the moment of purchase.

Buy Now Pay Later has also gained traction in Egypt, especially for high-ticket items like electronics. When buying online, Egyptians have the habit of testing the merchandise before paying for it and BNPL is a great way for consumers to do so.

A traditional kiosk shop in Egypt, a point for cash-based payments. Credit: Letícia Pulner, EBANX


The country has the highest internet penetration in Africa (90%) and quickly growing mobile usage, making it fertile ground for digital commerce. The sixth largest economy in Africa, Morocco is an entry point for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) corridor due to its proximity to Europe. 

Consumers are very familiar with international brands, and digital payments are still developing, with cash prevailing, which makes it a prone market for alternative payments. Mobile money is growing quickly, and the digital commerce market should reach USD 5 billion in 2023.

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