By Bahle Gama
The uptake of e-commerce is very low in the country with about 5.2 per cent of emaSwati who have used the services in the last three months.
This is according to a survey report by the Eswatini Communications Commission (ESCCOM) in collaboration with the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The two entities undertook a National ICT Household and Individual survey which sought to establish a baseline of the level of access and usage of ICT services at both levels (household and individual) in Eswatini.
In a key findings presentation by Henson Dlamini from the CSO, he disclosed that of the 5.2 per cent of users, 6.6 per cent were in the urban area, whilst 4.3 per cent are in the rural area. 4.4 per cent are male and 5.8 per cent are females.
Of the purchased items, 60.4 per cent is clothing, footwear, sporting goods, and accessories, and 42.7 per cent used debit cards or bank transfers as the most prominent form of payment. DHL is the most utilised courier service provider.
“We gathered that utilisation of e-commerce is positively related to income level,” said Dlamini.
He further disclosed that it was also discovered that 25 per cent of emaSwati preferred to shop in person, 26 per cent are not interested in online shopping, 17 per cent lacked knowledge and skills and 16 per cent have trust issues in terms of security.
In the recommendations provided by the Project Consultant Mandla Mehlo, it was suggested that the country needs to carry out more public campaigns on e-commerce whilst making deliberate efforts around issues of data and consumer protection, and cyber security.
Based on the reasons why people are less interested in e-commerce, the issues of data, consumer protection, and cyber security was seen as a major cause for concern.
“There is a need to consider efforts by businesses to provide e-commerce services in the country, by sensitising some of the businesses on the opportunities presented by such and to further encourage those businesses to launch e-commerce initiatives in the country. We also recommend that even the government should put forth incentives to encourage companies to adopt e-commerce in the country,” he said.
Mobile network coverage is impressive in Eswatini, but…
There is a need to make deliberate efforts to increase access to fixed networks by households across the country as this could result in increased access to the internet countrywide.
This is part of the recommendations made for network coverage in the country. The survey has found that 95.02 per cent of households have cellular signal reception of local networks and cellphone ownership is at 73.5 per cent.
Of these, 97.7 per cent use pre-paid voice services compared to post-paid services at 2.31 per cent. Between the two main service providers in the country, it was discovered that individuals use 68.6 per cent of voice services from MTN, 12.8 from Eswatini Mobile, and 0.11 from EPTC.
In terms of the internet, individuals use 58.2 from MTN and 39.3 from Eswatini mobile.
50.3 per cent of individuals across the country reported that they have access to the internet, with 49 per cent males and 51 per cent females. 42.9 per cent of the population living with disability have access to the internet.
Fixed wireless and fixed wired internet only account for 3 per cent respectively, whilst 93 per cent of individuals use mobile data to access the internet at their homes.
At least 85.2 per cent indicated that they use the internet from home location, whilst 8.3 uses it at work and 3.7 per cent at a place of education. On another note, 49.7 per cent reported having no access to the internet due to several factors such as lack of electricity, knowledge, appropriate devices, and service network in some geographical areas and some are said to lack interest in these services.
Of the major percentage, 56.1 are reported to be within the satisfied to highly satisfied category with mobile internet speed from their primary service provider. In giving recommendations to positively improve these statistics, Project Consultant Mandla Mehlo stated that there is a need to improve internet quality and speed in the country and further recommended that a deliberate policy action be implemented to increase the uptake of internet-adaptable devices in the country.
“For instance, fiscal receptive aims at aiding the importation of adaptable devices or the local assembling of devices. This could also put the government to provide affordable and easy-to-access devices,” he said.
In terms of the mobile network, the office stated that the coverage is a bit impressive in the country, but there is a need to improve on areas where there is low coverage, especially in the Lubombo and Shiselweni regions.
EPTC needs to digitise services
With about 70 per cent of Emaswati perceiving the postal services as no longer relevant in this day and age, the Eswatini Post and Telecommunications (EPTC) has been advised to digitize all services. Mehlo recommended that postal services be digitalized to be relevant and position themselves for e-commerce.
Because the postal service is quite a key pillar within the e-commerce sector, so there is a need for them to reboot that opportunity.
There is also a need to transform the postal to a logistic service provider and link itself to e-commerce. And to further capitalize on its extensive structure that is already existing in the country.
“One of the key things is the perception that is out there around the postal service. The findings showed that most people believe that the postal service is no longer relevant in the digital era. So, there is a need for the postal service to go out there and try to address that perception,” he said.
He further stated that there is a need to increase services provided by the EPTC, in terms of service centres leveraging on the networks and distributing networks they already have in the country.
Cyber security and online child protection
As cellphone ownership is reportedly very high in the country, this is said to expose users, mostly minors to online risks. To curb the risks that users face online in terms of crime and bullying, especially minors, Mehlo has recommended that child institutions should work with households to ensure that they are aware of filters and security settings that can be provided by ISPs of the protection from possible risks online.
“It will therefore be useful to increase awareness of online use as well as mitigation measures of how households should address and protect their children from risks,” he said.
He stated that the government should also make the internet a safe place for its population guided by the necessary regulation, “which should include working with technology companies to promote the use of acceptable safety measures on their various platforms.”
It was recommended that the Ministry of education and other child protection organizations should work on teaching children about digital literacy and online security.
“Understanding that within the ministry, there is already ICT within their curriculum, therefore we are saying working with them to emphasize the issue of online risks will also help within these sectors.
We recommend that the cybersecurity agency conduct public education to address the common concerns around child protection,” said Mehlo. Additionally, the country should work with the international telecommunications union to advocate for the updating of the survey manual to be in line with the development of technology.