The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the largest free trading zone in the world in terms of the number of participating countries. Although governments and enterprises have been working to ensure smooth collaboration among countries and regions ever since AfCFTA commerce started in January this year, there is much work to be done on technology infrastructure to ensure the free trade area lives up to its promise of improving the economy of the 55 participating states.\nCross-border payment platforms, telecommunications networks and internet access are ingredients needed to ensure the success of the trade area.\n\u201cIf inter-market connectivity, data access, and soft infrastructure are critical to the success of trade agreements, then, by addressing these issues early and head-on, the AfCFTA can gain much more traction than past trade agreements,\u201d Wamkele Mene , secretary general of the \u00a0African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, said in Foresight Africa 2021 report.\nTechnology adoption has not advanced evenly throughout the continent, however, and lack of reliable ICT infrastructure in certain areas has the potential to strangle the progress of the new trade area. But if planning is done well by government and private enterprise stakeholders, the following communications and technology and communications systems will boost trade within the continent.\nStronger supply chain systems\nFor goods to move easily across borders, a well-established supply chain needs to be in place. But challenges around supply chain management, including poor communications and transportation infrastructure, have been a pain point for Africa.\nThe good news is that a fresh generation of enterprises have deployed emerging technology to facilitate the flow of goods across borders.\nStart-ups such as Nigerian freight-management company OnePort365 and Kenya-based e-logistics platform Amitruck are seeking to ease the movement of goods through digital tools. These African supply-chain logistics and digital freight-management startups could open up more commerce among member nations.\nAmitruck uses analytics and an IoT network to track vehicles and goods, and is supporting supply chain companies such as Twiga Foods, which supplies 8,000 vendors with produce from approximately 17,000 farmers.\nOn its part, OnePort365 uses digital tools for online booking, management and tracking of international and local shipments. Its data tool gives cargo owners transparent pricing of shipping services, end-to-end.\n\u00a0African e-logistics companies play a key role in AfCFTA by \u201creducing transport costs and delays, and improving the quality of service along transport corridors,\u201d said Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in an IFC report.\nAlready thousands of cargo owners now have an opportunity to take advantage of digital tools, for comparing prices, ordering transport, making payment and tracking deliveries. These modules can make goods cheaper in the market.\nA white paper by the World Economic Forum cited the African Medical Supplies Platform' (AMSP) success in procuring medical equipment from verified manufacturers. Its implementation was done between the African Union and various foundations, corporations and governments globally.\n\u201cIts unique interface allows for volume aggregation, quota management and payment facilitation as well as logistics and transportation to ensure equitable and efficient access to critical supplies for African governments,\u201d the World Economic Forum said.\nInteroperable payment platforms\nMobile money has become a staple in more advanced regions such as East and Southern Africa. However, it is a direct child of telecom companies passing on the cross-border telecom challenge down to mobile payments.\nFor businesses to easily pay for goods, digital payments need to be harmonized and interoperable. This challenge has opened up opportunities for startups such as Flutterwave, Eversend and Chipper Cash, which offer digital payments for merchants and cross border money transfers.\nMobile money applications have also opened up opportunities for businesses in Africa as they allow people who do not have traditional bank accounts to transact business. These mobile money apps are now turning into mature payment platforms.\nBig players in the field, such as Safaricom's M-Pesa, for example, have built robust mobile money payment systems. M-Pesa, for example, will allow third party players will be able to use its API in their programs and also launch e-stores within the M-Pesa application.\nFor the banking sector, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and AfCFTA Secretariat launched the roll-out of the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), a system that will ease cross border payments, keeping in mind the various local currencies in each country.\nThe system will also save the continent over US$5 billion in payment transaction costs each year, lowering the cost of goods overall.\n\u00a0\u201cThe implementation of the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA will improve intra-Africa trade, necessitating in this regard, the establishment of a payment system to facilitate affordable and efficient cross border trade transactions," said Wamkele Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area, in a statement announcing the PAPSS launch.\nCross-border telecommunications\nSeamless telecommunications are necessary for facilitating cross-border trade under the AfCFTA and interconnection agreements and rates should be negotiated for ease and affordability, according to an UNCTAD (the UN Conference on Trade and Development) report.\nTelecommunications is key to facilitating trade. However, differing cross border calling rates place a cost on businesses across Africa. In East Africa, the implementation of the One Network Area has been seen as a way to reduce roaming costs for the region.\nLowering cross-border telecommunications rates for services in East Africa (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan) could inform the rest of the continent on how to put in place such initiatives to ensure support trade.\nBy 2025, the GSMA expects unique mobile users in Africa, with an estimated population of 1.3 billion people, to reach 615 million. This means that mobile communication will be critical in doing business and low-cost, cross-border or mobile roaming packages are needed to enhance communication.\nBroad internet penetration for cloud services\nA stable and reliable internet access that can support is needed to be the backbone of a digitized trade system for the region. Although data centres are being built to support African SaaS and cloud services that can enable trade, broadband penetration in Africa is still lopsided however, with some countries like Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius and Nigeria outpacing their peers.\nRegions with low internet penetration or unstable connections are poised to lose out on trade across the country, says Lamah's Elraaid. Elraaid insists that reliability, not simply providing an internet connection, is key.\n\u201cSo, while step one is ensuring that the internet can facilitate cross border trade, the (poor) reliability of the internet access is perhaps a more important barrier we need to overcome,\u201d he added.\nWith regular and consistent access to high-speed internet, communication can go uninterrupted, and allow individuals and businesses to conduct business faster and more regularly.\nNevertheless, sustainable development is needed to achieve world level broadband penetration in Africa.\n\u201cTo achieve universal broadband internet access in Africa \u2014 which could help the continent leapfrog infrastructure constraints in a number of sectors, much like cellphones did with landlines 20 years ago \u2014 an estimated $100 billion in investment is needed over the next decade, with a third of it in infrastructure,\u201d said the Foresight Africa 2021 Report.\nUnified postal address system\nReliable postal address systems in Africa are non-existent in most countries. Yet, having an addressing system in Africa can ensure easier trade between countries, according to Taha Elraaid, the CEO of Lamah Technologies, a company that is working on a digital addressing system that can support trade in physical goods.\n"When it comes to post, deliveries and other forms of communication, we need to be able to contact one another physically, not just digitally. Regions that are lacking in consistent and reliable addressing and postal services should look to others\u2019 successes and find what data or technology can improve this,\u201d he said.\nHe added that for trade purposes, companies need to know where their target clients live in addition to what choices they\u2019re making. With that information, companies can build more effective infrastructure and services. Having an address ensures that you\u2019re reaching your full target audience, which can then lead to increased and more sustainable trade.