Harmonization of E-Commerce Legal Framework for Southern Africa

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the USAID-funded dot-GOV Southern African ICT and Policy Reform Support ("SIPRS") Project are collaborating to harmonize the legal framework for Electronic Commerce. Working closely with the Southern African Transport Communications Commission Technical Unit, SIPRS is helping the Southern African countries address core e-commerce issues, such as cyber crime, intellectual property rights, and privacy concerns.

E-Commerce: a New Economic Engine for Africa?
Globally, electronic commerce is growing at an extraordinary rate but is still in its infancy within most of the Southern Africa region. Mauritius and South Africa are the regional leaders in e-commerce. Both countries have electronic commerce laws and are experiencing economic growth in this area. However, there is very little electronic commerce within other Southern African countries and limited cross-border electronic commerce. Among the many barriers to progress is an uncertain legal foundation to support electronic commerce.

New uses of ICTs for business focus review and reform of traditional legal concepts to account for electronic transactions. The scope and ambit of ICT related e-commerce legal issues includes computer crime, intellectual property protection for IT based-products, data protection and privacy issues. E-commerce policy reform has been on the agenda for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) since 2001.

SADC and SIPRS Establish Model E-Commerce Law
Until this initiative, only South Africa and Mauritius had established legislation covering the broad range of issues associated with electronic commerce. Mr. Jayantha Fernando, a lawyer and electronic commerce expert from Sri Lanka led the SIPRS initiative to draft the model law.

The model law establishes the basic principle of non-discrimination between media or media neutrality. Key provisions of the model are drafted to establish equivalence between paper documents and electronic messages. It also includes consideration of electronic transactions, electronic signatures, and date protection and privacy. The model builds from existing legislation in the region, and from the "Model Law on e-commerce" formulated by the United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).

Regional Workshop in South Africa
In November of 2003, SIPRS hosted a workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa to present and discuss the model law. Attending the workshop were regional representatives of SADC, COMESA, SADC member nation representatives, and industry representatives, including Orbicom and Cisco.

The workshop highlighted the disparities between the extraordinary growth in electronic commerce globally as compared to the SADC region. Uncertainty over the laws governing ecommerce, or disparities between one country and another were identified as key barriers. Revisions are being made to the draft e-commerce model law and the law is due for adoption by SADC in either late 2004 or early 2005.

The SIPRS/SADC regional model represents the next stage in regional plans to fulfill that SADC goal. Further information on the model law and the ongoing collaborative between SIPRS and SATCC-TU can be obtained by visiting the SIPRS web site at http:// www.internews.org/siprs. A draft of the model and supporting materials are expected to be available by June 2004.

Internews was awarded the SIPRS Project, funded by USAID/Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA), on 21 November 2002 for a period of 18 months (Associate Cooperative Agreement No. 690-A-00-03-00037-00 under the dot-GOV Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00009-00).

For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Tisch, Ph.D.
Chief-of-Party, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833-5740 x 203

Brian Goulden
Director, SIPRS Project
Internews Network

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