If we were able to connect more people on the continent, the boost to trade could be enormous. Apps such as M Farm, which connects buyers with farmers and enable farmers to sell goods at the correct market value, platforms such asGoogle’s Africa Connected, which allows entrepreneurs to use Google products to build their businesses, or Konga, an ecommerce platform known as Nigeria’s biggest online mall, are just two examples of how the internet could fuel trade.

But unlocking the power of the internet is about more than giving people a modem and letting them get on with it. The internet can only kickstart intra-regional trade if connection goes hand in hand with improved education and understanding of the numerous possibilities the internet can offer all levels of entrepreneurs.

There’s a long-standing discussion in Africa and beyond about the importance of STEM subjects. That isn’t the issue here. As we’ve seen in other regions, you don’t need a PhD in computer sciences to make the most of everything the internet has to offer. Instead, what matters is giving people opportunities to learn, create and innovate through affordable and consistent internet access, thereby fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Africans need to go from being consumers of online content to being mass producers of it.

Governments must promote competition in the telecommunications sector, harmonize regional laws to ensure digital payments can be made across borders, and facilitate the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders. Technological solutions such as drones might be one way to go.

Trade that fuels progress

We know all too well the opportunities trade can offer for development and growth. Africa is in a unique position in that it has the chance to trade with an untapped market: itself. Nobody is saying that will be easy. But technology will go a long way to making this ambition a reality.