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Data Imperialism: The GDPR’s Disastrous Impact on Africa’s E-Commerce Markets

By: Cara C. Mannion

The European Union (EU) recently passed the General Data Protection Regulation—a sweeping regulatory framework that sets a new global standard for the collection, storage, and use of personal data. To ensure far-reaching compliance with the GDPR, the EU has adopted a strict take-it-or-leave-it approach: countries that wish to engage with digital users in the EU must either comply with the GDPR’s expansive data obligations or risk losing access to the world’s largest trading block.

This presents significant obstacles for several African nations. Notably, no African country currently has domestic laws that comply with the GDPR. Even if they did, several African countries lack stable judicial branches to enforce such laws, and many do not have the technological infrastructures or expertise to ensure ongoing compliance. Additionally, the GDPR’s extraterritorial effects may amount to data imperialism, allowing the EU to impose its own definition of data privacy on African countries without concern for their unique social values and economic realities.

This Note analyzes how the GDPR negatively impacts several African countries, as well as the difficulties in solving these economic and social problems. Although there are no easy solutions for these complex issues, this Note recommends that African countries adopt data privacy legislation at the regional level, create regional enforcement authorities, and invest in technological infrastructure and training.


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