Interview: Ange Frédérick Balma

What necessary steps must Côte d’Ivoire take in line with its digital revolution?

ANGE FRÉDÉRICK BALMA: According to the World Bank, countries that undergo a digital transformation could see GDP growth per capita increase by more than 1%. This means that the internet is an essential tool – not just for the development of activities, but to also increase the purchasing power of the population. Considering what the digital economy represents to the development of the continent, we must encourage the use of digital tools.

The digital revolution requires adapting the education system and creating specific fields that will allow citizens to create start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with innovative solutions. It also calls for the development and adoption of digital solutions, as well as the dematerialisation of services, such as in public administration. For example, the Investment Promotion Agency of Côte d’Ivoire has just introduced a single identification number system for the registration of companies. Tax, social security and trade information can be identified with this number, which is permanently assigned when a company is created.

To what extent could Li-Fi technology transform Wi-Fi over the medium term?

BALMA: Li-Fi is a transmission technology that uses light sources. Thanks to the modulation of LED lighting, it provides bandwidth and conveys information, images, videos and high-speed internet. This technology offers many advantages, while at the same time being more economical, ecological, safer and faster than Wi-Fi.

Li-Fi is a cost-effective technology because it reduces the consumption of light. Companies and households could see a cost reduction in energy consumption of up to 80%, which would be value-added for the final consumer. The minimum lifespan of a bulb fed by Li-Fi is between three and five years after installation.

In terms of security, light does not pass through walls, so this prevents hackers from gaining access to the personal information of internet users. In the medium term it is likely that Li-Fi will be used to complement existing technology in situations where Wi-Fi is unable to provide sufficient security. Li-Fi can also drastically reduce the damage that electromagnetic wave radiation can have on our health, opening the door to a cleaner source of energy.

Lastly, as we move towards technology such as 5G, which requires high-speed internet, Li-Fi is able to contribute the speed required for these advancements. Li-Fi is not only complementary to existing technology such as Bluetooth, infrared or Wi-Fi, but it can also transform the use of the internet, as it can be extended to people located in remote areas. Moreover, as Li-Fi sensors are able to capture information like sunlight or rainfall rates, it can serve as a decision-making tool for communities and governments. For example, it could help farmers know the best time to grow their crops.

How can ICT start-ups in the country be effectively supported and encouraged to launch?

BALMA: First, there needs to be a strong differentiation made between start-ups and SMEs. A start-up is a recently established company that creates innovative solutions to existing problems, leading to strong development and impact potential in the medium term. For a start-up to develop properly, a supportive ecosystem must be put in place. Furthermore, a fast-growing economy like Côte d’Ivoire’s – which envisions having startups become unicorns – needs to redesign its funding model. While there are plenty of new ideas and startups, effective funding mechanisms to support these start-ups do not yet exist. There are many initiatives aiming to support start-ups, but they remain generic, without addressing the issue of funding.

A number of other countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, have established systems for the creation and funding of start-ups. Côte d’Ivoire should adopt the best practices seen in its neighbouring countries.