Interview: Alain Ba Oumar

What can be done to encourage better communication between the public and the private sector?

ALAIN BA OUMAR: It is true that until the creation of FOCEG, every single private provider had its own development strategy and its own contacts to communicate with the public sector. Too many interlocutors, representatives and complimentary entities, such as the Regulatory Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services; the National Agency for Digital Infrastructure and Frequencies; or the Ministry of Digital Economy itself, were involved in the decision-making process, and consequently the sector was negatively affected.

With the creation of FOCEG we have come up with an entity that will, first, seek consensus among providers and, second, act as a common representative. For its part, the public sector should create an environment that facilitates communication. This can be encouraged by creating the necessary dialogue framework and designing a single desk to which all initiatives, concerns or complaints can be addressed.

How will the telecoms sector be affected by the second connection of Gabon to Europe through high-speed underwater cables?

BA OUMAR: Besides having a direct impact on existing terrestrial technologies and providing opportunities for them to develop, it will cause a considerable drop in satellite communication prices. The increased competition for high-speed internet will create a price war between the two fibre operators to attract as many customers as possible. The market is already waiting for the boost from this new high-speed connection, and customers will be willing to acquire the service regardless of the operator. In this regard, operators will not be directly involved in building the internet backbone, as their job is to commercialise internet services.

As access to internet connections increases and speed improves, the surrounding technologies will also benefit. It is a matter of building the necessary structures in cities. For example, Libreville and Port-Gentil have already been connected to a fibre-optic network. The next step will be the deployment of a national backbone and fibre-optic connections to the rest of the country. The government should proactively get involved in the exploitation of these technological resources to ensure good service for final consumers, who expect new and high-quality technologies.

At the corporate level, firms will see a substantial improvement in connectivity, and the technologies will be adapted to customers’ needs. What can sometimes be seen as a weakness for international companies will eventually be seen as a powerful trigger. The improved competitiveness could eventually allow Gabon to become a regional technological centre.

What new information and communications technology (ICT) industries will have the most potential in the Gabonese market?

BA OUMAR: Nowadays, with the Emerging Gabon strategic development plan, the country has a clear vision for the ICT sector. This long-term strategy, which extends until 2025, is definitely a turning point in ensuring that the sector realises its full potential according to new national and international trends.

It is a fact that the special economic zones strategy could attract foreign direct investment, notably for mining or industrial companies. However, these zones should also be utilised to attract more value-added connectivity services for emerging industries, such as data centres or cloud computing.

Factors such as the small population and the prevalence of users who have two or three different SIM cards have contributed to the saturation of the market. Thus, Gabonese providers are starting to focus on quality and added-value services, rather than acquiring more customers. In this regard, technological content industries are carving a niche in the market. At the end of the day, the ICT sector in Gabon still has a long way to go, not only in terms of creating synergies with related industries, but also in attracting more investment.