Interview: Philippe Pango
What can be done to increase access to the internet in Côte d’Ivoire and throughout Africa?
PHILIPPE PANGO: The fact that only 30% of the African population is connected to broadband is not only because there is not enough infrastructure, but also due to the high cost. The arrival of new operators in the digital sector will help develop and democratise the internet, increasing the number of people with access and lowering costs. For instance, Côte d’Ivoire was long connected to three submarine cables, and in 2019 a fourth operator entered the market through VITIB’s special economic zone, which increases the connectivity network and reduce the price of accessing the internet. Products and services that were offered by foreign players in the past are now being offered by companies that are settled in Côte d’Ivoire, helping to bridge the digital divide.
Through which means is the country developing technological parks and the ICT sector as a whole?
PANGO: VITIB was established to develop and grow the ICT sector. One of VITIB’s main objectives is to become the technological centre not only of Côte d’Ivoire, but of all of West Africa. The main advantage of VITIB is that, in addition to being a technology park that brings together companies in the ICT sector, it operates as a special economic zone. This means that companies in ICT and biotech benefit from a special regime of no taxes or Customs charges. More technological parks using VITIB’s model should be established in cities like Yamoussoukro or Korhogo, which will contribute to other regions of the country becoming centres for employment and hubs for innovation. Considering that young people in the country are interested in technology and some have created internationally recognised start-ups, technological parks are needed to nurture and develop new ideas.
Côte d’Ivoire has long focused on investing in agriculture and the real estate sector. However, the country is shifting its focus and realise what we stand to achieve if we develop and invest in ICT-related technologies and scientific research. For example, the Digital Youth Foundation, created in 2016 by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Post, is a major player in the ICT sector and acts as an incubator for cutting-edge technology start-ups, providing advice and access to funding. The foundation has reached several regions of the country through its Digital Youth Caravan programme, which promotes digitalisation throughout the nation and offers seminars encouraging the use of artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies. These types of entities are laying the foundations for an environment friendly to entrepreneurship based on ICT.
How can Côte d’Ivoire make it easier for businesses and citizens to acquire new technologies?
PANGO: In the recent past, Côte d’Ivoire implemented certain exemptions on ICT products, which have included reducing Customs fees on computers and other electronic devices in an effort to lower the price of imported goods, which would allow a considerable number or locals to purchase smartphones and computers. However, we must not only rely on tax exemptions, but should also open the door to manufacturers. It would be ideal for major electronics manufacturers to relocate their businesses and operations to Côte d’Ivoire.
We need to pass laws that attract the largest manufacturers to our region to create more added value and hire people locally. For example, China, which has become the largest manufacturer in the world, has gradually mastered smart technologies and local brands are now building their own devices. Africa should pay close attention to this model and take into consideration best practices regarding the transfer of knowledge and know-how, and understand how this has made an impact in regions around the world.
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