Bridging the digital divide: The government is working to expand coverage and computer literacy

After a decade of underinvestment and neglect, Côte d’Ivoire’s authorities are keen to make up for lost time and leapfrog the country into the digital era, expanding activity in IT services, improving infrastructure and boosting computer literacy. However, it is an ambitious goal in a country where 2.4% of the population has regular access to the internet and where around half the population cannot read. Realising these goals will entail significant expenditures, and the government has already begun to invest heavily in improvements to the national backbone and new links for international gateways. The private sector is increasingly looking to expand the market as well, through competitively priced devices and improved broadband coverage, both fixed and mobile. As with many countries in Africa, the appeal of expanding IT usage through mobile phones, in a country where mobile penetration has reached 85.4%, is immense, and local content and services – such as e-government and mobile banking – are being tailored as such.

TACKLING CHALLENGES: Still, the path ahead will be a difficult one. Lacina Koné, the special adviser to the president on information and communications technology, said it was a mixed bag considering that out of about 6m households in Côte d’Ivoire, only about 1.2m have electricity at home, or less than 20%. This further bifurcates a market where price sensitivity and the high cost of access also limit potential uptake in services. Côte d’Ivoire’s number one challenge with regards to IT is to bridge the digital divide, Koné told OBG. This will necessitate increasing the literacy level of Ivoirians, which was 56.2% as of 2010, but also their awareness of new technologies, he said.

The government has said it aspires to be an emerging economy by 2020, which includes plans to make Côte d’Ivoire a regional centre for IT activity and services. Before reaching that goal, however, an emphasis has been placed on providing universal access to technology for all Ivoirians. According to Koné, “The government wants all Ivoirians, wherever they live, to have equal access to information.” This sort of objective is already playing out in terms of mobile coverage, where the government, through the National Telecommunications Fund, provides financial incentives to improve coverage in rural areas, encourage infrastructure sharing and increase collaboration, although achieving the same goals with broadband connectivity may be more of a challenge.

SECTOR STRUCTURE: The Ministry of the Postal Service and Information and Communication Technology, headed by Minister Bruno Nabagné Koné, is the overarching authority for the sector and coordinates all activities in the segment. The ministry is responsible for the implementation of a five-pronged strategy for digitalising Côte d’Ivoire. The first stage of this entails the review and subsequent overhaul of the regulatory framework. New bills regarding cybercrime, the protection of private data and e-commerce were passed into law in May 2013. The new set of codes is widely expected to not only bring attention to the growing issue of online scams, but to provide more comprehensive legal instruments with which to combat it. Individuals found guilty of cybercrime can now be sentenced to one to 20 years and/or fined CFA500,000-100m (€2500-150,000). The law on protection of personal data focuses on providing legal protection for names, phone numbers and credit cards. This marks a major breakthrough for the country as cybercrime cost the industry CFA20bn (€30m) from 2009-12, and has resulted in a number of blockages and problems for networks.

NEW STRATEGIES: The government is also deploying fibre-optic cables to reinforce bandwidth across the country in collaboration with private sector partners (see Telecoms chapter). Furthermore, it has said it wants to encourage local content generation through programmes such as E-Gouv, although initiatives so far have come largely from the private sector. The ministry’s strategy also entails increasing access to internet-enabled devices such as more cost-effective smartphones, tablets and PCs. This includes bulk purchase and distribution of computers.

Furthermore, Koné told international press that the government was aiming to distribute 500,000 computers, as a first step towards its “One Ivoirian, one PC” project aimed at giving every citizen either personal or shared access to a computer. The final stage will see the government further develop the educational and training framework necessary to help foster more organic growth in the IT segment. Côte d’Ivoire also passed a new telecoms code to replace the previous policy, which was written in 1995. The new regulation, approved in March 2012, will harmonise the country’s regulatory framework with that of other countries in ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. Recent revisions also focus on continuing the improvements made to the development of internet protocols (IP).

E-GOVERNMENT: One of the primary pillars of the government’s approach to fostering greater digital activity is improving usage among the state administration itself. The first aspect of this is the Société Nationale de Developpement Informatique (SNDI), a government agency that is helping to digitise public administration, with a particular focus on public finances, in order to improve efficiency and transparency. In addition to operating in Côte d’Ivoire, it has worked in Benin, Togo and Guinea-Bissau on similar projects. Additionally, the broader e-Gouv project seeks to increase online interactions both between government bodies and between the state and its citizens, particularly in sectors that require significant interaction with individuals such as health and education. As part of this, 165,000 civil servants will be given training in new applications and processes, which in turn will help them make better use of a new government intranet and $30m data centre in Grand Bassam, constructed by Chinese telecoms company Huawei. About 80% of the ministries had been connected to the intranet as of May 2012, Koné told OBG.

While currently government digital activity is limited to collaborative tools such as emails and document sharing, the aim is to migrate services to the cloud. “The work of the SNDI and e-Gouv are complementary,” Koné said. “The e-Gouv project will include several dependent projects in a bid to use ICT for development, including e-education and e-health initiatives to make resources as accessible as possible.”

BY THE NUMBERS: According to the International Telecommunications Union, only 2.4% of Ivoirians had regular access to the internet in 2012, which is low in comparison to a rate of 17.11% for Ghana, 32.9% in Nigeria and 19.2% in Senegal. Côte d’Ivoire’s internet ecosystem is at its early stages, with several key elements still missing. The Global Network Readiness 2013 Index, by the World Economic Forum, ranked Côte d’Ivoire 120th out of 144 countries. However, hopes are high that the increasing mobile penetration rate will lead to a rapid uptake of 3G and 4G technologies.

According to the industry regulator, the Telecommunications Agency of Côte d’Ivoire (Agence des Télé- communications de Côte d’Ivoire, ATCI), there are a total of 119,526 internet subscribers – which does not include 3G – in the country split among four internet providers. AFNET, bought by MTN in 2008, is the largest operator in the internet service provider (ISP) segment, with a 60.3% market share, according to ATCI. Its nearest competitor is Aviso, the ISP subsidiary of Orange Côte d’Ivoire, with 36.9%. VIPN et, and to a much lesser degree Alink Telecom, share the remaining 2.68% (with 2.3% and 0.3%, respectively). There is a deep urban-rural divide, with an estimated 90% of the country’s internet subscribers living in Abidjan.

LINKS & CONNECTIONS: Until recently, there was a heavy reliance on ADSL for local connections, but WiMAX has become increasingly prominent of late. According to ATCI, WiMAX now accounts for an estimated 57% of all connections through ISPs, with ADSL accounting for nearly 38%, and the remainder being made up of CDMA, wireless local loop and other options. The two largest ISPs concentrate heavily on either one or the other technologies, as reflected in their market shares, with WiMAX supplied mainly by MTN’s AFNET and ADSL connections representing nearly all of Aviso’s activity. In other African markets, like South Africa, ADSL has proven difficult to maintain, not only because of general capital investment, but also because of a rise in copper cable theft.

Satellites are making a comeback on the African market because their prices are dropping, as fixed-line links suffer from poor or intermittent service, and limited coverage – particularly in rural areas. As in other West African markets, companies in Côte d’Ivoire can connect directly through a satellite rather than go through an ISP. From the satellite, the signal is connected to a satellite hub on the internet backbone.

However, even though costs are falling, satellite links remain expensive for most individuals and Africa has poor satellite coverage. To help address this, the government of Côte d’Ivoire is also looking to deploy a 6700-km fibre-optic backbone across the country together with Huawei. In the first two phases the cities of San Pédro, Odienné, Korhogo and Ferkessé- dougou, Abidjan and Bondoukou will be connected.

The country’s international connectivity is fairly limited as well, although that should change in the near future as more submarine cables land in Abidjan. Côte d’Ivoire first connected to the $15m Leland network, which has a capacity of 512 kilobits per second, although since 2002 the $640m South Atlantic 3/West African Submarine Cable System has been the country’s primary portal and main connection to the international backbone. However, in the past 36 months, the African Coast to Europe and West Africa Cable System cables have also landed in Abidjan, and the MainOne and Glo-1 cables are accessible overland. The addition of these cables should allow the country’s overall bandwidth capacity to grow.

IT FREE TRADE ZONES: The free trade zone of Grand Bassam, a town 30 km to the east of Abidjan, is intended to specialise in biotechnology and ICT. The area extends over 700 ha and is run and promoted by the IT and Biotechnology Village (Village des Technologies de l’Information et de la Biotechnologie, VITIB). VITIB has a concession from the Ivoirian state to develop the site, and to build technical and technological infrastructure. It also promotes and exploits the ITspecialised free trade zone. It was created in late 2006 to administrate the free zone with CFA3bn (€4.5m) in capital and the goal of creating 40,000 jobs. The zone is now host to three major data centres.

CONTENT: As with many emerging markets, one of the biggest challenges to the expansion of digital demand is the lack of local content. Infrastructure may provide the connections, but without providing relevant information or services, as governments across the continent are finding out, it is difficult to stimulate growth. “The difficulty in our developing countries is that we lack the applications to benefit from the infrastructure in place such as the fibre-optic cable,” Jean-Luc Sampah, the director of group sales and marketing at Abidjan-based solutions integrator Socitech, told OBG. “There is a strong need to develop content that is relevant to local populations, addressing their everyday concerns.”

The five most popular sites are international social media and search engines; the highest-ranked Ivoirian site is, a news site. The site’s statistics give a rough idea of viewing habits in the country. In spite of a plethora of local content, browsing is limited, a factor perhaps due to the general limited accessibility. According to the web information company Alexa, the site’s visitors view 3.5 unique pages each day on average and the website has a bounce rate of roughly 37%, i.e. 37% of visits consist of only one page view. Visitors to spend an average of roughly eight minutes per day on the site.

SECURITY: As internet penetration grows in West Africa, so too has cybercrime. According to the Côte d’Ivoire Computer Emergency Response Team, a unit under ATCI’s umbrella, cybercrime costs the Ivoirian economy some CFA3.38trn (€5.07bn) in 2012, with 51 people convicted of related offences. More recently, ATCI has launched a new anti-cybercrime initiative known as the Platform for the Fight against Cybercrime, which will look to raise awareness of potential scams and publish the photos and names of “wanted cybercriminals” on its website.

However, of equal concern is intellectual property protection. Like most emerging markets around the world, ensuring copyright protection and reducing piracy is a challenge in Côte d’Ivoire. Software companies lost CFA8bn (€12m) to software piracy in the country in 2011, according to media reports, and some estimates cited by local press claim that as much as 82% of the software used in the country is pirated. “We have a three-pronged approach: education, information and enforcement,” Victoria N’dee Uwadoka, a marketing manager for Microsoft’s operations in West and Central Africa, told OBG. The company ran one of its global “Play It Safe Campaign” seminars in Abidjan in March 2013 in a bid to raise awareness about software piracy. Securing data and IPs is also a concern, Uwadoka told OBG, as companies, individuals and governments are looking to protect their information from loss or theft through cyber attacks.

There is also demand for material security, such as hacker intrusion tests, as part of overall security policies. Several government offices have been subject to attacks in Côte d’Ivoire. Lastly, there is a demand for back-up plans that will allow businesses to keep running in case of a breakdown in communication, given the way networks were attacked during the 2010-11 crisis, when losses in the telecoms sector alone were estimated to be more than CFA100bn (€150m). One way of achieving this is through site replication.

CALL CENTRES: Although Côte d’Ivoire has vibrant banking and telecoms sectors, neither provide extensive call centre services and the country’s call centre infrastructure has been fairly limited. Given the large number of both telecoms operators and financial institutions, and the increasing tendency by both to outsource non-core services, the opportunities in this area are growing. Mamadou Coulibaly, the deputy director of strategy at telecoms firm Orange Côte d’Ivoire, said the company was looking to increase its own use of call centres. Pape Senghor, the directorgeneral of call centre firm Call Me CI, said there are only about three call centre operators in the country. While salaries are competitive, phone tariffs are too high. “Two French call centres have expressed interest in setting up offshore operations in Côte d’Ivoire, but phone tariffs remain too high to be competitive, even if salaries are,” Senghor told OBG.

He also said call centres need T2 lines, which only Orange Côte d’Ivoire has, leading to high set-up costs. The Ivoirian call centre segment faces competition from other French-speaking countries, such as Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal, all of which have higher levels of activity. Morocco and Tunisia, in particular, are starting to evolve from basic call centre services to higher-value business process outsourcing.

E-COMMERCE: E-commerce and other cash-light solutions are only just starting to take off in Côte d’Ivoire, spearheaded by media companies like news site and news and culture website Infodrome. The development of mobile money offers by operators is, however, expected to boost e-commerce by familiarising users with the idea of financial exchanges through virtual portals. “Most web users in Côte d’Ivoire do not have a culture of internet buying, so we are educating them,” said Bamori Sié Kamagate, a managing partner at group-buying website “We’ve found that people don’t know that they first have to sign up and receive an activation email before they can start buying.”

One of the concessions the new start-up is making, for instance, is that it is accepting cash payments in these early stages. However, building awareness is one of the primary obstacles, both among the potential market and the government. There not only remains scepticism in the country given its challenges in the past with cybercrime, but there are also regulatory gaps, says Kamagate, as there is as of yet no law on cancelled online purchases or refunds. However, there is plenty of potential to expand activity, particularly in the business-to-business segment. “Everything regarding IT services to small and medium-sized firms is new in Côte d’Ivoire,” said Patrick M’Bengue, the president of the Association of ICT Sector Operators of Côte d’Ivoire. “There’s much to be done in that area.”

OUTLOOK: Côte d’Ivoire’s IT infrastructure is rapidly developing through the concerted efforts of both the private and the public sector. The public sector for years had not invested in IT, but there has been a strong show of commitment to change this, beginning with bridging the digital divide. However, while the going will likely be slow over the short term, given the heavy capital investment needed, provided Côte d’Ivoire is able to implement its fibre-optic backbone and bring down the cost of access in both rural and urban areas, then the ground should be laid for the development of higher-value-added activities.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2013

Telecoms & IT chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2013

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