ALL too often conversations on the digital scene in Africa look to the East - focusing on the gains being made in Rwanda and Kenya in particular.
When they do go West, Nigeria takes precedence because of the sheer size of the country’s economy and population, dwarfing the remarkable progress made by (Francophone) Senegal, which is not fully acknowledged in both the dominant regional and international technology press that is written in English.
Currently in Senegal, 83% of the population has a mobile telephone with 40% of these being smartphones allowing users to access the internet. This has seen tremendous growth in the country. In 2013 20.90% of the population was using the internet, compared to 1.9% in Ethiopia or 12.30% in Ghana.
At an average of 10% of GDP, Senegal’s ICT investments easily beat South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and the world average and as more of the population gets online, the government is seeking to meet the demand whilst actively growing the sector and fostering innovation within the country.
In 2009, the government launched it’s own intranet resource centre which allows it to use e-government to strengthen the use of Information Technology and Communication (ICT) for the development of the country.
For example, in the first phase of education services, five universities were interconnected with very high bandwidth, providing them the opportunity to share their teaching resources via videoconferencing and other distance learning techniques. This type of development in ICT has seen Senegal ranked 12th in Africa by the 2014 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) ICT Development Index.
There have also been high investments in the ICT education sector as well, with the country getting gongs as a key provider of ICT skills.
With around 90,000 well-educated students produced from tertiary institutions in Senegal, it produces a large number of students with excellent ICT skills. This provides a future workforce that could represent big economic opportunities not only for Senegal, but the entire region where such skills are in high demand.
A further step in this direction is the West African nation’s ambitious project to create Africa’s version of silicon valley, located about 40km from the capital Dakar. Work has already begun on the $120million “Diamniadio Technology Park”, funded by the government and the African Development Bank (AfDB), which will feature data and higher education centres.
But ICT developments are not solely confined to the park. The Dakar Digital City initiative, launched by the government in partnership with the country’s leading mobile operator Tigo, established a free wifi zone at the capital’s Independence square, with plans to establish more of them in big public arenas all over the city. The digitisation of Senegal will also see developments take place in Ndiass, Sebikotane, St. Louis and Ziguinchor.
Its efforts are increasingly being recognised. Technology hub Bantalabs have established offices in Dakar - the company provides open source web development, consulting and training. They also organise workshops and community events in Europe and West Africa.
CTIC Dakar, one of the leading technology business incubators in sub-Saharan Africa, was also launched in the country in 2011. The company, currently focused on supporting high-growth tech companies and startups, has since supported more than 60 companies, generating around $5 million in revenue.
Social media giant, Facebook, has also now set its sights on Senegal – in order to launch Internet.org (a project aimed at bringing Internet access to two thirds of the world that are not connected) as well as more than a dozen free basic services within the country. According to Facebook, the services will be available to Tigo SIM card holders.
Senegal is now the sixth country in Africa, and third country worldwide, where Internet.org is available. The free basic services that will be available through Internet.org to consumers with a Tigo SIM card will include: AccuWeather, BabyCenter & MAMA, BBC News, BING, UNICEF, Ebola Info, Facebook, UNICED Facts for Life, Girl Effect by Nike Foundation, Malaria No More, Messenger, Wattpad, Wikipedia, Wiwisport, Dakaractu.com, Senjob.
There are still areas the country needs to work on. Even though specific legislation on cybercrime has been enacted, Senegal does not have an official national cyber security strategy and, since there is no educational and professional training program for raising awareness, higher education and certification on cybercrime, this looks set to be a long process.