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Can Senegal consolidate ICT gains?

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal

Senegal, a lower middle income country that spent an average of 10% of its GDP on ICT investments for four years in a row (2005 to 2008), overtaking the likes of South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, appears to be a telecommunications giant lurking in the shadow.

Senegal’s mobile base topped10.7 million at the end of June 2012, a performance that pushed its mobile penetration to 88% and its total internet subscriptions to 528 358, of which 18.1% were on ADSL and the rest on mobile accounts, according to figures released by the regulator, Agence de Régulation des Télécommunications et des Postes (ARTP).

Mobile broadband internet in Senegal, currently accounting for nearly 80% of the market from 28.5% in June 2011, is very popular and growing, reports say.

Apart from being second in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of teledensity in landline phones behind South Africa, Senegal was the fourth country in Africa behind South Africa, Nigeria and Tunisia to adopt the ADSL technology.

“For a country with very limited resources to perform like this, it’s heart-stopping and unexpectedly true,” Dakar-based IT consultant Birame Ndiaye told Biztechafrica this week.

“These figures clearly demonstrate the strong political interest of our leadership to invest in ICT, a field very critical for educational and socio-economic development of a country.”

“When they talk about ICT in Africa, the first countries that come to everybody’s mind are the top five economies, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria. Nobody even knows us, and knows where Senegal is located. That’s good because it helps us flourish in the shadow free of unnecessary pressures.

Ndiaye said he was hoping that the government of Macky Sall will keep Senegal’s ICT flame burning.

“His predecessors have done a lot, most importantly enacting policies that introduced reforms in the sector,” he said. “We’re watching him with an eagle’s eye.

A World Bank report titled Telecommunications Sector Reforms in Senegal compiled by Jean-Paul Azam,  Tchétché N’Guessan and Magueye Dia said Senegal privatised its incumbent operator, Sonatel (Societé Nationale des Télécommunications du Sénégal) in 1997, granting it seven years of fixed-line exclusivity while introducing ‘managed competition’ in the cellular market and free competition in value-added services.

A new era consequently dawned in this West African nation of 13-million people.

BRVM-listed Sonatel, now partly owned by France Telecom, owns 2 200 km of fiber optic cables.

The company is also a co-owner of several submarine cables in the world, including the world’s longest underwater fiber optic SAT3/WASC/SAFE (28000 km-long), connecting Europe, Africa and Asia, inaugurated in Dakar in May 2002.

The company, which finally launched its IPTV service  over ADSL early this year, also co-owns Atlantis 2, the first optical system landing at Dakar that entered service in February 2000 between Senegal, Portugal, Spain, Cape Verde, Brazil and Argentina.

Senegal still has one of the lowest internet penetrations in Africa despite Sonatel boasting that it has one of the largest Internet bandwidths on the continent, with a capacity of 6.5 Gbits/s. Sonatel has a presence in Mali, Guinea Conakry and Guinea Bissau through its mobile arm, Orange.

Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye said African governments have a key role to play in the creation and consolidation of scientific and technological capabilities.

“The government can be both a catalyst and an inhibitor of development, and it should encourage the development of the ICT sector, while taking into consideration the realities of the country,” a Senegal telecoms report, published by the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington DC, points out.

“It should also work towards increasing access to the internet in households at advantageous prices.”


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