Francophone Africa’s bus companies ignore ICTs, innovation

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Bamako, Mali

Standing in a queue at the bus station in Mali’s central Bamako while waiting to be checked in to board an inter-state bus can be a frustrating affair.

Everyone has to get his or her name and destination checked from an old black book. There is not a single computer in sight, no fixed line phone and no fax machine in almost every office located in this rundown, muddy but populated bus station.

For these bus companies, many of which have been operating for years and serving West African destinations such as Dakar, Abidjan, Conakry, Kayes, Cotonou, Accra, Bouaké, Ouagadougou, and many more, the language of ICTs is relatively unknown.

“If this ICT and innovation you are talking about is a language, sorry we don’t speak it here. Everything is handled by the book here, and it has been like this for decades, and we have done it very efficiently,” Abdoulaye Maiga, a bus manager told Biztechafrica.

“From the moment passengers show up here to buy a ticket and book a place, to the time they come to board the bus,” he added.

“Bus companies in West Africa are all the same, none of them have an understanding of innovation and technology, and they totally ignore the impact this can have in their business,” one passenger, Serge Fofana, told Biztechafrica.

Fofana, a civil servant-turned businessman, who has been travelling around West Africa for almost two decades, said everything has stayed the same over the years, from the bus companies’ make-shift offices to a rundown bus station and the old buses built with the old technology.

“Look, I dont want to lose my job by saying something my boss won’t like. After all, what difference will these computers and innovation make, this is only bus business,” bus driver Joseph Ouédraogo said vehemently.

Technology analyst Ibrahima Diabaté attributes the problem to the spectre of illiteracy and informal which he said was still haunting many industries on the continent. “For someone to suggest that computers wont make any difference means that we are far away from reaching  our full potential as a continent,” he said.

However, Diabaté said these bus companies need a helping hand from international technology companies to ‘modernise’ and ‘ICT-ise’ their business, and therefore bring it in line with modern business trends.

In April this year, IBM researchers used movement data collected from Ivory Coast cellphone users to design an experimental new urban transportation system for the commercial capital Abidjan.

There are an estimated 550 large buses, 5 000 mini-buses and over 11 000 small taxis in Abidjan, official figures from the country’s ministry of transport show.

The IBM research work was done in collaboration with cellphone service provider Orange, which provided 2.5 billion call records gathered between December 2011 and April 2012.

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