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AFRIK-IT  February 1997

AFRIK-IT February 1997

Subject:

Evolving ICT Development Strategies in Senegal/Acacia

From:

Adrian Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Mon, 3 Feb 1997 18:29:22 EST

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (309 lines)

The experience in Dakar has left me with mixed feelings.  On one hand, I
could see more clearly
the obstacles in Sierra Leone which cannot be solved over night. We need to
work on them. The successful evolution of ICT  in Senegal can be credited
to the strategies of the government, the telecom Sontatel, the
entrepeneurship of the senegalese and a strong presence of international
partnerships on a wide range of ventures and initiatives. On the other hand,
 Senegal is a concrete example that ICT has been integrated into the
African scence and it is evolving in a uniquely African way. It can happen
in Sierra Leone.

The following is the concluding paragraph of a three page article (below)
on what I learnt about the evolving
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development strategies in
Senegal.
"Nangadef" to friends I made in Senegal. Truly grateful to the IDRC Senegal
staff for a successful trip
and a pleasant stay in Senegal.


Sharing it to further discussion on the Acacia Mailing list
([log in to unmask]),
the africana-l mailing list ([log in to unmask]), Afrik-it
mailing list ([log in to unmask]) and the Leonenet mailing list
([log in to unmask]). I hope it inspire others to act for connectivity
in Sierra Leone.

(Acacia mailing list:  critical anaylsis/discussion of the fundamental
issues of ICT in African Development
  Send message (Subscribe acacia-l your name) to [log in to unmask])

Adrian Q. Labor
Acacia Team Member

 Evolving Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
 Development Strategies in  Senegal (Draft - Dec 20 1996)

Keeping abreast of the rapid evolution of computer and networking
applications in the
industrilized countries was a past time to my engineering studies at McGill
University. About
two years ago, that past time evolved in a relentless pursuit to bring
connectivity to a place on
the African continent I call home, not far from Dakar, Senegal. Having
knocked on countless
doors in Canada, USA, London, Italy and France for the sake of connectivity,
 any
connectivity, to Freetown, Sierra Leone, I could not help but satisfy my
curiosity as to how
connectivity seem come so naturally to Dakar, Senegal. Within those two
years we,  a team
engineering graduates from Sierra Leone, made some headway in pursuit of
connectivity but
seem to lose half as much each step of the way.  We became convinced it was
necessary to
see what the situation was in another African country, notably Senegal. It
had received  a lot
of praise in articles and report on ICT development in Africa. En route to
Sierra Leone this
Christmas period, I stopped off in Dakar for a week to meet with pioneering
actors behind the
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development and also
experience first
hand existing ICT-based services.

In my opinion, Dakar is a sea front garden in the western sahel region and
this can be
confimed by stairing out of an airplane window travelling south from
Casablanca in the
Maghreb region to the city. On the ground, it is the place where the
authentic traditional from
the interior of Africa seems to blend with the state-of- the-art modern
from the west to give a
beat that is  uniquely African. It appeals to me.


A broad range of ICT equipments  are in use in Senegal to support a host of
different ICT-based services seemingly accessible to all. For starters, a
good crossection of the adults I came across carried one of  the small
pocket-size radio powerful enough to recieve broadcast from as far as
Europe, the Mahgreb region, the Middle East region, and the West African
Sahel region in addition to the local broadcast. The watchman,  the street
vendor,  the senegalese researchers at IDRC and even  a geophysicist I met
carried one.  This is a society that definitely stays informed and  upto
the minute through point to multi-point statellite
broadcasting  techology.  Fourteen TV channels  is another application of
point to multi-point
statellite technology that senegalese enjoy. This is for entertainment
purpose and includes
French, Arab, English, Portugesse and Senegalese channels. At the one of
the homes I visited,
language was the least of the childrens concern and they had favourite
shows on all channels.
They switched from one channel to another of a different language at the
end of each show.
Perharps thats the making of  global villagers of the twenty first century.

Telecentres appear to have mushroomed all over Dakar and with varing level
of services. I
was told that this is typical in most towns and villages in Senegal. There
are a few expensive
telecentre. They have western decor with western-style professional
services and are operated
by the national telcom, Sonatel. The less expensive telecentre, are owned
by private operators
mostly of African decor with refreshment counters and a variety of other
services. These have
an ambiences of a African Kiosk where pedestrians off the busy dakar
streets can rest a while
from the hot burning sun, refresh themselves and  make a call at the same
time. Some
telecentres offer fax, photocopying, typing, video rentals and different
combinations of
telecommunication, computing and information services.  Its uniquely
African and very
distant from the impersonal telephone services of the west that was
designed to receive just
your money and nothing else. Senegal has unknowingly tackled the issue of
universal
telecommunication access and services (a telephone within reach of any
senegalesse and at an
affordable price) in a way that is consistent with the communal nature
preferred by Africans
communitie.  Universal access and services in the west is geared to a
telephone in each home
and at an affordable price. This is an option senegalesse who can afford
can have. Computing
classes and courses in wordprocessing, database, programming and other
computer software
applications can be seen advertised around Dakar.

Publicly accessible telephone-based computer networks have evolved in
Senegal and
began at the french research organisation ORSTOM. They operated a
telephone-based
computer networks using the UUCP protocol and with a gateway to the
Internet in France.
The NGO, ENDA-Dakar had similar network with gateways to the Internet  in
London and
Boston. These networks offered Email services and files transfer over phone
lines transmitted
during preprogrammed daily calls between the node and gateway. Pan Afrian
News Agency
also had a dedicated point to point telegraph connection from its
headquarters in Dakar to its
regional headquarters in eight African countries. These three organisations
have made the
transition to an internet connection with their own websites and in some
cases an interfaces to
previous systems were made to act as backs up. They are used occasionally.
Sonatel created a
Telecom-Plus, an internet provider,  to adminsters its Internet services
for users interested in
remote Internet access from home. Telecom Plus will in the coming year open
a drop-in
Internet centre for public use on an hourly basis just like the Dakar
cybercafe, Metissacana,
and Arc Infromatique. The cybercafe also offers remote access services and
they compete
with Sonatel's Telecom Plus. The price limits are set by Sonatel and a new
set of reduced
price limits was advertised in the newspapers during the week I visited
senegal.  A telecentre,
Communicator, offers internet services inaddtion to the telephone, fax and
refreshment. The
variety in quality of service  and the uses of Internet among the
commericial, non-commercial, entertainment, and research insitutions
indicates that the Internet in Senegal is
evolving.

Sonatel is currently running a pilot test on the use of  wiresless
technology in the expansion
of its services. The test is carried out in a selected area for a six month
period. They ran a
pilot on the Internet for 2 months with 50 free subscribers before it was
open for commercial
and non-commercial use.  Sonatel has consistentlty used pilot to ascertain
the potential
commercial use of products and services.  The current strategy for Sonatel,
a major actor,
stakeholder and partner in ICT development in Senegal is threefold. They
will expand public
telephone connection by needs, arrive at an internet solution and develop
telecommunication
solutions in the interior in a manner consistent with the decentralisation
process. They are
confident that networking solutions for a variety of needs will evolve
through public/private
partnership just as the telecommunication solution did. Large billboards
with a famous
senegalese entertainer and the word "ALIZE!!" signal the arrival of celluar
telephone
services. Customers have already began signing up at the Sonatel office off
rue Medina in
Dakar.


In short, the outline of an information economy can be diciphered from the
maze of
advertisment of  telecommunication, computing; information products and
services on the
streets of Dakar and also in the colorful Sonatel telephone directory.
Senegal is obviously on
to something.

The Previous paragraghs have been about the tangible infrastructure,
technology tools and
applications that are in plain view for all to see. They appear to have
come from sound
policies (not just in the telecommunication sector) that were proactive and
designed with
foresight. May be they did not come from such policy, it just happened by
coincidence.  In
the late 80s, Sonatel invested in a state of the art physical
infrastructure and before it could
begin implementing services, that required innovation on the part of a
highly skilled and
competent workforce, the government opted for decentralisation and
privatisation.
Essentially, the private sector indirectly took on part of the
responsibility of harnessing
potential services from the physical telecommunications infrastructure that
had been laid.
Whatever the case, there is an explosion of ICT-based services and
applications in Senegal.

 The current ICT strategy in senegal appears to be around the need for a
broad based
coordination and collaboration of ICT development to maximize every new
resources,
project or initiaitve irrespective of the source. The agreement to have the
university adminster
the SN domain and the technical responsibilities transfered to Sonatel from
the  French
research organization, ORSTOM, is just one example. The unanimous decision
a week earlier
at the Canadian Afrinet Project presentation that infrastructure was the
least of senegal's ICT
development concerns and the focus should now be shifted to content
development  is another
example. There is only one government department with an Internet
connection among the
eight Internet Service Providers / Internet connection in Senegal. There
are three  non-commercial of which the government department is one, two
commercial, two research
institutions and Sonatel's . In light of this, it was suggest the internet
server which is to be
donate by the Canadian Afrinet project and orginally destined for the
Telecom should go to
another govrnment department and used to build the government's capacity in
content
development.

The Acacia Initiative,  a canadian effort by the International Development
and Research
Centre, has Senegal as one of four sub-Saharan countries through which a
mechanism for the
development of national ICT strategy can be developed. This fits in well
with Senegal's
quest for a broad based coordination and collaboration in ICT development.
An IDRC
sponsored  national conference which was planned for the second week of
Janury was well
received by all the stakeholders, partners and other actors in Senegal. The
IDRC researcher, a
senegalese, who is organising the conference expects no less than a
national strategy and a
mechanism from this two day workshop. The stratgey behind the venue of
choice, a resort
outside the city of dakar, is too spare no expense in getting full
participation of participants
and avoid the distraction of down town dakar and small rendez-vous during
sessions. The
strategy at the workshop, is to start with a preliminary draft of a
national ICT strategy,
improve it, adopt it in principle  and develop concrete mechanism for its
implentation. The
draft is the amalgamation of a report on a series of surveys on the
suggestions by  grassroot
organisations across four regions and a report from  high-level policy
studies by a senegalese
expert on ICT development. These surveys were carried out by senegalese
field consultants.
The Acacia Initiative and all other ICT projects are expected to work from
this guidelines to
further ICT development in Senegal.

The experience in Dakar has left me with mixed feelings; On one hand, I
could see more
clearly the obtsacles in Sierra Leone which cannot be solved over night.
The successful
evolution of ICTs in Senegal can be credited to the strategies of
government, Sonatel, the
entrepeneurship of Senegalesse and a strong presence of  international
partnerships on a wide
range of ventures and intitiatives. On the other hand, Senegal is a
concrete example  that ICT
has been integrated into the African scence and it is evolving  in a
uniquely African way. It
can happen in Sierra Leone too.

"Nangadef" to the many friends I made in Senegal. Truly grateful to the
IDRC Senegal Stafff
for a succesful trip and pleasant stay in Dakar. I would be back.

Adrian Q. Labor
Acacia Team member
[log in to unmask]

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