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AFRIK-IT  May 1999

AFRIK-IT May 1999

Subject:

UNDP in africa

From:

Jørn Grotnes <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Sun, 2 May 1999 19:14:37 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (93 lines)

Eric,

>organized--makes you walk through a slide show)--lots of good words about
>networking, communicating, infrastructure, etc. what DO they do? set up an

Warning; core dump follows :-)

"Not much" is covering it pretty well. My experience: they moved in; spent
one (1) week of "research" in hotels and restaurants, held some
speeches, signed an already prepared report on the conditions, blessed
the plan as put forward by the government/Telco, put the money in and ran
away. Four companies already working with Internet in The Gambia
managed to get a letter to a UNDP representative by leaving it on the
hotel, despite efforts by the Telco not allow any contact between us and
the UNDP people. We never received any acknowledgement or information
relating to this letter, which only stated our interest and asked that we be
informed about the project.

What follows is my personal opinion about what transpired in the last year
when the UNDP Internet project was implemented in The Gambia:

I think that most large "aid" organisations like Norways NORAD
and UNDP et al is that they operate by the principles of:

1) We have to get rid of the money
2) We can't afford bad publicity
3) We can't afford to administer or follow up on small scale
Conclusion: find large takers that can produce nice reports. Any actual
development is a bonus.

The plan they "submitted" in our case was utter rubbish (we got it as part
of a tender document that we had to pay $50 for). Among other things
they consistently referred to the GA as the top level domain (the correct
one is GM), they claimed it is not being administered (we were
administering it since end of 1996). They listed the 10 largest cities in
the country (Gambia has _one_, if you want to be a bit flexible about the
term). And the original UNDP demand of the Telco not being an ISP was
abandoned in a chapter where the explanation was that "the Telco fears
that the private sector will create a cartel and push the prices up".
After tendering the project was given to the Nigeria office of a
French/US company and UNDP was not involved again. One company
trying to get in touch with a UNDP rep. in New York was told that they
were finished with this project (curious, it was to be a 3 year programme).

Later in a meeting with the comms. ministry and the Telco we were given
a long list of demands that had to be met to be allowed to be licenced as
an ISP ($100.000 investment, 5 employees, max. 8 users/modem, # of
telephone lines for support, # of servers etc etc). We were also told what
prices we were allowed to sell at, together with a proposal that "we should
work out the price together". My little comment that price fixing is illegal
in
most countries did not go down well at all. The government quickly decided
on a per user price of $20/month and the Telco came up with $4000 per
128kbps leased line per month. No amount of arguing managed to change
these parameters. The math should be fairly obvoius.

The price tag on this project was $1.1 million. This money was used to set
up a 2MB network to all the 10 "major sites", and a leased line router each
place. Currently none of these are in use, only dialup services are used,
except for the private company that is trying (Quantum) and one rich private
research institution MRC) both of whom are connected to the Banjul routers.
The Telco has 60 digital modems and it covers the market pretty well so far.
The sattelite link is 512kbps, and costs exactly the same as the about
600 users pays ($12.000 per month). So the system is losing money and
has already shown signs of flaking. It is abut 140 km to Dakar, Senegal
so a backup line as suggested by us is feasible but not implemented.
According to the "memorandum of understanding" between the
Telco and UNDP, some money should have been used to subsidize
the ISPs to get the private sector started. However this was never done,
with the explanation "it is only a MOU".

The result of the project so far is that the Gambian market with <1000
users has received a cheap ($20/month unlimited dial-up 56K) service.
The cost to the project was about $1200 per user. The service is not
making money. The only private company involved is Quantum, who
operates on the same access router as the Telco and is in effect
simply a reseller. They do not control their prices and can not change
upstream provider.

We still provide domain registration and web space/development etc,
but we cannot operate an ISP in these conditions. When we were
forced to stop the ISP business (we had an e-mail only service but
was not allowed to continue because we needed a licence as described
above) we had 350 users and were making a profit after our initial
investment 2 years earlier of $50.000.


Best regards

Jorn Grotnes
Commit-Nextsite
The Gambia

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