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How can Côte d’Ivoire help its businesses and citizens acquire new technologies?

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Photo: World Bank

Anuella Hélaise is the winner of the blog post contest entitled 
À l’écoute de nos enfants (Listening to Our Children) organized by the World Bank office in Abidjan. The contest asked young high school students to express their views on Côte d’Ivoire’s technology gap, the focus of the most recent economic update on Côte d’Ivoire.

Hélaise lives in Abidjan, in the commune of Port-Bouet. She is the only daughter in a family of seven children. For this Grade 11 A2 student in the Port-Bouet public high school, “participating in this competition has given me an opportunity to express myself and to make my voice heard.”

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Here is Hélaise’s answer to the following question: “With the exception perhaps of your telephone, Africa is suffering from a technology gap. How can Côte d’Ivoire help its businesses and citizens acquire new technologies?”

We are seeing an ever more dizzying array of new technologies in the world. Although our continent, and more specifically my country, Côte d’Ivoire, is doing quite well, we are paradoxically lagging behind in this area. It is this paradox that I would like to address.

Although Côte d’Ivoire is enjoying one of the highest growth rates in the world (7.6% in 2017), its businesses, be they small, medium-sized or large, operate almost entirely without up-to-date equipment. They are navigating without instruments, as mariners would say – they are a kind of Titanic, giants with feet of clay in a hyper high-tech world environment and their operating methods are de facto doomed to become obsolete.  

When I have had the opportunity to visit the offices of some of these companies, I am always astonished to see that they are using outmoded computers, running outdated software and processors from the technological middle ages. Some cyber cafés in my neighborhood are still operating on Windows XP, with few stations running on Windows 7. The hospital where I receive care uses computers running on Windows 8 when they should have Windows 10, and the machinery in some factories is not automated or even computer-assisted, exposing workers to numerous accidents and health risks.

I am also struck by the digital illiteracy of many of our citizens. Everyone talks about the technological revolution, about ICT and digital television, etc., but there are also many who are still asking, “what are you talking about?” This may not be as serious a problem for people living in towns, but in villages these words are meaningless. Owning a computer might as well be one of the 12 labors of Hercules, giving one to your children or relatives would be a miracle:  what a dismal picture!

When iPad 1 and 2 were launched, we were surprised to see pictures of long lines of young people outside stores in western countries, which were often forced to close when their initial stocks sold out. In the meantime, we, young Africans, looked bleakly at these “alien creatures” . . . all we could do was look on.

This shows just how far, how very far, we are from the reality of new technologies. These devices cost at least CFAF 500,000 apiece (approximately $943) when in 2016 per capita gross national revenue was $1,520!

But I am an optimist by nature and I have some ideas on how we can remedy this situation.

I would first of all like to express a wish:  do not use young people as a simple sounding board. Really listen to us, give our ideas a chance. I am not the first or the last to make suggestions but they are seldom followed up.

Even if my suggestions seem unrealistic or unachievable, please give the impossible a try. You have emphasized “listening to our children,” please listen to me.

First of all, the Government could help businesses make up their technology gap by significantly reducing import taxes on goods related to new technologies.

The Government must genuinely promote the creation of science and technology training centers throughout the country to allow us to innovate and to dispense with foreign expertise, which is very costly.

You will no doubt respond that these solutions would be too much of a burden for the budget. I suggest that the Government levy a modest sum of CFAF 5 (equivalent to less than $0.10) from the pay of all wage earners over a specific period. According to my calculations, just in the city of Abidjan, which has 6 million inhabitants, that would amount to CFAF 30 million per month, or more than $56,000 in Abidjan alone. . .

This money could be used to finance the education and projects of young inventors.

For we as citizens, the challenges to be met are enormous. While not abandoning urban areas, our leaders must emphasize rural areas. How many civil servants and citizens in the provinces do not have access to information, much less to ICT, in the performance of their daily tasks? Information often arrives a day late and the relay antennas for our radio and television stations do not cover the entire country. You just need to visit Toulepleu in the west near Liberia to confirm this.

Given these difficulties, I propose that Côte d’Ivoire acquire a new generation satellite to reduce the still high cost of internet connections on our mobile telephones. Depending on the operator, they can range between CFAF 4,000 and 5,000 (between $7.50 and $9.40) for 1 GB of data per month.

We need to ensure that speeches and good intentions make way for action, first of all by listening to the people, particularly young people. We may be bursting with talent, but this talent must be channeled. Our country will develop rapidly if the Government invests in its young people.

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