ICTs: Keeping the Tunisian Spring Evergreen

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The historic changes in Tunisia since the Arab Spring revolution of last year have opened many new opportunities – notably the potential to revitalise a dynamic and entrepreneurial private sector. TechnoCan ICTs keep the revolution in Tunisia going? (Credit: Amine Ghrabi, Flickr Creative Commons)logy and social media played an important role in bringing about the revolution. So it is logical to expect that information and communication technologies (ICTs) will continue to be important in the post-revolutionary phase of Tunisia’s development. But to find out quite what the role of ICTs is likely to be, infoDev – a global partnership program within the World Bank – recently commissioned the wide-ranging study ‘Tunisia: from revolutions to institutions’, describing how Tunisians are using ICTs to build a new future.
Imagine you are a young, technologically-savvy college graduate in Tunis with a start-up idea. Although your domestic market is small, your French and Arabic language skills and diaspora ties give you a foothold in both Europe and the Arab States. Furthermore, the historic changes across North Africa present new opportunities in an increasingly networked region. So, what’s stopping you from building the next killer app?

infoDev worked with a team of researchers from Reboot to conduct the study. They found that many small frictions tend to increase the difficulties of doing business in Tunisia, especially for smaller firms. These pain points range from the vestiges of the previous government’s encumbering bureaucracy to a lack of quality infrastructure such as consumer payment systems. Minimizing these barriers is essential to the future success of Tunisia: the revolution was driven, in part, by a lack of economic opportunity, especially in the interior regions where many feel they are being left behind what is going on in the coastal zones.There are great disparities between the coastal and interior areas of Tunisia.

There are concrete ways forward, though. An improved digital infrastructure – especially for the interior areas – will be essential. The World Bank recently announced a new regional initiative to improve broadband connectivity in the Middle East and North Africa region. A conducive and responsive public sector can reduce frictions, and multinational corporations and donors can support programs such as business incubators that link entrepreneurs with capital, mentoring, and business opportunities. In addition, creating a culture of change that sees business expansion, and closer regional integration, should help in attracting new investors and innovators.

Toward a Larger ICT in Post-Conflict Reconstruction Agenda
In addition to examining the market for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the new report looks at other issues. Along with the World Bank’s recently unveiled interim strategy for Tunisia, the report emphasizes the importance of good governance and citizen participation, socioeconomic inclusion, and the determinants of sustainable growth.  It shows, for instance, how ICTs were used for electoral monitoring.

Although Tunisia is not a post-conflict country, its trajectory since the revolution has clues to inform those countries that are emerging from conflict around the world. For this reason, the UKaid-financed report was commissioned as the first in a series of case studies that examine how ICT has been used in post-conflict countries such as Liberia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste. ICT can be essential for post-conflict reconstruction.

Oftentimes, telecommunications are one of the first industries to restart after the cessation of hostilities, bringing much needed investment and jobs, as well as foreign revenue. Additionally, governments and donors can use ICT to expand the scope of their work, delivering essential services and information.

The role of the private sector in those situations is well documented, but as Tunisia shows, the opportunities opened by generational changes are not without challenge, and smart policies and programs are needed to capture the promise of ICT.

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Tim Kelly

Lead ICT Policy Specialist

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