In Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, over three users in four still have to go to Internet cafés to surf, with services that are slow and expensive. Yet new technologies have brought about pioneering progress in Africa, including for electronic purses, which allow financial transactions to be made on mobile phones. ICTs can also bring the administration closer to users and contribute to the fight against corruption. This is what Cina Lawson, Minister of Post and Digital Economy of Togo, explains.
What are the main barriers to the development of ICTs in Togo?
First and foremost, the lack of infrastructure. To strengthen it, with the aim of providing nationwide coverage, we have decided to provide EUR 22.8m of financing, with a Chinese partner, for a fiber optic network which will connect up 500 administrative buildings, high schools and public hospitals in Lomé, the capital. Starting in July 2016, these different establishments will have access to very fast broadband Internet.
In a second step, the project will be extended to regions around the country. Furthermore, a Warcip-Togo project has received EUR 26.5m of World Bank financing to build, by the end of 2016, a neutral hosting center, a Data Center, where the facilities and space will be able to be rented out to companies and other clients. The project aims to set up an Internet exchange point (IXP2), which will allow operators and service providers to reduce their costs and, consequently, their tariffs.
What are your main challenges?
The first concerns service quality and access, particularly for broadband Internet. There is strong demand on the part of our population, 7.5 million inhabitants, with 75% under 30.
The second point is the cost of the service. In Europe, Asia and the USA, the 4G economy has a business model focused on an affluent market. The profits to be made obviously give operators incentives to invest. In our country, people do not have the same purchasing power. Consequently, there is a need to ensure that the service is offered at the lowest possible price, according to an economic model which we are aiming for. We are planning to pool the infrastructure of our two public operators, Togo Télécom and Togo Cellulaire, so that they can subsequently rent from each other. This should be systematic for the 4G and very fast Broadband.
In order to ensure there is nationwide coverage, we need to have very close relations with operators, to know what they are willing to do. This is especially the case as Togo Télécom and Togo Cellulaire will be restructured. Four new structures will be created: a holding company, an entity for services, another for infrastructure, and a fourth for maintenance and support for works. Finally, on 1 January 2017, taxes will be removed on imports of smartphones, terminals and hardware.
What progress have you achieved in terms of access to the service?
WiFi hotspots with a capacity of 100 megabits per second have been installed in the secondary cities of Aného, Atakpamé, Dapaong, Kara, Kpalimé, Sokodé and Tsévié. Our policy for universal access aims to ensure that everyone in Togo is less than 5 km from a very fast broadband access point by 2030.
Along the same lines, in 2016, we have launched the “Agri-SME” project, which is financed with FCFA 1.2bn by the African Development Bank (AfDB), and used mobile phones to transfer subsidies to the most vulnerable farmers, which are allocated to them by the State. This money is no longer paid in cash, but directly, through electronic purses, which guarantee transparency and promote the fight against corruption.
This project will also allow us to identify all the farmers in Togo, in order to set up an agricultural information system, with the aim of having a better understanding of fertilizer requirements by location or of production volumes. It is a perfect example of what can be achieved for good governance with the digital economy.
What about young people?
Another project on the digital work environment (DWE) in high schools aims to equip establishments, build the capacities of educational staff, and set up a national exchange platform. The program is ongoing and 150 teachers and administrative managers have already benefited from training. Over 2,500 students use these tools in their education.
Does your policy focus on the administration, which you target through several projects?
Indeed, we give priority to the quality of public services, without forgetting the issue of security. Most senior officials in Togo used to use unprotected email addresses with non-uniform extensions (Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.). In view of this, we have set up a secure and more functional governmental mail system. The “gouv.tg” domain has been created and services have been trained in how to use this new mail system.
Since April 2016, we have also had “e-villages” in Togo: we have given a telephone, SIM card and monthly telephone credit to our 4,000 village leaders and canton leaders. They can communicate on an innovative platform to collect, analyze and process information. They can tell us, on a voice server, in the local language of their choice, what they would like to see improved. In order to develop good policies, we feel it is important to know our citizens and provide feedback on information from the field. In addition, security is a major issue due to the porous nature of our borders. The system makes it possible to collect information in real time and raise the alert in the event of an epidemic or natural disaster.
What do you expect from donors?
I must say that no one knows our challenges better than us. We can be helped not by telling us what to do, but by bearing in mind that every situation is unique. Togo may have problems in common with Kenya, but we will not have the same solutions. Donors must in particular recognize and respect our views in developing these solutions. In a partner relationship, it is the beneficiary who must define its needs and the way in which the solutions must be implemented. As long as we are financially dependent, we cannot, of course, be totally free. In my opinion, the most important challenges concern the implementation. We know what to do, but we need help to find the right resource persons in order to implement our projects.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.