Côte d’Ivoire: Tech hub on the rise

By JESSICA MOODY – 
Following years of political turmoil, Côte d’Ivoire is growing quickly and attracting investment. Now, the government is trying to position the country as  west Africa’s technology and start-up hub.

In July the government, in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB), announced the creation of the Ivorian Innovation Fund (FII). The €200m ($223m) project will be devoted to infrastructure and finance support for start-up businesses, particularly in the technology sector.

The government plans to use the fund to develop business partnerships and training opportunities among the member countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).

The money will go some way to addressing the problems facing technology start-ups in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s capital, including the lack of technical skills and financing. Additionally it could be positive for west African regional integration, prompting the bloc to pull together to develop technological capabilities.

The fund is the most recent initiative designed to enhance the tech and start-up environment in Côte d’Ivoire.

In April 2015, the government announced a seven year, €152m euro project to lay thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cables and establish of cyber centres in rural areas. In October 2015, Abidjan hosted the 11th edition of the Africa Telecom People exhibition, where key stakeholders gathered to discuss the future of e-commerce in Africa.

Companies are taking note, and beginning to follow the government’s lead. Gemalto, the world leader in digital security, opened its first office in west Africa in Abidjan in early 2015.

Telecommunications company MTN has expanded its operations in Côte d’Ivoire, including a €120m investment to upgrade its network by 2017, while Standard Chartered Bank established its first west Africa office in Abidjan in late 2015.

The Orange telecoms group has also decided to set up its first start-up development programme in Africa in Abidjan. The project will seed and nurture emerging businesses in the sector, according to Orange spokeswoman Vanessa Clarke.

Digital dividends

The Ivorian population is seeing benefits from the digital development policy drive. Mobile phone penetration has now surpassed the 100 percent penetration rate, while internet connections have skyrocketed.

The number of internet subscriptions has increased 40 times between 2011 and 2015 from 200,000 to 8 million.

These positive trends are likely to continue as President Alassane Ouattara’s administration seeks to make Abidjan a business hub that can compete with Senegal’s Dakar and Lagos in Nigeria.

However, the country still lags some way behind rivals Senegal  and Rwanda – two countries which have implemented successful digital development strategies – on the Global Innovation Index.

Further digital infrastructure improvements, including the development of fibre optic cables and improved 4G access in rural areas, are also in the works. An additional 5,000 km of fibre optic cables are already scheduled to be installed by the end of 2017.

Côte d’Ivoire is increasingly “the most credible competitor to Nigeria for the status of wcest Africa’s business technology hub”, according to Maja Bovcon, west Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

Combined with the 2012 investment code, which offers a variety of tax incentives and reductions, and investments in tech infrastructure, it is getting easier and cheaper for companies to set up shop in Abidjan and elsewhere in Côte d’Ivoire.

“Côte d’Ivoire has shown the political will to attract foreign capital and has created a technological and digital hub that benefits the entire region,” explains Christophe Lepoivre, vice president for West and Central Africa for Gemalto.

“Abidjan is an excellent location to open an office,” he adds.

Provided the forthcoming constitutional referendum and the 2020 elections do not undermine political stability in Côte d’Ivoire, tech-fuelled business looks set to be a cornerstone in rebuilding the country’s image as the ‘economic miracle’ in west Africa.

Source: This Is Africa Online

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