Case Study – Cote D'Ivoire

Côte D’Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960. Through 1993, Félix Houphouët-Boigny ruled the country, after which a coup by Robert Guei, popular protest to install Laurent Gbagbo, and two civil wars (with one ongoing today) have deeply shaken the presidential republic. A French colony in the early twentieth century, Côte D’Ivoire maintains French as its official language. Meanwhile, its largest ethnic group is Akan, similarly to its neighbor Ghana. Today, about 21 million people live in the nation, including about 300,000 internet users. That 1.4% of the population mainly live in and around the major coastal city of Abijan, the country’s largest, where several major fiber optic submarine cables land. Still, there persists a discernible gap between the Abidjan hub and the agricultural upland regions in terms of access to and adoption of the internet and other ICTs. While use of the internet has risen at a steady pace over the last decade, it remains a future endeavor for many.

However, foreign investment and internal diversification have lessened recently, in part due to political violence, and in part due to corruption and competition in key markets. Côte D’Ivoire’s major export has traditionally been cocoa, of which it is the world’s largest exporter. In the region, only Nigeria surpasses the country for the amount of goods exported.Nevertheless, Ivorians enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in the region. Their telecommunications infrastructure is also well-developed by African standards, with over four million mobile phone users. The extent to which mobile phone users and internet users overlap is unclear. Though Côte D’Ivoire was among the earliest Sub-Saharan countries to achieve full Internet connectivity, its infrastructure has been maintained by very few entities. There are five ISPs in the country, including the two largest, Afnet and Arobase Telecom, who provide most of the fixed-broadband access available. The effects of limited competition in the marketplace for ISPs and other telecom companies — along with the anticipation of complete liberalization of the voice over IP (VoIP) markets — have been tied closely both to the state’s intimate economic relationship with France (which provides the bulk of foreign direct investment) and to the slow process of political restabilization since 1999’s coup.  Cocoa exports to France have been met by French investment in ICT infrastructure. Meanwhile, the advent of national policies and their enforcement has been slow to congeal.

Complications in the Ivorian technoscape extend to its smaller-scale institutions. In the absence of cohesive, overarching technology policy, governance in the sector has fallen largely to a mix of international standardization bodies and to local organizations. The international groups, such as the ITU and ISO, implement both open and proprietary standards, while the local groups, which include public and private universities along with business development groups and professional associations, tend to foster practices geared towards the growth of ICT access and use on the ground. For example, cyber-cafes have proliferated in  Côte D’Ivoire since 2003, allowing those who can afford the equivalent of fifty cents per hour to get online conveniently. Freedom of speech is taken seriously in national legislation here, though the abiding pragmatic constraints on expression, such as the nebulous degree to which professional standards for journalism other than broadcast radio are enforced, predict that further development of ICTs and their governing institutions will remain slow and difficult through this decade.

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