Djibouti is an important platform and an international transit node of submarine cables, simultaneously at the heart of the Arab World and at the crossroads between Orient and Occident, between Africa and Asia.
During the International Telecommunication Union 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Republic of South Korea, Bilateral Magazine discussed Djibouti’s place and goals on the Information and Communication Technology global scene with Mr. Ali Hassan Bahdon, Djibouti’s Minister of Communication, Post, and Telecommunications.
- Before the actual questions, could you briefly present Djibouti’s place on the international scene?
Djibouti has an inherent regional role due to its unique location, for all business sectors, whether it be logistics, transport, telecommunications or finance. Gateway to East Africa, Djibouti is a country brimming with diverse opportunities, as well as a multicultural country with a long tradition of international trade and regional diplomacy. As the President of the Republic says, Djibouti isfriend of all, and enemy of none.
We belong to Africa, but we are alsomember of the Arab League and of the Francophonie, and located in an English-speaking region. This cultural diversityis part of the richness of Djibouti.
Since the independence in 1977, Djibouti has largely invested in the logistics sector. As a result, while we had only a single port fifteen years ago, todaywe have four operational ports—one oil, one container, one bulk and one multipurpose ports—and three other ports are currently in construction—one livestock, one oil and one bulk ports—and should be operational within three years. These seven wonders are quite unique for a population of less than one million. The reason is that the developments undertaken are not for Djibouti, but for the whole region and the global economy.
Djibouti is a country that was globalized prematurely. The Djibouti Franc is pegged to the US dollar since 1948, and fixed since 1958 to the value of one dollar for 177.721 Djibouti Francs. This provides Djibouti with a solid economic, political and social stability that is unique in the region. Djibouti also possesses a free zone since July 1980, proof, if any were required, of the experience of the country in international trade.
- Will the geographical location of Djibouti, being an international trade node, allow Djibouti to take a leader’srole in the development of ICT? What influence would that have on Djibouti’s growth?
In the same manner that the world economy tends to move from physical goods to digital goods, Djibouti, benefitting from its logistics and port richness, is also developing its virtual and digital sector. In this regard, the country has a considerable advance, being the only African country disposing of five operational submarine cables. The installation of two other submarine cables, of higher throughput, is also scheduled.
"We play a very active role in the regional diplomacy, and have very good relationships with all the most important world economic actors. It is time for Djibouti to play its part on the international scene. Nowis the time to bethere."
Concerning the financial sector, Djibouti possesses several advantages as well, thanks to its stable, unique, solid, and fiscally very advantageous banking system. This is a country that has what it takes to become a regional hub, and as such is proactively engaged in searching for partners worldwide. We are notably working with Japan at the moment to strengthen our coastguard’s capabilities.
We play a very active role in the regional diplomacy, and have very good relationships with all the most important world economic actors. It is time for Djibouti to play its part on the international scene. Nowis the time to be there.
- Could you briefly describe the concept and goals of “Djibouti 2035” regarding ICTs?
Djibouti possesses capacities well beyond its needs, and even beyond regional needs. Submarine cables are completed by land cables. Djibouti has for ambition to become a regional hub for data centres, big data processing and a variety of activities in which Djibouti has a remarkable comparative advantage.
“Vision Djibouti 2035” is a global vision that draws rough areas of development, and which is composed of a “Technology and Telecommunications” subpart. The Djibouti Digital project is one of the key elements of this subpart, and is expected to be completed in 2025.
Djibouti Digital is about creating a new reality for the Djiboutian economy. In the digital era, which affects such diverse fields as education, health, economy and hobbies, it is a matter of taking advantage of technological progress so as to offer our partners opportunities they could not obtain elsewhere, whether in terms of capacity and quality of service or in terms of know-how. Indeed, Djibouti Telecom technicians and engineers figure amongst the best in the region.
Djibouti Digital is also about materializing a new vision for the city. A sustainable, green city, with the goal of being, by 2025, the first African country relying exclusively on renewable energy, notably thanks to partnerships with major, specialised international groups. But this is also a city with an ICT-based economy, where research and innovation occupies a predominant place, and where education—from the young age to university—is provided through modern technology. Today for instance, we offer an XO Tablet to all first-graders in public schools throughout the country, whatever their family’s social status and financial situation. We strive to awaken their creativity and comprehension of technology, so that they may become actors of technological change in the future.
- What are your goals at the end of thisplenipotentiaryconference? What are the potential gains for Djibouti and its partners?
Djibouti has as goal, if not as duty, to fully play its role of economic actor on the global scene, and to contribute to the development of technology and telecommunications. We also want to demonstrate our sincere will to be a visible, active actor that takes part in discussions and debates, and that can be relied on for the future of technology.
"We must find a certain appropriateness in ourapproach in order for it to beboth inclusive and innovative, while respecting each other’s stances and showing all the tolerance that is necessary in this kind of endeavour."
Our role, as participants of this conference, is to involve all ourpartners, to expand our sphere of partners, but also if required, to act as spokesperson for thosewho do not have the opportunity to speak. We must find a certain appropriateness in our approach in order for it to be both inclusive and innovative, while respecting each other’s stances and showing all the tolerance that is necessary in this kind of endeavour.
"These partnerships, that we hope long-term, need to be prepared soon: tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."
The gains from this conference, which are reciprocal, are to develop partnerships with public bodies like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), but also with private bodies such as the industry’s major groups, in particular in Asia where numerous industry giants are based. These partnerships, that we hope long-term, need to be prepared soon: tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
- Do you think ICT could have a negative impact on society?
There is nothing that is not double-edged. Every rose has its thorn. We then must manage, regulate, progress in tandem and fix our mistakes. Cybercriminality, amongs other things, implies a certain number of barriers will have to be set up. It is the duty of every individual as well as of institutions to work with good sense for mankind, and not against mankind. Thus it will be necessary to accompany the people to minimise any negative impact that could emerge.
Technology provides us with the means to develop fairer societies. It is up to societies to use technology in this fashion. This is, as a matter of fact, the objective of this ITU Plenipotentiary Conference: moving towards equality and fairness between peoples thanks to ICT.