|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East II 2003|
|Topic:||Technology at Work for Small and Medium Businesses in Sudan|
|Author:||El Tayeb Mustafa Abd El Rhman|
|Organisation:||National Telecom Corporation, Sudan|
Sudan’s small and medium business sector is growing; the challenge is to put technology to work to help them flourish and to integrate Sudan into the global economy and information society. In the early 1990s, Sudan adopted its three-year Salvation Programme. It ended the sector’s monopolistic environment and resulted in the establishment of Sudan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, which sets policy, and a regulator- the NTC – for the newly licensed operators and service providers created since the re-organisation.
Sudan, a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society, is an Afro-Arab country occupying a remarkable position in the centre of the African continent. Its northeastern coastline is on the Red Sea. With a total land area of 2.5 million square km, Sudan is the largest country in Africa. From its hot and arid north, Sudan extends downward to wet tropics in its south passing through several ecological and environmental zones in between. Current estimates put the population in excess of 30 millions with an annual growth rate estimated at 2.6%. 65% of the population is rural – mostly farmers. About 6% of the population resides in Greater Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. Sudan has an extremely diversified ecological system that provides extensive (estimated at 200 million acres) stretches of fertile, cultivable lands and plains. Sudan’s huge herds of livestock are estimated at 130 million heads of cattle, sheep, goats and camels. The country has 250 million acres of forest, brush and natural pastureland, as well as a considerable water supply from rainwater, rivers, streams, surface and underground water reservoirs. In addition to its agricultural and animal resources, Sudan abounds with potential mineral wealth such as oil, natural gas, gold, copper, manganese, mica, zinc, cobalt, granite, marble, nickel and tin. After more than ten years of structural reform and economic liberalization, Sudan’s economy has been growing strongly, despite civil conflict, natural disasters, sanctions and the total absence of foreign aid. GDP growth, which has averaged around 6% since the mid-1990s, is the highest in the region. GDP is estimated at 8500 million U.S Dollars. Telecommunication Sector Profile Sudan has had telecommunication services since 1897. Since that time, the entity in charge of telecommunications has undergone a number of organizational and structural changes. Until 1993, all such entities were state-owned. The Government of the Republic of the Sudan, recognising the constraints and conflicting forces facing public sector entities, and being convinced that these entities, in particular the telecommunication service provider, be permitted to behave more like commercial businesses within a competitive market regime, adopted its Three-Year Economic Salvation Programme (1990 –1993). The Salvation Programme emphasized the role of telecommunication in the socio-economic development process and called for the end of the sector’s monopolistic environment and for private sector involvement – local or foreign- in the telecommunication sector and, as well, in other sectors of the economy. These measures were intended to overcome the country’s persistent shortfalls in investment and performance. As an outcome of this programme, the structure of the telecommunication sector in the country stands as follows: · The Ministry of Information and Communications is now responsible for policy and legislation, · The regulator (NTC) is in charge of regulatory functions, · Licensed operators and service providers are responsible for the operation of licensed networks and the provision of the services. The tables below show the main telecommunication indicators in Sudan as of year-end 2002: Capacity, Customers and Penetration Rates 1994 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 FIXED (exchange capacity ) 74,000 154,000 198,000 280,000 415,000 790,000 1224600 MOBILE(Subscribers) *** 2,600 7,810 18,200 45,000 100,000 256,000 INTERNET(Subscribers) *** 300 1027 2283 6014 12,000 30,000 PENETRATION RATES FIXED 0.24 0.48 0.62 0.85 1.24 2.47 3.82 MOBILE *** 0.0078 0.024 0.055 0.132 0.285 0.800 INTERNET *** 0.001 0.004 0.004 0.017 0.034 0.094 Fixed Telephone Traffic Growth (Millions of Minutes ) 1994 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 INTERNATIONAL 1 /C0 /G 19.211.1 89.720.2 101.924.9 155.731.8 195.836.5 236.244.3 NATIONAL 11.0 143.2 180.4 207.0 388.0 531.0 LOCAL N,A 510.0 850.0 1080.0 1544.0 2022.6 Licensed Operators on Board Sudan, at present, has one fixed services operator, one cellular mobile operator, twelve ISPs (six in operation and six not yet in operation), fifteen fixed-service prepaid card operators (eight in operation and seven not yet in operation) and three value–added service operators (voice mail, fax over e-mail, payphones). A second cellular mobile license is due to be awarded shortly Currently, the telecommunication sector in Sudan is widely held to be among the most modern in Africa, if not in the Middle East. It has, in fact, undergone a remarkable transformation considering the state of the sector just over ten years ago. ICTs Role in the Development Process and Challenges: The new information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer immense opportunities for all societies and individuals by providing alternative, universal and often cheaper ways of accessing and disseminating information. There are many new technologies and new applications which, if harnessed, can assist developing countries to accelerate their development programmes in a variety of sectors such as education, health, agriculture, rural development, environment and emergency management, governance, culture, mass media, libraries and archives, and scientific research. While the benefits of the information age are recognized, a critical concern is the deepening inequality or uneven distribution of access to services, resources and opportunities in the information and communication arena. The key challenge for developing countries in the Information Age is the need to build the infrastructure necessary to obtain the full benefits of the opportunities and applications that ICTs, in particular the Internet, can provide. Moreover, to foster the development of ICT in developing countries, it is necessary to create a pro-competitive environment that attracts private investments and results in lower costs. Appropriate policies for broadband access, cost-based capacity and fair local charges allow ICT service providers, ISPs in particular, to provide users with higher quality, high speed, and low cost access to services. Sudan, in its relentless efforts to create an information society in the country, has managed to liberalize and reform the telecommunication sector, adopt market–oriented policies and, finally, formulate a strategic plan for the nationwide build-up and promotion of an information society. The mission of the plan is to integrate Sudan into the global information society and the global economy. Small and Medium Businesses and the ICTs Sudan’s small and medium businesses are spreading across the different sectors of the economy and society .The question at stake is: How can we put technology to work for such businesses in the country and how can we enable them to flourish and contribute to the welfare of their communities? It goes without saying that the three basic drivers that promote the establishment of the necessary infrastructure upon which ICT applications thrive are competition, investment, and technological neutrality. Steps taken in Sudan towards the realization of these basic drivers can be summarized as follows: · The liberalization and privatisation of the ICT sector in the country, which has been in progress since the beginning of 1990’s. · The establishment of an independent regulatory body, the National Telecommunication Corporation (1996). · The issuance of the Sudan Telecommunication Act 2001. The act aims to promote and regulate the telecommunication sector so as to aid further development and globalisation. The act provides an appropriate stable and open commercial environment favourable to the promotion of the services and the encouragement of investments in the field. It also ensures and promotes free and constructive competition. The Sudan Telecommunication Act lays down plans, policies and regulations for the provision, on a national level, of ICT services considering the country’s balanced development and the furtherance of Sudan’s social and national objectives. · The formulation of a national strategic plan for the build-up and promotion of an information society nationwide, (2001). · The establishment of an ICT-Fund, recently been designed and concluded (May 2003). The fund will be implemented and coordinated by the National Telecommunication Corporation, Sudan’s regulatory authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Communications. This fund is planned to focus ICTs upon primary and higher education and rural development. Moreover, the National Telecommunication Corporation is contemplating the implementation of Multipurpose Community Telecentres. These centres are among the most appropriate platforms for providing urban, rural and remote areas, and businesses with ICTs services and applications. Such telecentres can provide not only physical access to ICTs and the Internet, but also the necessary user support and training to help the user population effectively exploit and also develop useful ICTs applications. Conclusion The liberalisation and privatisation of the telecommunication sector, the policies, the regulations and plans adopted by the Government of the Sudan has created a capital, attracting a pro-competitive policy environment that has fostered the build–up of a modern, fully–digital infrastructure in the country and furnished a climate suited to enhance ICT development nationwide. Sudan’s telecommunication sector, because of its remarkable transformation and achievements, is widely held to be among the most modern in Africa, if not in the Middle East. The potential benefits of and opportunities offered by the ICTs to the different sectors of the economy and society, its individuals, its small and medium businesses as well as its urban and rural communities, are great. It remains for a developing country like Sudan to see that policies and regulations set are strictly observed, that private financing and investments are obtained and that the plans adopted are implemented.