Telecommunications in the Senegalese Economy

Senegal is a leader in development among West African nations.  With an expanding ICT framework, the Senegalese economy is more globalized and connected with trade partners than ever before.

Senegal has placed great emphasis on expanding the telecommunications sector, as a means of both economic growth and self-empowerment. In 1998, mobile services were liberalized in Senegal and quality of life was impacted almost immediately. The Telecommunications Regulatory Agency reported in 2003 that advancements in telecommunications had contributed to unprecedented mobile subscriptions and the creation of over 20,000 new jobs (IST 90). In 2005, development leaders met to formulate a standardized national telecommunications policy, which continues upon early successes while addressing concerns in regulation and job creation:

  • Triple the number of telephone subscribers from 1 million (2003) to 3 million.
  • Increase the sector’s contribution to GDP.
  • Dramatically improve rural service by connecting 9 500 villages, with fixed and mobile networks covering all villages nationwide by 2010.
  • Democratize the Internet, consider it as part of universal service (phone + internet).

These objectives highlight the importance of telecommunications to policymakers in Senegal. The decentralization of network coverage seems to be a positive initiative, for it would encourage healthy competition in the market for telecommunication, possibly decreasing operating costs more than ever before.

The Result:

Within the context of the economic expansion, the role of ICTs is somewhat unclear.

According to World Bank reports, the ICT goods accounted for a mere 1% of total exports in 2011. When compared to the figures cited for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 (4%, 5%, and 2% respectively), it is apparent that the emphasis on manufacturing ICT goods for export has lessened. Three possible explanations are:

  • Most ICT products manufactured in Senegal are consumed domestically.
  • Senegal can no longer produce at a quality or rate competitive in the ICT market.
  • Economic priorities have shifted.

Meanwhile, ICTs as a percentage of imports were cited at 3%, which has remained at this figure for the previous five years.

Interestingly enough, ICT service exports constituted 34% of total service exports in 2010-2011. In other words, of services offshore or globalized during the past year, over one-third of them were classified as ICT services. Senegal clearly depends upon these exported ICT services to remain integrated in the market, and perhaps these services are cheaper in and from Senegal than more developed countries.

While these statistics are not much to work with, there are some possible interpretations as to what they mean for ICTs in the larger, macro picture of the Senegalese economy. The small amount of ICT goods as a percentage of total good exports seems to indicate that Senegal is not a major ICT manufacturer. Importation of these products happens in greater proportion than their exportation. Rather, Senegal’s comparative advantage probably lies in ICT service exports, which can be offered at a lower price in developing nations. ICTs definitely matter for Senegalese development, as evidenced in the national policy measures. However, it would appear that the necessary technology is either imported, improvised from pre-existing technology, or produced and consumed domestically.

Read about the current telecommunications and ICT systems in Senegal and how they rank against neighboring nations or access the World Bank country report on Senegal.

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