Aside from typical rows related to scarcity, black markets in a growing list of commodities that are natural symptoms of deteriorating economic conditions and running inflation, last month saw a different row related to technology.
Owners and drivers of conventional means of public transportations like taxis and small pick-ups, known as amjads and coasters, were complaining and threatened to go on strike unless the Sudanese mushrooming Ubers are regulated too.
This is a typical reaction to introduction of technology that has been experienced throughout history starting with manual labors attacking machinery to break them at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Major cities around the world have witnessed similar campaigns resorting to strikes and demands for local authorities to regulate the Uber services that has been eating into their business turf. In the end technology wins the battle as usual and Sudan will not be an exception.
It is good that Sudan is moving to make use of technology aside from the simple waste of time and money on WhatsApp chats. Years ago telephones started to play a growing role as a financial transaction tool and for people who have not set a foot in any banking branch in their lives and especially those in the country side, where such services usually do not exist.
Like other developing countries Sudan has been benefitting from the technological revolution since the privatization of the sector and its upgrade back in the 1990s. It started with the G-2.5 services that moved to G-3 and currently working on G-4 that has been hampered by host of obstacles from financial to political.
According to latest figures provided by the National Telecommunication Corp. (NTC) and going back to 2016 users of internet in Sudan amounted to 9.9 million, while those have mobile phones totalled 27.7 million. These figures in fact show a decline from the previous year, where internet users totalled 11.4 million and mobile subscribers amounted to 28.3 million, which represents 26 percent and 69 percent penetrations respectively according to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data on Sudan. Similarly, penetrations show a slight drop from 28 percent and 71 percent respectively during the same period.
The deteriorating economy, high inflation and scarcity of hard currency has its toll on the country’s telecommunication sector that became expensive and with declining quality. The difficulty in forging ahead with the G-4 services is one example and the continuous complaint from various government departments like ministry of interior, whose staff keep complaining of working off line because of poor connectivity, an issue taken by the telecommunication minister Tahani Abdalla, who lashed out before the parliament against the staff complacency and their inability to work on alternatives.
To add to the woes of the sector is the floods and heavy rains. Two years ago the international service was disrupted due to floods and was estimated that 72 percent of the country’s internet routes were taken out. Electricity outage plays a similar role. This year’s tough rainy season has its impact too.
However, despite the host of problems engulfing the telecommunication sector, it still represent one of the best option to meet the country’s mounting socio, economic and political problems. With the general universal improvement of telecommunication services that are becoming more powerful and cheap, the chances of places like Sudan keep getting better to make reasonable utilization of telecommunication technology, wider penetration and expanded list of services. Attempts to go for electronic government have been in the books for years with limited success though in some areas. Actually resorting to electronic payment has been hailed as a way to fight corruption and waste of resources. The current restriction on liquidity could have been done in a better way without the negative side effect accompanying it currently if it was well planned in advance in collaboration with all stakeholders in telecommunication and banking sectors.
And that brings to the fore the central issue, technology will not be a solution in itself. It is the brains and people behind it who can design the programs, decide on when and how to implement them. In a nutshell it needs a vision and a political will, otherwise it will be yet another squandered opportunity like what the country has been experiencing for more than six decades since it became an independent state unable to tap its natural resources for the sake of its people.
E N D