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Mali’s Internet access manages gains but needs stability to achieve full potential

March 22, 2013  »  City ProfilesNo Comment

Updated March 2013.

Mali is experiencing ICT progress despite a year of life threatening events.

Mali may not have an official tech hub, an Internet exchange point, or a wealth of tech startups. But that doesn’t mean a foundation isn’t being laid. To Mali’s credit, Bamako is home to an annual Barcamp, ex-president Amadou Toumani Toure’s Facebook page once had a fan bases of 1,500 fans, Orange Mali offers IPv6, and a few megabytes of pre-paid mobile data can be had for as little as US $0.38. The Segou Villages Project is a testament to how one man can bring rural areas online. Perhaps John Perry Barlow was on to something in 1998 when he wrote about his experiences in Mali saying, “it turns out that Tombouctou is already wired beyond any of my expectations.”

Recent political events, however, have meant challenges for the growth of Mali. Human life is more important than securing international bandwidth, building mobile towers, or providing e-services.

Despite ongoing social and political strife, Mali is experiencing steady ICT growth.

Statistics:

  • 46% mobile coverage in Mali per Ericsson report. BuddeComm gives a 98% mobile subscription rate
  • Internet penetration rate: 4.2% per BuddeComm, 2.7% per ITU, 1.6% Facebook penetration per Socialbakers
  • Sotelma mobile subscriber numbers increased by 64.5% in 9 months of 2012 vs. prior period
  • 299 Malian domains existed as of January 2013
  • Monthly fixed broadband costs (512 kbps) cost US $41.61 as of July 2012
  • 1GB post-paid mobile broadband cost US $34.31 as of July 2012
  • 5MB pre-paid mobile could be had for US $0.38 as of July 2012.

Reverse chronological timeline of ICT events (2013 – past):

  • Afripédia, an offline Wikipedia, is installed on at least 38 computers in Bamako and surrounding villages
  • Maroc Telecom will invest a portion of $477 million to operations in Mali
  • Orange Money launched international remittance service in January 2013
  • Dogon Telecom, a WiMAX operator, began service in Bamako on January 19, 2013
  • Mali will be connected to the recently-launched ACE submarine cable via terrestrial fibre
  • The launch of a third mobile operator (Alpha Telecom Mali) is in the works
  • A project to connect the Malian press was launched in October 2012 with the support of Orange Mali
  • Mali celebrated International Day of the Girl with an open house at Orange Mali on April 26, 2012
  • The Mali Internet Society chapter held a two week training workshop to build a cyber space in the town of Boulkassoumbougou
  • Facebook has become a powerful force in Northern Mali. COREN (Collectif des Ressortissants du Nord Mali) has 1,699 members and Tu es du NORD et Tu es 100% Malien has 307
  • Boukary Konaté has worked to fund-raise and organize a mobile Internet connection for his village and other remote places in Mali. The Segou Villages Connection Project has taught over 800 people how to use the Internet
  • An Internet Society program will offer solar powered computer access to primary school students in Bamako, Mali
  • Malitel (subsidiary of Sotelma) had an active social media presence in 2012, with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts but has been silent in 2013
  • Many Malian Internet users remained silent in the days following the March 2012 coup as power cuts plagued access. Still, social media played a crucial role in spreading information in the days after the coup
  • Mali and Ghana have worked to accelerate the growth of ICT in the region
  • An IPv6 migration seminar was held in November 2011
  • Afribone, a leading ISP, installed a caching solution to manage increasing demand for international content in 2011
  • A couple of years ago, USAID/Mali asked the Business Growth Initiative (BGI) to identify concrete ways in which Internet access can be more sustainably provided in underserved areas by shared Internet access points
  • In 2009, One Laptop Per Child held an agreement with the Government of Mali. A pilot of the project planned to send 10,000 laptops to the Timbuctu region
  • National telco Sotelma was privatized in 2009
  • France Telecom entered the market as a second mobile & fixed operator in 2003
  • EDGE was deployed on GSM networks beginning in 2003

One reason for ICT  growth is that much infrastructure is based in Bamako – heavily affected by the March 2012 coup, but less so by the military combat in the north. The launch of the ACE cable and the addition of a third mobile operator will certainly drive down Internet access costs substantially by the end of 2014. Less optimistically, until the nation is unified under an effective leader, the level of ICT investment, regulation, partnerships, and deployment of e-services will be limited. The business environment, in need of modernization, is unlikely to see changes until stability reigns. For the time being, expect mobile Internet access to rapidly increase, but odds are more sophisticated levels of ICT engagement won’t be seen until at least 2014.

Other notable facts:

  • Malian Facebook users are most often friends with users in Ivory Coast, Senegal, and France
  • The Malian cellphone music culture has been documented on two albums
  • Interim President Dioncounda Traoré has 866 Facebook fans
  • Former PM and 2012 presidential candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita once had an impressive website but still has over 13,000 Facebook Likes
  • Presidence Mali, the office of the president, actively Tweets under @PresidenceMali
  • Corruption remains a major issue that must be addressed – not only for stability – but also to allot proper funding to technology