Mrs Sogoba Jacqueline Konaté: in Mali, “we cannot talk about a digital revolution without access to the Internet”

Ms Sogoba Jacqueline Konaté is a Doctor of Computer Science, currently Assistant Professor at the University of Science, Techniques and Technology of Bamako (USTTB), in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. In the following, she talks about the digital economy, access to the Internet that remain important challenges to be met in Mali. You are now an assistant professor at the University of Science, Techniques and Technology of Bamako. According to your journey, you first worked in a ministry. Why this choice to come in teaching when we know the different crises that this sector is going through in Mali?

Dr. Konaté: I decided to come into teaching because I was fascinated by the great teachers I met during my doctoral training. I also participated in several conferences in France in other European countries such as the Netherlands, Spain etc. Seeing researchers every day advancing science is something that touched me a lot. In addition, I am from a country where there really is a need for teachers. Look at the state of our universities when we look at the teacher-student ratio, it’s really something that should challenge us. I think we train to train others. When I came to the university, because in the meantime since I joined the public service and took service I had a chance to tour ministers’ offices, it lasted sometime after I came back. How do you define the digital economy?

Dr. Konaté: The digital economy, in a basic way, is the implementation of computer application for the tools of daily life, industry, etc. So it’s a question of computerizing or giving computer tools to support the different activities that people usually do as in the world of finance, education. Overall, digital will transform the way people do, how to work. It is revolutionary, that’s why we’re talking about a digital revolution. So the digital economy is the economy that is driven by the use of information and communication technologies. Today, we don’t so much about new technology because it is not new, we simply talk about information and communication technology. It is the global network of economic activity that is made possible by the use of these technologies, it is what we call “digital economy” quite simply. How can this digital economy be beneficial for Mali?

Dr. Konaté: It must be said that in Mali, it is a little weak, it is not developed enough. The money transfer system via mobile phone is an information and communication technology. The fact of making this transfer, of being able to generate taxes here and there, contributes to the digital economy. If we can make tax returns or even pay tax online with sites for tax administration and traders can use them, this can in my opinion greatly reduce tax fraud. Because every time you have to go through the same person to do transactions, it’s a danger, or there’s a risk of corruption. But when you use technology to do transactions and so on, you’re a little bit off the hook. This is an example of activity that could contribute to the development of the digital economy as having e-commerce sites for different companies. This contributes to the growth of these businesses because studies have revealed that E-commerce promotes businesses. It is also a means for the state to know which companies are there and what they do. This helps to fight against the informal economy: I sell my articles online and on my bills, there is a part for taxes. It is not the same thing as when I take my articles to walk from office to office, from street to street where I sell, the State will not collect tax somewhere. We have so much to gain with digital. I think that our States should do everything possible to promote the development of this sector. For example, today in India, the Prime Minister is promoting a demonetization policy, that is removing money completely in commercial transactions. And now to pay even a domestic worker, we are forced to go through the electronic wallets, so we declare somewhere that someone is employed. Every time we pay for it, every transaction has taxes levied, so I think we have to go to that. With the advantages of the digital economy and everything electronic commerce represents, what would you say to the authorities to make this sector a priority?

Dr. Konaté: I think the numbers speak volumes. In Mali, there are so many artisans and workers who deserve to be promoted. We have people who manufacture crafts, bags, shoes, necklaces etc. They are not known, yet they are objects much sought after by tourists who visit our country. Moreover, when one analyzes well the objects that are sold on online shopping sites, there are many handicrafts and tourist objects. In Mali, we have a lot to offer at this level. The hotels we have can be booked online, paid online. We can promote the different products, the fabrics we make through e-commerce. We need to boost this area.

However, it must be recognized that there is a big problem in Mali, which is access to the Internet. Users of the various online services only have access to the internet via the mobile because they do not have ADSL at home, no fiber optics or other means to access these different applications if not with their mobile. And the mobile internet is only accessible to those who have smartphones. There are not many of them either. There is a lot of work to do to make internet accessible to people because you cannot talk about a digital revolution without access to the Internet, it’s a must. All the applications that are being developed must be hosted at the server level, and the servers must be interconnected to the Internet so that people can use them. Internet access should no longer be a problem in this country for the digital economy to develop. What advice would you give to young people, especially women who want to follow you?

Dr. Konaté: The information and communication technology sector simply has a future. I encourage young girls and young boys to be really interested in this area, because it is the sector that employs the most in the world today. In the United States, in Silicon Valley, we are looking for thousands of young computer engineers. And you saw recently, when the current US president decided to pursue an anti-migratory policy, the companies that disagreed are digital giants, Microsoft first, because it does not suit them. American engineers are not enough for the need of Silicon Valley. They attract young Indians, Africans and Europeans. To encourage my students, I introduced a computer engineer friend who lives in the United States. He says that in the United States, there are employers who say to him: “You have to clone yourself. If you are able, we will hire you as many times, that the need is there”. We’re looking for computer engineers in the United States, so if that’s the case there, why wouldn’t it be the same here because we have not even started. We have so much need at this level, we have to develop so much application, digitize so much the sector. Why not do the same at your level?

My vision is to develop this sector in Mali since we also need it. We do not have to send our best, we must also exploit them. To do that, we have to give them work and have a policy in that direction. Mali needs computer engineers. Why not attract our engineers who are there to help us in the development of this sector in this country? That’s really what I have to say to the youth.

Remarks collected by Sory Kondo