To support the deployment and maintenance of very high-speed networks as well as the development of digital uses in the Benin economy, the digital sector in Benin has launched an original project, for a Fiber Optics School "Ecole de la Fibre”. This vocational training school specialized in digital professions is intended to serve as a reference model in West Africa.
What are Benin's ambitions for digital?
Benin’s government wishes to make the country the platform for digital services in West Africa, to speed up economic growth and social inclusion. This ambition is supported by many institutions: the Ministry of Digital and Digitalization (MND), the Digital Development Agency (ADN), the Agency for Information Services and Systems (ASSI), the National Agency for the Identification of Persons (ANIP), and others.
How does this ambition bring together digital inclusion and social inclusion?
In the action program set out by President Patrice Talon for his government upon being elected in 2016, social inclusion is inseparable from digital inclusion. The ‘Revealing Benin’ Government Action Program (PAG) is built on 45 growth projects in key sectors of the economy and around fifteen structure-building reforms. Digital plays a significant role in each of these projects, even when they are in sectors other than digital. Digital technology is thus a key driver for speeding up economic growth and social development in Benin.
Three iconic examples of this ambition:
- The ARCH project for social development in Benin includes a health insurance component for the most disadvantaged populations, a training component in particular for craftsmen and a component dedicated to access to microcredit. To identify beneficiaries in the most remote areas of the territory and ensure proper allocation of resources and a social return on the high investments made, the project relies on the use of biometric identification and the issuance of electronic identity cards.
- In order to develop certain sectors of the agricultural sector on which much of Benin's economy is based, we have instituted, in cooperation with the World Bank, a project to develop the penetration of digital technology in farm areas. Thanks to the implementation of data banks and digital services provided by start-ups, farmers will be able to increase their production ratios. This will imply their being able to connect to the Internet in their professional activities.
- We have created some forty digital community centers equipped with an Internet connection, terminal and services, in a well-powered and air-conditioned environment. Citizens who do not have the Internet at home or on their mobile devices can request assistance to access digital services and become familiar with digital.
The development of digital technology is premised on the deployment of high-quality broadband networks throughout the country. What is the level of coverage in Benin?
Since 2017, we have deployed and rehabilitated more than 2,000 km of fiber optics. 47 municipalities currently benefit from a broadband hotspot. The aim is to cover all 77 municipalities in Benin. The ADN is finalizing funding for a new program to build an additional 1,200km of fiber optics. This will make it possible to secure the existing infrastructure by means of a redundant path and connect non-covered municipalities, in particular to the west of the border with Togo. It is also essential that metropolitan loops be developed, to bring large business centers closer to companies.
In order to take advantage of the new uses made possible by this high-speed infrastructure, we are also building, north of Cotonou, a national Data Center that will provide, in particular, secure access to the Administration’s services and data.
Digital literacy is one of the pillars of your digital and social inclusion ambition. What are your plans in this area?
The government’s program includes three infrastructure projects to expand the use of digital technology in education and thus contribute to Benin's digital maturity: an education and research network that connects universities and will be launched in mid-2020; it will be interconnected with all the research institutions in Africa and Europe; a network of secondary institutions and vocational training; and, in the future, a network to connect the nation’s 3,000 primary schools.
In addition to infrastructure, we are developing usages by setting up digital rooms at some establishments. 30 to 40 computer workstations are available, enabling students to learn what digital is and to learn using the digital tool.
What are the challenges around Ecole de la Fibre, which you plan to launch in 2020?
During the first Fiber Optics Deployment Plan, we had trouble finding local skills. What is the point in building thousands of km of fiber, facilitating the work of ISPs who are deploying FTTH and even that of mobile operators, thus bringing broadband closer to corporate and private users, if we do not have the know-how to not only install but also supervise and maintain this network? Benin was immediately interested in the idea of a fiber optics school, inspired by our partner Sofrecom. To keep the fiber market alive in Benin, it is essential that we train specialists. In addition, each year, the School will give 40 to 60 apprentices and students the opportunity to learn a sustainable profession and enter the working world.
How will the School work?
A study will be launched with all the stakeholders who lent impetus to this project once the ADN secured funding guarantees from the French Treasury: the Ministries of Digital and Digitalization; Higher Education and Scientific Research; Secondary and Technical Education and Vocational Training. It is planned that the project will focus on vocational learning, be aimed at pre- and post-Baccalaureate students and offer a combination of shorter and longer-term courses. Focused on fiber-related professions at the start, it will then expand to include those in digital. I hope it will come into being quickly so that the original can be duplicated in the north of the country, and eventually across the entire territory, and possibly even exported to neighboring countries.
The Fiber Optics School is an essential pillar as we implement Benin's digital inclusion ambitions and the success of its flagship project “Extending the use of digital technology through education and training”. The fiber network, data center and e-services that we deploy will only make sense if they can be operated by qualified specialists.
Created in 2017, the Agency for Digital Development is an executing agency for the Government of Benin's flagship projects in the digital sector. It contributes to the realization of a strong digital economy for the development of broadband and ultra-broadband infrastructures and digital uses.
Article from our white paper: Digital inclusion, a digital challenge?