ABIDJAN, July 20 (Reuters) - A $210 million project to lay fibre optic network across Ivory Coast should allow the West African country to connect up to 30 percent of its population to the Internet within 5 years, boosting economic growth, the technology minister said.
Chinese telecoms firm Huwaei began work last year on the first stage of the 6,700 km network - a 1,400 km cable running through the west of the country from the southwestern port city of San Pedro to Ferkessedougou in the central north.
Minister of Technology, Information and Communication Bruno Nabagne Kone said that would be completed before the end of the year. Ivory Coast, a former French colony, is the world’s top cocoa exporter but its economic development has been hampered by a decade of political turmoil and civil conflict.
Kone said work had just begun on the second phase of the project, a 650 km link connecting Grand-Bassam and the commercial capital Abidjan in the southeast with the northeastern town of Bouna.
The work by the state-owned China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation (CITCC) is expected to last eight months, he said.
The final three stages of construction, which will connect the country’s central regions, will begin simultaneously in 2014 and are expected to take two years to complete.
“We should be able to reach a penetration rate of between 20 and 30 percent in the next three to five years,” Kone told Reuters late on Friday, noting that current Internet penetration was around 2 percent.
“A 10 percent penetration brings an extra point of economic growth so that’s several more points of growth per year.”
Kone said the cable would reduce the digital divide in Ivory Coast between rural and urban areas. The National Telecommunications Fund, which receives revenues from a tax on telephone operators’ revenues, will finance the construction.
“This is a state-owned project which will allow the government to set more affordable tariffs than the operators,” he told Reuters.
The government also hopes by increasing access to market information the project will facilitate trade by allowing farmers in rural communities to remain informed on prices in international commodities markets.
President Alassane Ouattara’s government, which took office after a short civil war in 2010-2011, plans to spend around $20 billion through 2015 on a sweeping infrastructure and development programme to boost growth in the nearly $40 billion a year economy.
Economic growth, which stagnated during the past decade, hit nearly 10 percent last year. It is forecast at around 8 percent in 2013, according to the IMF. (Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Elise Knutsen; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Mark Potter)