28 Nov Interview with Mohamed Abdallahi Louly, Ministry Of Digital Transformation, Innovation And Modernization Of The Administration
Business Focus: Last year, your new Ministry launched the “National Digital Transformation Agenda 2022-2025” Strategy which provides a clear political framework for digital transformation in Mauritania. The plan focuses on e-government, regulation, infrastructure, digital administration and business, sector transformation and human resources. The ministry is partnering with UNDP to achieve its current objectives. Can you give our readers a brief overview of the mission of your ministry and some of the current objectives under its 2025 strategy?
Mohamed Abdallahi Louly: In my capacity as the head of the ministry responsible for steering our country’s digital evolution, I am deeply involved in the execution of the “National Digital Transformation Agenda 2022-2025.” This strategic framework, intricately designed and spearheaded by our ministry, is geared towards maximizing digital access to administrative services for all citizens. The UNDP, in collaboration with various financial and technical partners, is actively supporting the seamless execution of this agenda, with the ministry at the helm.
Our strategic focus is currently twofold, centering on infrastructure development and the concurrent regulatory framework. The primary thrust is on infrastructure, acknowledged as the most challenging aspect due to our expansive geographical layout. In the next two years, we are committing a substantial investment of at least $30 million to address this challenge, specifically targeting areas with limited access to existing infrastructure, such as remote communities. A groundbreaking project recently unveiled involves providing broadband Internet access along the south and southeast border. This ambitious endeavor integrates innovative engineering solutions, notably leveraging “Rural Sights” technology for renewable energy. Backed by a dedicated government fund, the first phase of this project is set to commence within the next month, with an anticipated completion timeframe of 7 to 9 months. This initial phase will cover the entirety of the southern border and is engineered not only to enhance data connectivity but also to provide 4G services, building upon the existing fiber backbone.
Simultaneously, ongoing discussions with major national operators underscore our commitment to advancing the strategic imperative of infrastructure development. Recognizing that robust infrastructure is the linchpin for a successful digital transformation, these endeavors lay the groundwork for broader digital access.
Complementing this, our secondary strategy revolves around the deployment of e-government services. A crucial milestone has been the full digitalization of 12 out of 26 ministerial departments, specifically targeting mail processing services. This has been achieved with a relentless focus on efficiency and reducing processing times. Noteworthy examples include the complete digitalization of the Department of Education, resulting in the elimination of 500,000 requests for civil status papers. By automating processes and integrating data systems, we have streamlined operations and significantly reduced the bureaucratic burden on citizens.
Additionally, we are actively collaborating with the Ministry of Health to establish an integrated, central, electronic health record system. This collaborative effort extends to accelerating the digitization of processes in hospitals and medical facilities. Our approach is underpinned by a commitment to delivering tangible value to citizens, optimizing administrative processes, and leveraging efficient access tools such as infrastructure, software solutions, and digital identity solutions.
In essence, our digital transformation agenda is a multifaceted initiative characterized by comprehensive planning, strategic partnerships, and a resolute focus on delivering real value to citizens and the broader society. The ongoing and upcoming projects outlined in our agenda reflect our commitment to ushering in a digital era marked by inclusivity, efficiency, and enduring positive impact.
BF: Back in 2017, only 21% of the Mauritania population used the Internet because the cost for high-speed Internet was quite high. So, what are you doing to enable further access to digital resources for the population and truly unleash the potential of Mauritania through digital transformation?
Mohamed Abdallahi Louly: Reflecting on the state of our infrastructure, it’s evident that strides made since 2017 have significantly improved connectivity, especially in major urban centers. Presently, these areas boast 4G coverage, with select operators offering full 4G capabilities and substantial bandwidth. However, the real challenge lies in extending these benefits to the entirety of the country, particularly the crucial main regional capital cities.
In response to this imperative, a notable allocation of $30 million is earmarked for investment in fiber backbone networks, with the initiation of these projects scheduled for the upcoming month, starting with the border side. The strategic objective is clear – to ensure inclusive, high-speed Internet connectivity for all major densely populated areas across the country. While acknowledging the complexity of this endeavor, especially in regions outside the main urban hubs, we are determinedly navigating this challenge, taking affirmative steps in the right direction.
An exciting development on the horizon involves the launch of a new project dedicated exclusively to fiber optic network expansion, backed by a mobilized investment of $30 million. This targeted initiative underscores our commitment to overcoming infrastructural barriers and making substantial progress in expanding high-speed Internet access. As we embark on these projects, we anticipate tangible indicators of progress within the upcoming year, marking a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to enhance nationwide connectivity.
BF: In September, you presented Startup ACT Mauritania, intended to stimulate growth in SMEs. This is supported by the SME incubator hub and a specific science and technology park. Can you give our readers an overview of the new Startup Act? What impact is it expected to have?
Mohamed Abdallahi Louly: Delving into the realm of innovation, our strategic approach revolves around three pivotal pillars, each meticulously designed to foster a thriving ecosystem for startups. At the forefront of this strategy is the Startup ACT, a transformative initiative grounded in a straightforward yet potent idea. Under this pillar, we are instituting a label exclusively for startups exhibiting growth potential and innovative prowess in their products and services.
Acquiring this distinguished label will confer a host of benefits upon these startups, including government support, enhanced access to public markets, participation in public tenders, streamlined facilities, and special incentives on import duties and taxation. This transparent labeling process aims to elevate the status of startups in the country, serving as a catalyst for improved quality across the startup landscape. This strategic move ensures that deserving startups receive the necessary support, nurturing the emergence of champion startups essential for a thriving innovation ecosystem.
The second pillar, aptly named Ibtikar, signifies the establishment of a specialized science and technology park tailored to our unique technological needs and aligned with the future trajectory envisioned by the Startup ACT. Drawing inspiration from the origin of science and technology parks in the Silicon Valley, we have undertaken a comprehensive study to ensure that our version addresses the specific requirements of our tech landscape.
The third pillar completes the trifecta with the introduction of the Innovation Fund. This holistic approach, consisting of the Startup ACT, Ibtikar, and the Innovation Fund, underscores our commitment to not just speak about innovation but to actively facilitate its effective and measurable outcomes. By employing these three pillars in concert, we anticipate achieving substantial progress and tangible outcomes in our mission to cultivate a dynamic and impactful innovation landscape.
BF: Education has been a major focus of the Government with several reforms recently adopted to create a more competitive local market and to reduce dependency on foreign companies. How would you assess the digital ecosystem of Mauritania in terms of labor and training? What are some of the gaps that you see in terms of talent in the country and what are you doing to fill the gaps?
Mohamed Abdallahi Louly: This topic holds significant importance on two pivotal fronts. Firstly, in the realm of the internet, the provision of robust bandwidth serves as a catalyst for advancing education. With a reliable internet connection, individuals gain access to a wealth of educational opportunities online. For instance, one can seamlessly enroll in high-quality courses at renowned institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), thereby democratizing education. Our commitment to enhancing internet connectivity aligns with our collaboration with the Ministry of Education. We actively support initiatives to ensure the authenticity and credibility of certificates and diplomas.
Moreover, we are actively engaged in the digitization of exams, a process that not only streamlines administrative procedures but also embraces the transformative potential of digital education. The “Digital Schools” initiative is a testament to our commitment, where we provide digital platforms, digital content (curricula), and connectivity. Collaborating closely with the Ministry of Education, two senior members of our ministry actively contribute to the Digital Schools Initiative, amplifying its impact and value.
On the second front, our dedication extends to a specialized center focused on digital technology training. This center plays a pivotal role in supporting the Institute of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. As part of our ongoing commitment, we provide substantial support to the University, endowing them with a state-of-the-art facility equipped with capabilities, including a robust 10 gigabyte internet access.
The crowning achievement in this multifaceted approach is the imminent launch of two masters of excellence programs, specifically in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. These programs represent our unwavering belief that we can actively compete in the knowledge economy. By fostering expertise in cutting-edge fields, we aim to position our nation at the forefront of technological innovation and academic excellence.
BF: US investments in Mauritania so far have focused on the oil, gas, and mining sector but other sectors like green energy or telecom seem to be flourishing with opportunities. The US has committed to invest $55 Billion on the African continent. What kind of opportunities would you like to point out in your sector specifically for US investors?
Mohamed Abdallahi Louly: Encouraging increased investment from the United States in our digital infrastructure is a paramount objective for us. The development and provision of high-quality, standardized digital infrastructure serve as the linchpin for progress across various sectors. We earnestly hope to attract interest from US companies, fostering partnerships that not only bring substantial investments but also deliver tangible value to our nation.
Furthermore, we have set our sights on engaging major players in the IT industry, such as Microsoft, to establish a cutting-edge data center within our borders. Initiating discussions with these industry leaders is a priority for us, aiming to meet all the prerequisites for hosting cloud public services. Recognizing the pivotal role of cloud security in shaping the future, we envision establishing a world-class data center, akin to those currently present in South Africa.
In our aspirations, we seek to position Mauritania as the second or third country in Africa to host a data center of this magnitude. Engaging with Sahel countries, we intend to collaborate with industry giants like Microsoft, Amazon, or Google to establish high-standard public cloud infrastructure data centers. This strategic move aligns with our vision to leverage advanced technology and foster regional collaboration, positioning Mauritania as a hub for cutting-edge data services in the African context.
BF: What is your final message to the readers of USA Today?
Mohamed Abdallahi Louly: Mauritania, situated strategically with crucial security and stability features, is poised for heightened global visibility and investment attractiveness through digitalization. The integration of digital technologies not only enhances our national infrastructure but also positions Mauritania as an inviting destination for potential investors. We take pride in our commitment to deliver on promises and believe that this commitment will bolster confidence in the international business community, fostering increased foreign investment initiatives. As we embark on this digital transformation journey, we envision Mauritania becoming synonymous with reliability and innovation, making it a preferred choice for investors seeking a secure and progressive environment.