The information and communications technology (ICT) sector is becoming an increasingly important cog in Tunisia’s economy, contributing some 10 percent to GDP and employing more than 90,000, according to figures from the Ministry of Communications Technologies.
Bolstered by the expansion of cyber-parks and business incubators, the sector expanded by 16 percent last year, creating over 6000 new positions. In 2010 the government plans to build on these achievements through a study on “promoting investment in the digital economy” as well as starting the sale of .tn domain names.
Mohamed Naceur Ammar, the communications technology minister, said in October that the government is committed to strengthening the sector. He pointed to an increase in Tunisia’s bandwidth capacity from 27.5 gigabytes at the end of 2009 to 37.5 by the middle of this year.
Speaking at the opening of the first Innovation Network Forum in Information Technology and Communication, Ammar said the government was promoting technology-intensive projects, bolstering the transfer of the end results of scientific research to businesses, and increasing cooperation between research institutions and the business world.
Both public and private companies need to optimize the use of scientific research and to strengthen their partnership with research institutions in order to achieve their objectives, he told delegates.
In May this year, the ministry estimated there were 3.5 million internet users in Tunisia, with just over 400,000 subscribed to broadband services.
Though these numbers are far from the almost 100 percent mobile phone penetration – with just 3.7 people out of every 100 having a broadband subscription – it its still higher than regional averages and the government expects there to be some 1.4m broadband users by the close of 2014.
Modernizing the Tunisian economy was a major theme of a speech given by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s at a World Bank-sponsored conference in Washington on October 6. The challenge for Tunisia is to “shift from a growth model driven by competitiveness based on the massive use of a low-skilled labor force to a model of growth driven by innovation and a highly qualified labor force”, said the premier. He added that the government was “determined to speed up implementing this transition to boost the growth in the traditional sectors and the emergence of new added-value sectors.”
Another strong incentive for Tunisia to strengthen its support for the ICT industry is to create jobs for the thousands of trained graduates looking to enter the workforce annually. Currently, more than 60 percent of those who enter the labor pool every year are graduates, but only about 40 percent of jobs need their qualifications.
Though Tunisia has had some success in reorienting its economy, it does need to improve employment opportunities in the ICT sector so as to benefit from the reforms it has made and to take full advantage of globalization, World Bank President Robert Zoellick at the conference.
“The challenge now for Tunisia – as for many other countries – is to accelerate the structural transformation of its economy, intensify the sophistication of production lines, increase productivity, and generate sufficient numbers of skilled jobs,” he said. “The spread of technology is ultimately driven by private investment, which itself depends on good governance, an enabling business climate, financing of innovative firms, and a consistent policy framework.”
Having a ready-made pool of trained employees means that as the ICT sector expands is a benefit, but the government will need to ensure continued investment for the sector to meet the aims of providing employment and innovation in the economy.