Paul Adepoju: How does Gambia's tech ecosystem compare to its continental counterparts?
Alieu Jallow: It is in a very fragile state. It's coming up. It needs further investment and time to grow. Mobile penetration in Gambia is very high and a lot of people are using smartphones, including people in the villages.
Paul Adepoju: What are the ecosystems' strengths and weaknesses?
Alieu Jallow: A lot of things are missing, especially incubators and tech hubs. We don't have many pitching competitions. The ecosystem also lacks access to funding (and) is not well connected in terms of the different stakeholders. We also don't have enough mentors to mentor developers, start-ups and tech engineers. Gambia has a very unemployment rate - particularly among the youth - 40% of which are unemployed. If these 40% youths become tech entrepreneurs, there will be tech revolution in the country and more jobs will be created.
Paul Adepoju: What is the current outlook for someone looking to launch an internet-based company?
Alieu Jallow: Internet usage is increasing and in addition to mobile networks, ISPs are also understandably providing 4G LTE access in the cities since they are operated as businesses and are existing where their customers are. However, Gambians in the rural areas are getting access via the mobile networks. We still have issues with speed. The operators supply the same thing; it's just the after-service that is different. The new government is working on improving fibre connectivity.
Paul Adepoju: What of the issue of cost? Can the average Gambian with internet access afford to be online 24/7?
Alieu Jallow: Not really. Personally, I think internet is very expensive in Gambia and I think it has to be brought down so that it can be more affordable. In addition to pressing operators to lower data costs, government should also consider other regulatory options to bring down the cost to improve data affordability and accessibility.
Paul Adepoju: Is there an interface linking tech ecosystem with the Gambian government?
Alieu Jallow: Previously we channelled our concerns through the Chamber of Commerce but we are in a new Gambia now and we hope that most of the challenges that we faced with the previous government would be solved. We desire a more open and flexible government with which we can interact. There is a process going on and things look promising.
Paul Adepoju: What do you think the country's tech sector really needs to achieve success?
Alieu Jallow: There is need to put the entire support system for the ecosystem together. Schools need to train their students more on the latest in coding and apps development, more hubs need to be created, the government and the private sector should be more active in supporting the growth of the ecosystem and opportunities should be made available. We also need to remove bureaucracy in government.
Paul Adepoju: Do you think Gambia's tech underdevelopment has anything to do with the tenure of former president Yahya Jammeh?
Alieu Jallow: Well, his government was associated with many uncertainties which I think is the reason why the Gambia does not have the local presence of any of the major tech giants as they have in Nigeria. But I don't think this is an acceptable excuse anymore, so I encourage the big global tech companies to come to Gambia.