UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
In Madagascar information processing has largely been developed under a policy characterized by:
b) Exclusive use of national manpower
c) Equipment compatibility
All these fall under six large phases:
2.4.2 From 1953-1963
As the only a period when data processing equipment such as calculators, sorting machines, filing machines, card punches and checking machines were used.
As a sole user, the Madagascan government set up a center in each of the six provinces.
Major processing focused on administrative and tax management with foreign trade in Antananarivo. The entire staff were Madagascans and all the centres were placed under the Ministry of Finance through the Statistics Department.
In 1963, the computer came on board. The Ministry of Finance through the statistics department abandoned the old traditional equipment for computers and centralized all its activities in Antananarivo by setting up two centers with IBM 1401 computers.
The first center was in the Statistics department with two central units of 12 and 8 KO with hard disk, magnetic tape and printer. The second was at the Railways Corporation with a 12 KO, hard disk and a printer.
The old processing machines were re-cycled and being used for design, development and operation in information technology.
The national manpower has been used to implement the following applications:
- Rural/Urban taxes
- Foreign trade
- Automobile fleet management
- Government revenues and expenditures
- Tax accounting
- Treasury bill accounting
In a bid to build national capacity, the Madagascan government, a signatory to the convention establishing the African Institute of Information Technology, an inter-state training institution established by OCAM and based in Libreville, benefited from the training of some national analysts/programmers before Madagascar finally withdrew from OCAM.
2.4.4 From 1972-1975
Over this period, the general government policy allowed for free initiatives in computerization.
As the Ministry of Finance and the Statistics department withdrew their control of Information technology, investment multiplied and information technology equipment were made available to:
- The National Provident Fund (CNPAS)
- Ministry of Works
- University of Madagascar
- Several Private companies
However, in 1973 through decree number 73-030, the government set up an information technology committee to design a clear cut information policy and map out strategies to attain the objectives under the policy.
Information cost control and accounting issues were some of the highlights of the policy. The information technology committee soon realized that the computer centers were costing the Madagascar government FM 1.2 billion (equivalent amount in FCFA) and that the various existing computers were using incompatible operating systems and different programming languages.
The information technology committee, therefore, proposed:
1. The establishment of a national information technology department
2. The creation of single computer center centralizing all computer activities
An offer was advertised for contract tenders for a central memory BULL 6000 computer of 1024 KO.
However, neither the single computer center nor the national information technology department ever took off the ground, nor was the BULL 6000 computer ever installed.
The private sector continued to acquire equipment, with the Tamatave port acquiring at the same time its computer.
The information technology committee was responsible for the training of three Madagscan students for a Masters degree in applied information technology and management (MIAGE)
2.4.5 From 1975-1979
With the change of government in Madagascar, the information technology committee ceased to exist.
Several brands of computers invaded government offices and private sectors and there was no regulation in force.
2.4.6 From 1979-1988
At the beginning of this period, the President of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar appointed a special advisor on information policy, in the person of Rabearivelo Andriamalagasy, Managing Director of the Madagascan Innovative Institute (IMI), who would single handedly took control of information technology for several years.
He geared his policy towards equipment standardization, skilled and sufficient manpower training and technological development based on the following observations:
- Madagascar at the beginning of this period had 15 machines in its fleet which was considered too much for the level of local skills but which were, however, outdated.
- The compartmentalization of equipment: each manufacturer had its own policy on its equipment specifications and application portability even with different models of the same brand. Only a few manufacturers were operating in Madagascar: IBM, BULL and NCR for information technology; BURROUGHS and OLIVETTI for electronic accounting machines.
- The information technology personnel are very few and are made up of high level technicians trained on the job or by manufacturers who are not familiar with applications whose programme sources are often not available and written in the specific language of each manufacturer like GAP or TAB.
- All efforts tended towards over-centralization in an attempt to counteract the negative effects of Socialism in Madagascar.
The following major decisions were taken:
- To maintain a small number of machine models meeting the criterion of application portability. One manufacturer was selected for the big systems i.e. BULL which was controlling then 70% of Madagascan equipment over the period 1979-1988.
- To promote, keep and enforce the COBOL C as the only programming language in spite of the contrary opinion held by manufacturers. This was done in the interest of application portability from one machine to another. Information technology applications in Madagascar almost was exclusively for management. Each center was, therefore, asked to transpose its programmes or at worst to re-write them where the sources were not available.
- Courses and Seminars on compatible COBOL were organized with the assistance of the French government and attended by all computer programmers and programmer/analysts totalling about 50.
- Change of keyboarding materials; all the old card punches and checking machines were replaced by diskette-operated BULL KDS or KDU supplied under contract with maintenance warranty.
- All other companies were henceforth compelled to buy the BULL equipment for compatible file transfer even with a different brand of information equipment.
- Payment for data capture even when it was done for family members, importation of spare parts of this equipment had to be approved and signed by the special advisor.
The argument advanced by the signatory was always that of compatibility: to avoid the proliferation of non-compatible PCs in Madagascar especially those left behind by missionaries and experts from international organizations.
Information Technology Manpower Training
In addition to training courses and seminars on COBOL C mentioned earlier, the establishment of a national information technology school was decided in 1982 with the immediate objective of training programmers analysts in two years. By the end of 1994, it was decided to open a second batch to train technicians and engineers but this did not start until the following year set due to lack of resources.
The first cycle enroled 50 students out of the 2000 tested while the second cycle enroled 25 out of the best students from the first cycle.
The school was located at Fianarantsoa about 500 km south of the capital, and is also home to the mainly scientific regional university. However, most computer centers are located in Antananarivo and some in Tamatave port.
They are funded by the Madagascan government and the Inter- governmental Bureau for Informatics (IBI).
At the beginning, ten stations with a 68,000-card processor, a monitor and a keyboard were used for practicals. Additional two SYMAG 4000 micro-machines were purchased, followed a few years later by (a) One NORMEREL machine operating on UNIX with six terminals and one 40 MO hard disk and (b) Eight PC IBM compatible mini-computers.
There is practically no library due to the acute shortage of font.
The regional university of Tamatave, specialized in management and economics tried in vain to take over this training project in spite of the French government's assistance. The center, therefore, had to settle for introductory information technology courses for its students in management and economics who are taught by expatriates or local professionals. The practicals were done mainly at the computer center at Tamatave port.
Furthermore, the Antananarivo accounting training center tried to introduce computer science classes with the assistance of the World Bank financing about 30 micro-computers imported directly despite the disapproval of the special advisor. Unfortunately, these machines were not gainfully used due to the lack of adequate skills.
In 1981, a partnership was initiated between the Madagascan innovation institute and a french company, SYMAG. The purpose was to transfer technology for the assembly of micro-computers; there were also plans to set up an assembly plant.
Most members of the computer community in Madagascar and the manufacturers were opposed to the assembly project because the Madagascar market did not yet have the capacity to absorb its products and that the project was considered too ambitious because the technology involved was a fast-growing one and the plant would not be able to cope. However, SYMAG folded up in France and the project had to be abandoned, but another socialist company, The Madagascan Information Processing Company (STIM) was established as a distributor for SYMAG at the initial stage and NORMEREL a few years later. STIM automatically enjoyed a near monopoly of micro- computers until 1988 as other companies were handicapped by import regulations.
All the ministries, parastatals, socialist companies and mixed-economy companies were compelled to buy equipment with Madagascan labels such as LEFONA and PRINTY (printer). Most of these machines were under-utilized due to lack of skills.
Assessment of Information Policy
Information policy during that period was based on democratic hard line socialist policy which benefitted only a few people with nearly exclusive monopoly.
Over this period, BULL accounted for nearly 70% of mini- computers and big systems and 100% of the keyboarding equipment. It should be noted that information technology developed so fast that with the arrival of new more performing and compact equipment, the establishment of network, and the emergence of new standards in operating systems, the market pattern and the old policy had to change.
The STIM company benefited most from import regulations on micro-computers as it imposed its own models such as the multiple CP/M on the market as against the MS/DOS used abroad. A lot of money had to be spent to make up for lost grounds due to a poor strategy.
The training policy ran into trouble with the academia and donor agencies concerning the type of institution to use and its location.
Teaching aid and library were not available due to lack of funds; this was a major handicap to students who graduated as computer engineers without adequate practicals. Fortunately they have been able to bridge that gap by attending courses; most of them have been successful too.
Donor agencies including the World Bank were not forthcoming probably because of the monopoly given to STIM. The World Bank, however, provided funds for the purchase of information equipment, not sold by STIM, to the accounting training center, INSCAE.
Information Technology Management
This was a failure as the SYMAG company responsible for the transfer of technology collapsed. Furthermore, (a) The option chosen was not the international standard (b) The project was not approved by the computer community and (c) The idea came too soon for the Madagascans who were not ready for this type of industry but too late for technological advances.
Madagascar during this period was going through economic recession; its general policy was geared towards austerity measures aimed saving the country needless expenses. Information policy was so much regimented that it failed to develop.
Apart a few those decisions taken, no law was promulgated nor was any information technology plan developed.
From 1988 to date
July 1988: the importation system was no longer officially regulated. This was one of the main spin-offs of the liberalization policy initiated in Madagascar and recommended by the World Bank and IMF to revamp the economy.
During this period, successive government (End of Second Republic, Transition and The Third Republic) applied the liberalization policy to information technology. The government washed its hands of information technology activities except for training courses by the ENI and the companies.
The Ministry in charge of higher education is solely responsible for decisions concerning ENI and education in the various regional centers but it faces mainly financial problems.
Each ministry tried to use Madagascan and/or foreign private economic operators to computerize their department by implementing master plans in organization and information technology. This is followed by contract tender advertisement for hardwares, softwares and applications development funded by government's own resources or by international organizations such as ADB, CDF, World Bank (IDA CRESED, CRESSAN), EDF, FAC, etc.
Liberalization was carried out in such a way that:
- No decision making or advisory body had to be established
- No regulation was made concerning hardware, software, development plan, safety, confidentiality and intellectual property
- In terms of data transmission, since the Madagascan telecommunications facilities were very old, very few companies and government officials used them. That is why there was no tariff regulation policy on telematics.
- There has been a haphazard proliferation of computer hardware and software and the capacity utilization of most of them was only 40% and often limited office automation
- There was also a proliferation of service, representative and training companies without regulations or service quality control.
- Information technology in Madagascar has been overwhelmed by new technologies from outside with no serious efforts made to make the maximum profit from investment. This is the ransom for the policy that has been conducted to date.
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