Wikileaks: Jordanian government officials envision Jordan as the “India of the Middle East”
A US diplomatic cable sent from US embassy in Amman and published on Wikileaks this week discussed Jordan’s IT sector status and plans after Yahoo acquisition of Jordanian portal Maktoob.
The cables dates in 10/15/2009 said that Yahoo maktoob acquisition has generated excitement in the country about Jordan’s future as a regional IT hub. The Embassy held meetings with both industry and government officials where government officials “envision Jordan’s role as the “India of the Middle East,” with Jordan providing technical support, customer service and back-end software development instead of front-line innovation, marketing or development.”
However some government officials and private sector contacts expressed to the Embassy officials doubts that Jordan can ever rival Dubai as the technology hub of the region.”
In a September 14 meeting, Samih Toukan, the CEO and a founder of Maktoob, told US Economy Office that Jordan’s advantages in the technology sector are comparative but not absolute. He cited that while Jordanian labor is cheaper in Dubai and higher education is better than Egypt, “till there are more qualified engineers and software developers in Egypt and the quality and variety of labor is better in Dubai because of Jordan’s relatively small domestic population with limited numbers of third-country technology experts.”
Toukan also refuted claims that Jordan has bilingual work force as exaggerated , as Maktoob found very few university graduated who are fluent enough in English to carry on their business tasks. Which in our experience we agree with him.
Toukan also had several suggestions to improve innovation in Jordan “till more qualified engineers and software developers in Egypt and the quality and variety of labor is better in Dubai because of Jordan’s relatively small domestic population with limited numbers of third-country technology experts.” Toukan touched in the problem of importing skilled foreign labor specially IT managers and suggested that the government should relax rules to import them as they would help the IT sector in Jordan become a leader in the region.
According to the Cables in October 5 2009 Jordan’s King Abdullah outlined an IT strategy that reflects some of Toukan,s suggestions “the King announced that the GOJ (government of Jordan) will provide administrative and financial assistance to IT startups and will work with universities and the public and private sectors to further develop IT-related industries in Jordan.”
The king did not offer details in how the plan will be implemented or paid for. “but called for a panel of IT experts to present a detailed action plan to him by the end of the year.”
“In a meeting two days after the King’s announcement, leaders of the Information Technology Association of Jordan (Intaj) privately expressed to Economy Office skepticism of the King’s plans, saying that limited funding and the limited influence of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MOICT) on the sector make it unlikely that the announced plan will move the sector forward.”
Jordanian government officials told the embassy that they plan o increase internet penetration in Jordan from the current level of 29% to 50% by 2011. The cables notes that the most significant action on this front involves a cooperative effort between the Royal Jordanian Air Force, the Public Security Directorate (the national police), and the MOICT to run fiber optic cables to elementary schools in remote parts of Jordan, connecting under-served communities outside of the big cities of Amman, Irbid and Zarqa.
The government is running eight tubes of fiber-optic cable lines to under-served rural areas, while the last mile of connectivity will be provided by private companies, including Orange and Wi-tribe.
The government of Jordan is also “pursuing a partnership with Microsoft to set up cloud computing systems in small towns and to provide residents with low-cost desktop units they could use to access the internet and e-mail. Quanadilo asserted that Microsoft is excited about using this project as a prototype to test cloud technology in the developing world and says that Microsoft executives are coming to Jordan in November to meet with King Abdullah about this and other technology projects in the country and region”
Nidal Quanadilo, Director of ICT Investment and Promotion at Ministry of ICT told US embassy officials that Jordan does not have an ambition to become the new Dubai (the major IT hub in the region). but rather the India of the Arabic speaking world . Providing customer service support and back-end software development to companies based elsewhere. According to Quanadilo is planning to expand the call center industry with three tax advantaged technology centers to attract call centers and similar businesses, he cited that call centers would employe hundred if not thousand of jordanian. with according to him Jordan textile industry employed mostly foreign workers.
The cable comments that even though there are still significant obstacles to be overcome to achieve Jordan as a regional hub, including implementing and funding the King’s IT initiatives, Jordan is taking concrete steps to lay a firm foundation for a well-connected future.
As what ArabCrunch knows about the King’s and the government initiatives, at the time of this cable there were talks about a government run venture capital fund. We did not hear anything that suggests that this fund is operational. What we know that the king envisioned 500 startups, which was implemented by Oasis500 offering bootcamp, training, mentprship and funding for early and seed stage startups. Oasis500 founders include Intaj and other private companies such IV Holdings which received funding from the US government.
In its part Intaj has been working recently with industry companies and the Ministry of ICT regarding the development of the next National ICT sector strategy for the years 2012-2016.
I have outlined in 18 Apr, 2009 several points that would help Vibrant Startup Based IT Sector Ecosystem in The Arab World
that could be used in Jordan and I plan to do follow up posts citing recent experience and observation of the industry in general.
# Full cable: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/10/09AMMAN2306.html