No one, it appears, is entirely sure just how many countries there are in the world. Some sources put the number at 196, others 195, while some say 189. Speedtest.net, for its purposes of charting the fastest and slowest nations in terms of internet uploading and downloading speeds, lists 185.
And guess what? Lebanon, for all its glitz and glamour, supposed sophistication and much-vaunted education standards, came last, with a snail-like download speed of 0.47mb/sec. (South Korea comes first, with 38.63mb/sec). When it comes to upload speed, we do marginally better, crawling one place to 184, with 0.10mb/sec. That’s right. We are the slowest in the world.
Countries with a faster (and in all probability cheaper) internet capability include Afghanistan, a failed state, at 158; Iraq, a country still finding its feet and plagued by violence, at 178th; and the Palestinian Territories, a divided country with Gaza’s infrastructure regularly blown to smithereens by the Israeli army, at 147th. Sri Lanka, a country that is the butt of Lebanese jokes and one perceived as being populated entirely by domestic staff, is 153rd in the global rankings.
Lebanon has no excuse for being at the foot of the world table, and this ranking speaks volumes about the state of neglect from which the country suffers and the fact that our national priorities are simply all wrong. The future of Lebanese business lies with a new generation of technically-minded entrepreneurs who, if the situation remains the same, will take their ideas elsewhere. As for plans to style Lebanon as the Middle East’s Silicon Valley… Don’t make us laugh.
Now that the March 14 alliance has bravely opted to sit on the opposition benches for the first time since 2005, the Lebanese will have an opportunity to hold accountable a government that has no excuse not to deal with urgent social issues.
Prime Minister-elect Najib Mikati has pledged to deliver a government that represents all Lebanese. But what the people would probably prefer to hear him say is that he will head a government that will work for all Lebanese and repair the country’s creaking infrastructure, and that means delivering 24-hour electricity, harnessing Lebanon’s plentiful water supplies so that there are no shortages, fixing the state of our roads, and, yes, giving us faster internet so we can at least try to compete economically with the rest of the world.
In the iPad era, the internet is a necessary educational and commercial tool that is essential in giving modern business a competitive edge, be it in sales, advertising, or simply delivering documents and images at high speed. As long as companies cannot count on Lebanon for its online reliability, they will think twice about setting up shop here.
In short, our competitive edge is blunted, and Telecom Minister Charbel Nahhas, a respected economist, must make this his priority, should – as is expected – he retain his portfolio.
We cannot talk about 6 percent economic growth and forget that this growth comes mainly from banking, remittances, real estate and tourism. We also cannot boast about economic growth when the business environment for foreign investors is hamstrung with red tape, high charges and an infrastructure that a cold war communist regime would be ashamed of.
If Lebanon is to be the boutique nation it claims to be, one that is committed to, and serious about, attracting foreign investment to spur job creation and sustainable economic activity, then it must have the systems in place to do it.
Many similar-sized countries in Central and Eastern Europe are already undertaking charm offensives to woo the investment dollar. If the next government doesn’t start laying the foundations for establishing a modern, transparent and efficient business environment, Lebanon will remain nothing more than a down-at-heel entrepôt with a middling-to-decent nightlife and a handful of good hotels. The real business will go elsewhere, and we will only have ourselves to blame.