Balancing Act (London)

Central Africa: Some Fibre Network Breakthroughs in the Continent's Slow Lane for Development

London — African fibre development has a fast lane and a slow lane. The number of countries in East Africa that now have multiple redundant connections to neighbours and extensive national fibre backbones is growing.

Among those in the slow lane, there has always seemed to be a disproportionate number of Central African countries, where fibre reach has remained limited and monopolies have kept prices high. Russell Southwood looks at how things might be changing for some of these countries.

There are a cluster of countries in Central Africa which have not really understood what needs to be done to get cheap and widely available broadband. These include: Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, DRC and Congo-Brazzaville. The reasons are many and various but they have all held up the process of implementing broadband.

In Cameroon, despite a certain amount of discussion about separating off Camtel's wholesale functions into a PPP, it remains a monopoly offering higher wholesale prices with no regulatory control.

In Chad, the Government gave the franchise for the link to Cameroon to an individual international investor and the negotiations over the interconnection price went nowhere: the franchise has now been taken back.

Central African Republic is sufficiently unstable to make cracking its broadband implementation something that is not at the top of its list.

Gabon's incumbent is run by Maroc Telecom and despite a more competitive market, continues to possess some of the privileges associated with its former incumbent status. DRC is a country that is bound to make even born optimists cry, something we have covered in the past:

Against this rather daunting backdrop, this week sees two rather good pieces of news. Those involved in implementing the World Bank's Central African Backbone project in Gabon and DRC met last week to talk about connecting up the fibre networks built in both countries under parts of the programme known as CAB3 and CAB4.

The interconnection of the fibers built under CAB 3 (DRC) and CAB4 ( Gabon ) will reduce costs and improve the quality of communication between the two countries and strengthen the integrity of the regional communications networks creating loops ( redundancies ) in the sub-region .

The project will mean that Gabon can: connect to the new ACE submarine cable; start building a terrestrial link to Franceville (in the south-east of the country) and the border with the DRC.

The terrestrial project cost is estimated at US$109 million, US$58 million will funded by the World Bank and US$51 million by the Gabon Government. Interconnecting fibre between the two countries will cost US$30 million, half of which will be funded by the World Bank and the other half by the DRC Government.

According to media reports, the projects in both countries will be carried out in accordance with the principles of Public Private Partnership (PPP) and the Open Access.

We await with interest to see whether this will be the case because Governments in this part of Africa have talked the talk on Open Access but when it comes to letting go of incumbent privileges have been very slow to walk the talk.

The second piece of good news is that a tireless pioneer of new fibre routes in Sub-Saharan Africa - PCCW Global -has established a direct connection to the WACS cable landing station from Kinshasa.

In addition to its new direct access option via WACS, PCCW Global has invested substantially in developing a mix of connectivity options for the DRC which include terrestrial cross-border fiber networks, access to subsea cable routes, as well as various satellite connectivity.

It now has three different ways into this huge country that has almost no roads: from the west into Matadi and Kinshasa; from the east into Goma; and from the south into Lubumbashi.

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Video clip briefings on Rwanda:

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Jovani Ntabgoba on the Rwandan ICT incubator kLab and the start-ups it has supported

A video and story briefing on Education and Technology in Africa:

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Jacques Murinda on the successful use of Teachermate and OLPC in Rwandan schools

A video briefing on African brands using social media to engage with users:

Ross Haddow, Guinness Africa on how it uses social media and the future of social media in Africa

Shahzad Khan, OgilvyOne on its Nigerian social media campaign for Airtel, Half Dollar

Africa's growing social media use means rulers tremble and brands spend more on digital

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