London — One of the links in first east-west fibre route has been financed by the African Development Bank. It has agreed with the Government of Chad to provide US$32 million to underwrite the Chad-Niger section. Russell Southwood looks at what's proposed and the challenges of these kind of Government-led fibre projects.
At the end of May Chad's Ministry of Posts, New Technologies information and Communication announced that it had signed an agreement to get a grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB) for FCFA 18.96 billion.
"By funding the Chadian component of the Trans-Sahara fiber optic (SDR), the European Union (EU) and the AfDB offer Chad levers for the diversification of its economy," said Dr Idriss Saleh Bachar, Minister of Posts, new technologies of information and communication.
The project will be for 1,510 kms of fibre overall, 1007 kms in Niger and 503 kms in Chad. It will be built alongside the Trans Sahara highway to avoid later civil works disruption. The fibre route starts in the Tchadian capital N'Djamena and goes almost in a straight line to Zinder in Niger.
This connects it with existing Nigerienne national fibre that connects into Benin and Burkina Faso. Finance has been provided to repair and upgrade the junctions to Burkina Faso and Benin. There are also two branches from Zinder, one north and one south to be built. The southern one goes to Timkin, just north of Mutum on the Nigerian border. And the northern one follows the road north to Assamaka on the Algerian border.
At a national level for Chad, the package also includes a National Data Centre (to be sited at AGETIC) and internet access at 10 community centres and 4 womens centres along the route.
All of that is good news but now the reality of less good news. There is no public timetable attached to the project and state incumbent SotelTchad is still building the Chad-Sudan fibre link.
The state incumbent SotelTchad is an obstacle to the commercial growth of this route. It has a monopoly over fibre and over its fibre link to Cameroon through Camtel (which also has a monopoly of fibre routes and landing stations). When the link to Cameroon was first opened there was a dispute over pricing with SotelTchad holding out for higher prices. To make good on the rhetoric of diversifying its economy through fibre, Chad will need to have cheap, universally accessible access.
Under IMF and World Bank pressure in 2014, the Government announced it would privatize SotelChad but in a pattern familiar from elsewhere on the continent it has failed to do so. Meanwhile it announced a fourth mobile license in July 2018 and again nothing has been heard of that.
Sadly Government sponsored fibre routes have not really been the answer to connecting Africa's different countries and the Central African countries remain a monopoly "black spot". This means this route will never reach its full potential unless and until the Government of Chad makes good on its promise to privatize SotelChad.