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AFRIK-IT  August 2000

AFRIK-IT August 2000

Subject:

Southern and Eastern Africa Telecoms Policy

From:

Jeffrey Cochrane <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Fri, 18 Aug 2000 07:50:25 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (188 lines)

Greetings Afrik-ITes!

My first visit to the posh Sandton shopping centers north
of Johannesburg's business district -- glitzy and, at least
by American standards, very inexpensive.  A fabulous
dinner for four cost me $30, about the same as a dinner
for one in the District of Columbia, and of no lesser quality.

Outside, three boys begged for coins until chased away
by a workman -- a common scene in other countries I
frequently visit but rather jarring adjacent to so obvious a
center of wealth in South Africa.  The workman's pickup
was caught in a traffic jam, so he had time to jump from
behind the steering wheel and take chase -- the boys
were much faster, and resumed quickly.  It took us 20
minutes or so to get to Sandton from the airport on high
speed motorways, and then another 20 for our taxi to
crawl the last 2 kilometers through town to our hotel.

South Africa in a nutshell?

We stayed in Sandton because it is also near the home
of TRASA's program manager.  TRASA is the
Telecommunications Regulators Association of Southern
Africa, bringing together the relatively newly independent
regulators of the region.  It was not so many years ago
that these association members were all part and parcel
of the national, state-owned monopoly telephone
companies in each country.

Our TRASA colleague, a Tanzanian, joined me for a
dinner meeting along with my travelling companions, both
USAID employees, one a telecoms infrastructure
program officer based in Botswana (a Zimbabwean) and
the other a telecoms engineer based in Nairobi (a
Kenyan).  As USAID funds telecoms policy reform efforts
through SADC (from our Botswana office) and also
through COMESA (from our Kenya office), it seemed
appropriate to meet to assure that the thrust of our
support remains consistent across the region.

Our Tanzanian host seemed to know just where to go.  In
the posh restaurant section, the maitre d's all jumped out
to greet and thrust menus at us, urging us to turn in their
competing directions.  We settled on Italian cuisine, and
over focaccia bread continued our discussions, which
had begun two hours earlier in our hotel lobby across the
street.

The engineer from our Nairobi office, who heads our
COMESA support program, posed questions to the
TRASA representative who works under a SADC
framework.  Later in the week the infrastructure expert
from our Botswana office, who heads our SADC support
program, would do the same with COMESA staff.  My
own role was to tend to the focaccia.

Apart from their differing geographic scopes, I see little
difference between the telecom policy programs of the
two multinational organizations.  COMESA represents
countries from Egypt to Namibia (excluding Botswana,
South Africa, and a few other key states).  SADC
blankets almost all of Southern Africa (including
Botswana, South Africa, and those other key states
missing from COMESA).  Tanzania anchors the northern
edge of SADC, and in an interesting development is
considering withdrawing from COMESA in favor of its
alliance to the south.

The objectives in either case seem to be generally in the
direction of a more liberal market for telecommunications,
with greater involvement from the private sector, and
more regionally integrated operations.  How one gets
from here to there is certainly the subject of much debate,
especially in the gritty details.  The role of both regional
organizations is to develop roadmaps and then to help
member states with navigation.

These roadmaps are embodied in model policies and
legislation.  Technical staff of the regional organizations
consult with national government officials to map out the
broad outlines, and then propose specific language for
the models.  These are then circulated and discussed
and modified and reformulated and discussed some
more -- a process requiring great diplomatic skill and a
level of patience that I'm sure exceeds anything I could
ever muster.

The Southern Africa Transport and Communications
Commission Technical Unit in Maputo spearheaded this
effort for SADC.  They are to be congratulated for the
publication of their models and even more for the general
consensus they were able to develop within the region
leading up to that publication.

COMESA will be developing its own telecommunications
policy recommendations, and it looks like they will be
borrowing heavily from the lessons learned by their
counterparts in SADC.  The collaborative process is quite
similar to that recently followed in the development of a
unified system of insurance permits for freight haulers
initiated by COMESA and studied carefully by SADC.

With respect to the telecoms policy reform model, first
stop seems to be the creation of a telecoms regulator out
of a divorce from the national parastatal telco.  The model
law and policy (visit http://www.trasa.org) sketch the
principles for this and further reform.  The most interesting
sections, at least for me, deal with issues of "exclusivity"
(read: continued monopoly) in return for addressing
universal access and infrastructure buildout.  I'll leave it to
you to study these documents if they are of interest.

Principles are required.  Implementation of those
principles are another matter.  Each country seems to be
moving at a different pace and with a differing level of
enthusiasm.  The process of crafting national laws
consistent with approved regional model laws is
exceedingly complex, and is an area where USAID
expects to provide support for the next few years.

Just to give you an idea on the complexities, consider
Kenya's case where there are emerging telcos to
compete with the incumbent national carrier Telkom
Kenya.  Liberalization (competition) is to be permitted
initially outside Nairobi for the local loop (basic phone
service).  What about the international link?  Must the new
telco in Mombasa still pass its international calls through
Nairobi and Telkom, ostensibly its competitor?  How will
that be managed to assure fairness?  Will there be a
transition to a liberalized international link?  Thorny issues
with major implications for the business community, for
ordinary users, and for the bottom line at the national
treasury.

The Kenya example was discussed several times in our
meetings this past week, precisely because Kenya
embodies so many of the complexities with which African
governments are grappling.  Consider that nearing
completion are plans for a regional interconnection
carrier for telecommunications services called COMTEL,
incorporated in Mauritius and poised to offer residents of,
for example, Mombasa the possibility of calling their
friends in Swakupmond without routing through the
switches of Europe or North America.  It would appear
that the Mombasans will still be routing through the
switches of Nairobi as Kenya continues to ponder the
intricacies of exclusivity and the financial implications for
the national treasury, this as Telkom Kenya seeks to
attract a major investor.

We're in Lusaka today at the conclusion of our whirlwind
tour.  On the agenda today are such things as programs
to help telecoms regulators in the region share ideas,
special assistance to those ministerial offices in the
region that have poor or non-existent connections to the
Internet so that they can participate in policy debates
online, and procedures internal to USAID for the
consideration of support requests that fall within the
overlapping geographic areas of SADC and COMESA.

Historically donors have not really acted regionally.  It is
perhaps an interesting commentary on the state of the
nation state that both Africa and the donor community are
seeking this regional approach to the continent's
problems in telecommunications as well as other sectors.

It leads me to reflect on the country-code top-level domain
debates presently all the rage in Africa.  Under which
domain should TRASA place its Web site???  Ah, well,
for another day.  Off to breakfast.

Cheers!
Jeff @ Lusaka



----
Information and Communication Technology Programs
USAID/REDSO/ESA
http://www.usaid.gov/redso
Tel +254 (2) 862400 x2762
Email [log in to unmask] (preferred)
Email [log in to unmask]
PO Box 30261
Nairobi
KENYA

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