Greetings. Follow some recent articles on IT related to Africa which I
thought might be of interest to y'all.
FROM MALAWI NEWS ON-LINE ([log in to unmask]) Edition No: 11 14
EARTH STATION IN COMMISSION
President Bakili Muluzi on July 5 commissioned a third earth station and a
second international telephone exchange in Blantyre.
The new earth station will provide adequate facility for the next 11 years
after which a fourth earth station will be installed in Dowa, central Malawi.
A third international telephone exchange will be installed in 2007.
The new facilities are expected to ease congestion on the South African and
the United Kingdom telecommunications streams.
Mitsin and Company Limited of Japan has pumped into the project a loan of
US$10 million (MK150m) while the Malawi Posts and Telecommunications
Corporation will finance the project with US$1.67 million (MK25 m).
FROM WEEKLY Mail&Guardian (http://www.mg.co.za/mg/) Friday, 10 May 1996:
IBA gets taken
down a notch
The IBA will no longer formulate
telecommunications policies, writes
[T] HE announcement early this week by
Posts, Telecommunications and
Broadcasting Minister Jay Naidoo that his
department will take over the task of
developing telecommunications policies
has met with mixed response.
While some in the industry are
apprehensive about the Independent
Broadcasing Authority (IBA) shedding this
responsibility, others have welcomed the
The IBA will now focus solely on the
regulation of the airwaves and the
issuing of television and radio licences.
Chairman of the Freedom of Expression
Institute Raymond Louw says while the
IBA's scaling down of responsibilities
will bring it in line with other
regulatory bodies in the world, there
exists concern that policy formulation
and decision-making by the ministry could
extend to meddling in the actual
Although Naidoo gave assurances that this
will not be the case, Louw argues that
the issue of policy decision-making by
the ministry could lead to "temptation" [Main Menu]
where the ministry decides on the content Back to main
of programmes and "policy is possibly news menu
used to dicate to the public broadcaster -------------
its programme content. [Open Africa menu]
"Creating policy so as to improve the in Africa
environment and make it conducive to -------------
broadcasters flourishing is desirable. [PCReview menu]
But attempts to control programme content Plain English
is undesirable," Louw says. computing
IBA co-chairperson Peter de Klerk says [Out to Play menu]
Naidoo assured broadcasters that policy The intelligent
formulation by the ministry will not joller's guide
extend to content but will be -------------
concentrated on policy which is of
national interest -- instances where
government can play a major role in
addressing imbalances by establishing a
reliable network that will reach both
rural and urban communities.
SABC's chief executive of television Jill
Chisholm says she has had assurances
"from the president onwards" that the
independence of the SABC is valued by
government and therefore does not believe
there would be any intervention in
Executive director of the National
Association of Broadcasters, Daniella
Goldman, says there is "so much policy
that still needs to be developed and the
IBA is not the appropriate institution to
handle policy formulation.
"The IBA should be guided by policy and
not be formulating it. Although I can
understand people are uncomfortable with
the dangers involved in the ministry
formulating policy, provided the ministry
is transparent and closely consults with
broadcasters and others in the industry,
there shouldn't be a problem."
From MISA Free Press magazine ([log in to unmask]) edition 2/96
Free...but very expensive
The advent of mobile cellular phones has added a new dimension to
technology and freedom of expression in Africa. But only an
information-rich elite seem to be benefiting
States are beginning to realise the importance of telecommunications for
development, but few have as yet made the connection between advances in
information technology and freedom of expression. However, it was on the
grounds of this fundamental right that a court ruled that the phone-service
monopoly of Zimbabwe's state-controlled posts and telecommunications
company (PTC) was unconstitutional.
The Zimbabwe PTC entangled itself in an expensive legal battle in a bid to
prevent private mobile phone company Retrofit from introducing cellular
phones in a country where conventional phone services are poor. The
government argued that the introduction of such communication facilities
would rob the state-controlled PTC of revenue, and thus the chance to
expand its services. The Supreme Court however ruled that the PTC's
monopoly could "not be reasonably justified in a democratic society."
Arguing that PTC profits would be cut in the advent of competition did not
warrant a serious inroad into the "constitutional right of freedom of
expression", the court ruled.
The battle might have been won, but the war continued with the state then
trying to scupper Retrofit's plans with licensing legislation. Retrofit had
planned to invest U$14 million to set up a network of about 10 000
subscribers in Zimbabwe's main towns by April 1996. The planned extension
of mobile phone services to the rest of the country was going to cost
Retrofit a further U$56 million.
However, in African nations where cellular phones have already been
introduced, they remain the appendage of a small, privileged, mostly urban
elite as the phones are too expensive for the average user. About 330 000
people out of a population of 40 million have cellular phones in South
Africa, where a cellular set costs about U$630, while monthly rentals
average around U$30, as compared to U$10 for ordinary phones.
Even in South Africa, cellular phones ''are too expensive for the average
user and will not ease up demand for telephones,'' says Brigette Moloi, a
marketing representative of the state-owned PTC Telkom. ''People want
telephones, even in the shacks that are springing up in the townships. And
there, they cannot afford cellulars,'' she says.
Still, many Zimbabweans appear to be looking forward with enthusiasm to the
introduction of mobile phones. ''At least I won't have to stand in a long
queue to make a phone call, '' says Joseph Kunaka, manager of a fast-food
outlet in Harare. "Anywhere I am I can call. I certainly will be among the
first subscribers of the service. We are much more advanced technologically
than Malawi, but Malawi has an operational cellular phone service. It was
long over due here,'' says Kunaka.
It is not hard to understand why Kunaka is so eager to get his hands on a
cellular phone. According to the 1995 World Development Report (WDR),
produced by the World Bank, Zimbabwe's telephone network is one of the
world's most defective, with 215 faults per 100 main lines each year. Of
the 95 countries covered by the WDR report, only Nigeria, India and
Tajikstan have worse records. Zimbabwe had 12 telephone main lines per 1000
people in 1992, while neighbouring Botswana had 27 and South Africa 89.
Would-be PTC subscribers in Zimbabwe have to wait months - and in some
cases as long as five years - to obtain phones, says the report.
''Everyone knows the PTC network, for a wide variety of historical reasons,
is inadequate,'' ran a comment in the semi-official daily newspaper The
Herald. The quality of its service also leaves much to be desired. Crossed
lines are frequent and it is not uncommon for phones to go dead when it
Besides Malawi and South Africa, privately-run cellular phone networks are
already available in countries like Namibia, Burundi, Tanzania, Zaire and
Zambia. Malawi's conventional telecommunications services have been found
wanting during the last five years and no doubt cellular phones, which were
introduced in December 1995, will do little to help those still reliant on
services provided by the PTC. The cost of PTC services continue to escalate
while - like in Zimbabwe - people can be on the waiting list for a
telephone for five years or more. Allegations of corruption also dog the
PTC, while the arrival of cellular phones is seen merely as a "bonus" for
In 12 months of operation, Namibia's cellular phone provider MTC has
managed to capture just over 4000 subscribers in a country with 1.5 million
inhabitants. MTC, which is a joint venture between the parastatal PTC
Telecom Namibia and Swedish partners Swedfund and Telia, initially invested
U$10 million into setting up its cellular phone venture, and during the
next five years, MTC says it plans to extend the service to cover much of
the large, sparsely-populated country.
MTC has also linked up with their counterparts in South Africa to enable
MTC clients to use their mobile phones south of the border, and for South
African cellular phone users to make calls while in Namibia. A similar
service will soon be extended to some European countries, says MTC.
Try making a telephone call to Congo, and more often than not what you get
is: ''Due to congestion of the lines, your call cannot be processed. Please
try again later''. But for wealthier Congolese, this disembodied refrain
from the National Posts and Telecommunications' Office (ONPT) is becoming a
thing of the past, thanks to the recent introduction of a cellular
The new system is part of a programme to modernise telecommunications in
this central African state. Traditionally fraught with difficulties, whole
regions are inaccessible by phone, while international lines are limited
and the calls abroad are exorbitantly priced.
In December last year, Nexus International, a subsidiary of the France
Telecom group, set up the digital cellular telephone system called CYRTEL
in a joint venture with the ONPT. Of the world's estimated 72 million
cellular telephone subscribers, 44 million are hooked up to CYRTEL. In
Congo, the system is run by CYRUS Ltd, 30 percent of whose shares are owned
by the ONPT and the Congolese state, and 70 percent by Nexus International.
It cost CYRUS about U$ 4.6 million to set up the cellular service to
operate within a radius of 50 km of the capital Brazzaville and of 30 km
around the second city Pointe Noire.
So far, 24 000 people in the two towns have each paid U$736 to subscribe to
CYRTEL; a fee which covers portable telephone receiver, battery, charger,
transformer, connection costs, a month's subscription and a U$90 deposit.
Adrien Mbieka, a baker in Brazzaville, admits this is expensive as compared
to the 70.000 CFA (about U$154) charged by ONPT for conventional local
lines and 270.000 CFA (U$594) for international access, but adds that ''the
ONPT doesn't offer the same advantages as CYRTEL''. ''For example, with my
work which involves distributing bread all over town, I need to be in
contact with my clients at any time and in any place,'' says Mbieka. ''A
mobile telephone enables me to be all over at the same time.''
While the new system has brought advantages such as mobility, greater
confidentiality and better sound quality, it has its limits. CYRTEL has
failed to slash telecommunications' costs, which are among the highest in
Africa. An international call here costs between U$2 and U$7.5 per minute,
but the CYRTEL's charges are even higher. And since CYRTEL's focus is on
the two main towns, the new system will not contribute towards ending the
isolation of those parts of the country excluded from all telephone
networks because ONPT's installations have been neglected and no longer
''It is very difficult, even impossible, for us to communicate with
Brazzaville over the phone,'' says Rodriguez Abiabouti, who lives in the
northern town of Mbomo. ''Even radio reception is poor in my area.'' Notes
electrician Romson Landou: ''With CYRTEL, we don't have problems like
those, but because of the tariffs we only make calls that are absolutely
necessary. It is still a luxury in Congo.''
From MISA Free Press magazine 2/96
Regional integration - at last!
COMESA wakes up to the fact that the free flow of information is essential
The Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) is working on a
regional telecommunications network aimed at boosting trade among member
states - welcome news to anyone whose work involves cross-border
communication within the region.
In a speech delivered in Zambia on May 21, COMESA Secretary-General Mbingu
Wa Mtarika said the creation of a viable common market for the region is
being hindered by poor communications. Wa Mtarika's remarks were made at
the second telecommunications inter-connectivity network meeting at
Lusaka's Mulungushi International Conference Centre.
COMESA's was to co-ordinate the development of national telecommunication
networks to allow countries to communicate with each other easily "in
order to boost trade between the countries in the region," Wa Mtarika
explained. The combination of telecommunications, computing and - more
recently - audio-visual techniques had become the "driving force of the
world economy", he said.
The regional network will cost an estimated US$280 million and will enable
all 23 COMESA member countries to modernise their networks, to the benefit
over 350 million subscribers in the region. The investment costs will be
shared out among national operators in proportion to the work required. Wa
Mtarika attributed the dismal performance of the member states
telecommunications sectors' to inadequate investment.
COMESA's decision to integrate and improve the region's dilapidated
telecommunication network is long overdue. Weeks before Wa Mtarika's
announcement, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported
that there had been no improvement in Africa's telecommunications sector
during 1995, and that the number of phone lines per inhabitant had actually
"Line penetration" - a standard measure of telecommunications development -
stands at well below one line per 100 Africans; less than two percent of
the world's telephone lines lie in the continent; and some three-quarters
of all Africans will, on present figures, never get the chance to make or
receive a phone call.
During 1995 nine African countries saw a drop in the number of lines per
inhabitant, and the rest of the region showed only slight improvement. That
contrasts with the significant growth seen in other developing regions
during the same period. Nevertheless, the ITU felt the recent opening up
of the South African market would result in a spread services to the rest
of the continent.
While no African nation could currently afford levels of line penetration
such as those seen in Western Europe, where there are some 50 to 70 lines
per 100 people (Zaire, for example, has just nine lines per 10,000 people),
five to 10 lines per 100 is seen by analysts as economically viable even in
the short term.
Growth in Africa's telecommunication infrastructure between 1990-95 period
was modest, reported the ITU. Investment in the telecommunications sector
grew during the early 1990's, but saw a 19 percent drop in 1994.
Nonetheless, the ITU noted that around 60 percent of this investment was
self-financed by the continent's telecom operators - a high proportion
compared to other developing regions, and an indication that some countries
in the area are moving towards self-sufficiency.
In many countries, telecommunications have been separated from postal
services, regulatory entities have been created, and in some states public
operators are being privatised and competition is being introduced in
certain markets. Ghana already has a second private operator for basic
telecom services, while Zambia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea and Congo are
planning at least partial privatisation of their telephone companies. South
African network operators are looking into expanding their ties with
surrounding nations, and US telecom giant AT&T is proposing to lay an
undersea fibre-optic cable which would ring the continent.
The ITU reported that the spread of the Internet in Africa has been slow.
Sixteen countries were connected by 1995. The majority of users are
universities and members of the private business sector. The lion's share
of African Internet users are in South Africa, which figures among the
world's top 20 countries in terms of density of users.
Subscription television is expanding in Africa in spite of the cost being
much higher than that of basic telephone services. The most active markets
in terms of subscription television is again South Africa, which launched
M-Net, the first such network in the southern hemisphere, and Nigeria,
which now has 15 operators of a microwave distribution system.
Meanwhile, the Zambia Telecommunication Corporation (ZAMTEL) has cut
international tariffs by 20 percent. Transport and Communications Minister
Dawson Lupunga said the improvement of telecommunications services and
telecommunications infrastructure was an indispensable component in the
process of economic integration of the COMESA region.
Announcing the cuts on May 21, Lupunga said the government had a policy to
deregulate and liberalise the telecommunications sector to enable fair
competition which would improve efficiency and customer services. "We are
living at a time of tremendous improvements in the telecommunications
sector resulting in profound globalisation of the world markets and
communities that have taken advantage of the state of the art technology
obviously have a leading edge over their competitors," said Lupunga.
Speaking at the same occasion, Project Manager for Swedish telecom
consultants SWEDTEL, Jan Weiburg, said the high charges levied by national
phone companies for outgoing international calls had encouraged the
establishment of "call-back" operators, resulting in considerable losses of
revenue for the national operators.
- the post/ips/misanet
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Private Bag 13386
Tel. +264 61 232975, Fax. 248016
e-mail: [log in to unmask]