You know you're in Southern Africa when... you walk into a
restaurant in Maputo and half the clientele are enjoying a glass of
wine or 2M beer, while the other half are shouting into cell
phones... Hard to concentrate on one's prawns through the cacaphony
of rings, beeps, and clever little tunes the various cell-phone
companies have devised, eh?
Unfortunately (fortunately?) there are few if any cell-phone services
at the dozens of key border posts in the region, nor is there
an abundance of conventional twisted copper pairs for that
matter, all of which poses what many consider to be a quite serious
Consider that several countries in Southern Africa do not have
seaports, and must import many of their bulk goods by road or rail
through the seaports of their coastal neighbors. A load of
consumer durables (e.g. refrigerators) is off-loaded from a ship onto
lorries at Beira, for example, and the lorries are then cleared
through customs for inward passage. If the final destination is
Zimbabwe, then by treaty, standard customs duties are not levied in
Mozambique. Once the lorries reach Zimbabwe their contents are again
declared and the duty is paid -- if the lorries reach Zimbabwe.
Along the way the lorries full of refrigerators may be diverted to
other destinations inside Mozambique. The refrigerators concerned
are thus illegally imported into Mozambique duty free.
Some may consider this a good thing, actually, though from the
perspective of the Mozambique government, such illegal diversions of
transit goods constitutes a serious loss of revenue. This is
important because customs duties constitute a significant proportion
of total government revenues.
One solution would be to monitor the progress of transit goods.
Customs officials register lorries with transit goods at the seaport,
then verify passage at several points through the country to the exit
It is this monitoring process that requires telecommunications. As
lorries pass each checkpoint, their progress would be noted in a
computer database. The data would be transferred in real time from
a computer at the checkpoint to a central tracking system back at the
seaport. Failure of goods to reach specified checkpoints at
predetermined times would be noted, and inspectors would be
dispatched to investigate. Diversion would be made much more
Of course it is not only customs officials who are interested in
border posts. We have spoken to others in the region who express an
interest in assuring that shippers are properly treated at borders,
that laws are obeyed by inspectors, and that unnecessary delays are
eliminated. This process, too, requires monitoring at border posts,
and thus telecommunications.
Where telephones and even electricity infrastructure at border posts
and other inspection points is poor, what are the alternatives?
One possibility is of course the elimination of customs duties, which
would obviate the incentive for transit-goods diversions.
To replace lost customs revenues, necessary taxes might be collected
through some other means, though arguably it is at ports that taxes
can often be most reliably and fairly levied in countries where
consumer transactions are largely conducted with cash.
Those requiring data-transmission facilities at remote locations
might consider private radio data systems such as those in use by the
World Food Program in Abidjan and Kampala. High frequency radios
replace copper wire for the transmission of email over a private
network, which might also be linked to the Internet. The equipment
is expensive, perhaps as much as $8000 for each installation, though
of course data transmission costs are generally a function only of
the depreciation of the equipment and the salaries of the technicians
required to maintain the system, recalling that an entire set of
equipment is required for each "line".
A third alternative is somewhat more substantial. Simple VSAT
satellite data transmission systems could be justified financially if
sufficient volume is anticipated. In addition to customs officials
and freight companies, touring motorists might be interested in using
telephones to call friends and family. Small businesses at borders
might appreciate the ability to call in orders for resupply, or to
link their credit card equipment to global verification systems.
Afrik-ITes might enjoy a cup of java and a check of system status
back at the office via the Internet in the ByteTrekker Cafe.
Technically speaking, this last alternative appears quite attractive,
but of course implementation would be quite complicated politically.
SADC protocol does call for "one-stop" border posts, and this might
very well soon be implemented on the busy Mozambique-South Africa
border. A private company would be found to operate the post,
providing facilities for a fee to customs officials and others.
Those facilities might indeed include telecommunications.
SADC protocols are of course only that: protocols. Implementation
requires the governments concerned to alter their laws and
regulations to conform. If only the world were run by technicians
instead of politicians, the world would be -- well -- boring,
Jeff @ Maputo
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1111 North 19th Street Suite 210
Arlington, VA 22209 USA
Tel 1-703-235-5415 Fax 1-703-235-3805