A new African fiber-optic backbone, going from Senegal, through thirteen
countries, to South Africa, Mauritius and Malaysia... If this is
realized, that will go a long way to addressing the lack of
intra-regional connectivity. Does anyone have more info on this? Let's
hope it does not suffer the same fate as Africa ONE.
By Luke Baker
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Think of satellite telecommunications,
internet commerce and a high-speed fibre-optic backbone and Africa doesn't
spring to mind.
There are more telephones in downtown Tokyo than in the whole of sub-Saharan
Africa, where just getting a dial-tone is sometimes an achievement.
But Jay Naidoo, South Africa's Minister for Posts, Telecommunications and
Broadcasting, who is fond of quoting the daunting fact above, is unfazed. In
fact, he's glad of the challenge.
"Cecil Rhodes wanted to build a link from Cape Town to Cairo in order to
subjugate the continent," Naidoo told Reuters in an interview this week.
"Now we want to build an information super-highway from Cape to Cairo which
will liberate the continent."
To that end, African telecoms ministers, officials from organisations like
the World Bank and the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union, and
corporate executives have been meeting to lay plans for the continent's
In May, South Africa hosted the Africa Telecom conference at which more than
40 African ministers agreed a broad set of proposals aimed at expanding rural
telephony, enhancing the regulatory framework and boosting foreign telecoms
"Now we want to take that framework and develop it into a strategy, a
strategy for investment," said Naidoo.
"Telecoms development is really about smart partnerships between the public
and private sector, and finding ways to attract private sector invesment into
South Africa's experience could become a model.
Thirty percent of national utility Telkom was carefully sold, raising $1.3
billion while committing the partners -- SBC Communications <SBC.N> and Telekom
Malaysia <TLMM.KL> -- to targets which could ensure them exclusivity until
A fast-expanding cellular market has been set up which will soon be opened
to double the competition as two more licences are awarded next year. The
winners will have to deliver state of the art access to all sectors of society,
rural and urban.
At the same time a regulator has been established, acting independently of
government and ensuring clear-cut procedures are followed for all telecoms
licensing and operations.
"We've got to create an institutional mechanism on the continent which is a
one-stop shop. Where people can come in and say: 'This is what's happening
across Africa, these are the licensing procedures, these the regulatory
procedures and these are the potential projects'," says Naidoo.
Longer term, South Africa's targets are ambitious.
It is spending 50 billion rand ($9 billion) over the next five years to lay
three million new phone lines. While under apartheid only 150,000 new lines
were ever installed in a year, last year half a million were put in the ground.
In the past only one in 100 black South Africans had access to a phone. By
2003, 75 percent of all households that want a phone will have one. Telecentres
in rural areas already provide universal access -- to phones and the internet.
"In five years we will have connected every village, every school, clinic,
police station and post office, community centre and library," says Naidoo
Internet access is a policy priority, with the minister hoping to use the
technology to deliver telemedicine and education to the most remote areas of
the country. South Africa ranks 18th globally in terms of internet penetration.
A digital fibre-optic backbone will soon link South Africa with Senegal
through 13 African countries and then flow East to Malaysia via Mauritius.
In 2003, the remainder of Telkom will be privatised, with 10 percent set
aside for black empowerment, and 60 percent up for grabs. Powerful global
players are already interested. Naidoo expects its value to have at least
doubled by then.
"We can balance the economic imperatives of investors who are highly
competitive and want a return on their investment with the broad development
goal of government," says Naidoo.
"It has created a unique example that can be replicated in the ruthlessly
competitive global economy."
Wednesday, 11 November 1998 10:13:20