Africa gears up for continental cable loop

The East Africa (eAfrica) Commission is on track to start construction, by early 2007, on a fibre-optic loop that will link East African countries to international submarine cable networks, according to project officials.

The project, dubbed Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSY), is to link East Africa countries including Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sudan to the undersea networks.

The eAfrica Commission operates under the auspices of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), based in Johannesburg, South Africa. NEPAD itself is run under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity.

Formed four years ago, the eAfrica Commission has offices in Pretoria, South Africa, and is working on developing information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in Africa.

EASSY will first link East Africa countries to the rest of the world through undersea fibre optic cable, before connecting other regions of the continent (Southern and Western Africa).

The US$200 million project will hook up East African countries to the undersea Cable Ship Nexus (CS Nexus) network, the telecommunications link connecting Africa to Europe and Asia, according to eAfrica Commission projects manager Brian Cheesman.

“When the laying of the undersea fibre-optic cable starts in 2007, it will only take us a few months to complete the project” Cheesman said. By starting simultaneously on the north and south ends of the coast, and joining the link halfway, the work time required will be minimized, he explained.

Cheesman said the laying of the cable will start in Port Sudan in Sudan and Mtunzini in South Africa simultaneously, and be joined in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Linking East African countries through CS Nexus to international submarine cable networks and reducing the current dependence on satellites for international communications, Cheesman said, is what the project aims to achieve.

Once the project is completed, he said, it will also reduce the high cost of telecom in many African countries as most countries will be using the same global telecom connection.

“Access to cheaper international and regional telecom services for all urban and rural communities and easy-to-access, more reliable access to the Internet is what this project wants to achieve,” Cheesman said. The level of international telephone traffic per main line in Africa is the highest in any region in the world. This is evidence that there is considerable demand for telecom services in Africa, Cheesman said.

Another aim of the eAfrica Commission is to enhance inter-regional connectivity, linking East Africa to Southern Africa, West Africa and the Mediterranean countries (Tunisia, Algeria, Libya), according to eAfrica Commission Deputy Chairman Henry Chasia.

Southern Africa includes Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia while West Africa includes Burkina Faso, Togo, and Ivory Coast.

“An integral component of the eAfrica Commission’s rationalized information and communications technology network for Africa is that all African countries from Southern and West Africa must be connected to each other by broadband optical fibre systems,” Chasia said.

No outside donor is funding the project yet, Chasia said. All countries involved in the project will raise capital within their own borders, relying on their national telecom operators.

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