Somali coast poses problems for cable progress

NAIROBI, KENYA – To avoid the politically insecure coast of Somalia, Kenya is seeking an alternative route on which to lay the The East African Marine System (TEAMs) fibre optic cable.

The government is considering laying an extra 90 kilometres of fibre to ensure that the cable passes through international waters instead of crossing into Somali territory, said Victor Kyalo, deputy CEO of the Kenya ICT Board.

Somalia has been rocked by civil war since 1991 and has since been divided into Somaliland, which claims sovereignty, and the southern area claimed by both the interim government and the Union of Islamic courts. With the confusion over leadership, pirates have taken to terrorizing any boat that dares to venture into Somali waters, making for what the U.S. calls the world’s most dangerous coastal region.

The laying of the TEAMs cable is scheduled to begin in December, but there are options still to be considered due to security risks, Kyalo told representatives of the five East Africa Community states meeting here this week.

Two weeks ago, Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication, led a government delegation to the Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks offices in France to inspect progress on cable construction, which Kyalo said is on schedule.

The Kenya government owns 85 per cent of the cable, while the United Arab Emirate’s Etisalat owns 15 per cent. Out of the government stake, 80 per cent is held by the private sector, with ownership divided between Safaricom, Telkom Kenya, KDN, Econet, Wananchi Telecom, Jamii Telkom, Access, Inhand, Flashcom, Equip and Uganda’s Fiber Network.

Shared ownership, however, has raised concerns over how the government’s promise to deliver affordable bandwidth will be impacted.

“All the 80-per cent owners of the government stake in TEAMs are in private sector. How are we assured that they will not seek to recover their profits instead of providing affordable connectivity?” asked John Walubengo, an IT expert in Nairobi. The 20-per cent government stake will ensure competition, Kyalo answered. Moreover, he said, the SEACOM cable will be completed in 2009, which will increase competition and lower costs.

Meanwhile, the EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System) is slated for completion by the second quarter of 2010 at a cost of US $248 million.

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