Summit eyes challenges to Africa’s telecom growth

For people in most parts of Africa, developments in telecommunications infrastructure will not come about quickly unless African governments create policies that attract private sector investment and establish independent regulatory authorities, speakers at the Digital Africa Summit here said Thursday.

“We need public-private partnerships because the public sector cannot cope. The cost of providing socio-economic services is overwhelming for government,” said Tai Ogunderu, manager for the Africa region at mobile satellite communications operator Inmarsat Ltd. “If we bring both together, we are in a win-win situation.”

According to Ogunderu, sub-Saharan Africa attracts only three per cent of worldwide private sector investments in telecommunications, compared to Latin America’s 52 per cent.

“We do not have attractive polices of liberalization, privatization. Latin America has what we don’t have — stability, certainty and transparency,” Ogunderu said, explaining sub-Saharan Africa’s poor showing.

Justine White, a partner with the law firm Edward Nathan & Friedland (Pty) Ltd., shared Ogunderu’s views.

“There is no doubt that having a strong regulator contributes to universal access,” she said. “Having a correct regulatory framework makes it possible for government and the private sector to come together to give solutions that work.”

With a poor regulatory environment, on the other hand, “the private sector is going to be scared to come in,” White said.

Professor Mohammed Bouchenak, a council member of Algeria’s Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority (ARPT), corroborated White’s view of the benefits of a good regulatory environment.

According to Bouchenak, ARPT’s independence has yielded some dividends. A study he undertook recently of the telecommunications industry of the Middle East-North Africa region showed that the authority has been fulfilling its goals.

“All the problems they have, we don’t have,” he said, comparing Algeria to his findings about other countries in the region.

In addition, Algeria saw vast improvement in attracting foreign, direct investment after it created an independent regulator as part of its telecommunications reforms, he said.

The Algerian situation contrasts with those of Ghana and Kenya, where the independence and impartially of regulatory authorities is not guaranteed, according to White. Ghana and Kenya have teledencities of 1.34 per cent and 1.16 per cent, respectively.