The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) regional broadband infrastructure project may get a new lease on life following the signing of a Grant Facility Agreement with the French Development Agency.
The grant facility was made available to Nepad by the European Union Infrastructure Trust Fund (EU-ITF), a European donor fund, through the French Development Agency, earlier this month in South Africa. According to the Nepad plan, the cable was supposed to have been operational in 2010, but nothing much has happened since 2007 when the European Union agreed to partly fund the project since Nepad was short of the necessary cash to implement the initiative.
Nepad has not responded to a query on when the cable is now expected to be operational after missing the initial set deadline and how much the E.U. has agreed to give the project. So far the E.U. has released almost $3 million for the project.
"The project may well drag for many more years because Nepad still has so many unresolved issues with member countries of the project," said Amos Kalunga, a telecom analyst from the Computer Society of Zambia. For example, Kalunga said, some African countries including Uganda have been reluctant to ratify the pact, dubbed the Kigali protocol, which underpins African countries' collaboration in developing the cable network.
Uganda stayed away from the project, which aims to integrate the region's communications, claiming the initiative's guidelines might prevent its national telecommunications company, Uganda Telecom, investing in the cable.
The protocol is aimed at enabling Eastern and Southern African governments to harmonize their national policies and regulations to facilitate the construction and operation of infrastructure. However, many countries criticized the clause of the protocol that requires countries to harmonize their policies, hence the reluctance to ratify it.
In his State of the Nation address last week, South African President Jacob Zuma said, "we have chosen geographically focused programs as well as projects focusing on ICTs and regional integration." South Africa was among the first countries to ratify the Kigali protocol.
The high-speed broadband infrastructure project, comprising Uhurunet and Umojanet, will run a cable under the Indian Ocean to hook Africa to Europe and the rest of the World. The two networks would be managed by the SPV (special purpose vehicle) BAHARICOM, a consortium made up of regional telecommunication companies to own, manage and maintain various projects.
Through the cable project, Nepad hopes the cost of telecom in the region will decline significantly, as the cable will operate on an open-access basis, with telecom operators in each country getting equal amount of bandwidth at the same cost.
Many African countries rely on foreign-owned satellite systems for their international links, and in many cases, also for regional and even for cross-border telecommunications links. The use of the satellite services results in a substantial outflow of scarce capital from the continent, according to Nepad.
Nepad is a regional organization headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, chartered to accelerate the continent's economic development. The EU-Africa strategic partnership on science and information technology was first hammered out at a summit of heads of government in Lisbon, Portugal in December 2007. A meeting of the African ministers of science and technology and the E.U. that looked at how best to implement the E.U.-Africa joint strategy then followed in May 2008 in Windhoek, Namibia. Since then, there has been little activity on the project, which is now over one year behind the schedule.