Issue no 448 3rd April 2009

top story

  • Many of the continent’s rebel armies have taken the new communications technologies, including things like satellite phones, to heart. They allow them to co-ordinate between themselves but Government armies are fighting a cat-and-mouse game to try and track their communications. Shelby Grossman looks at how the Lord’s Resistance Army escaped encirclement by the armies of three countries.

    In December 2008 military forces from Uganda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo began attacking camps belonging to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in a Congolese national park. With helicopters, jets, and ground forces, the joint offensive destroyed five LRA camps in the first three days. But their main target, veteran LRA leader Joseph Kony, escaped.

    While it is not clear how Kony eluded capture, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni later revealed that the army found a manual for a device used to monitor radio conversation in Garamba National Park. Museveni suggested that Kony may have used this device to eavesdrop on pilot communication in order determine a direction to flee.

    This is but one example of the LRA’s limited but precise use of technology to avoid defeat. The rebel group has also used technology in unorthodox ways to communicate internally, with the Ugandan public and government, and with supporters in the diaspora, and to coordinate attacks.

    Much of what outsiders know about LRA use of technology has come from items the army captures after LRA fighters flee attacks. For example, in January, in the west of Garamba, the Ugandan army recovered a satellite phone, a Global Positioning System, and sophisticated military communication equipment, including a charging system. A month earlier the army seized walkie-talkies, laptops, and solar panel chargers.

    All of these items need portable power sources to be used in the jungle for extended periods of time. LRA fighters have found it useful to loot small cars and motorbikes. “They have no need for these vehicles,” said Moses Chrispus Okello, a project coordinator with Refugee Law Project, a local group that has published many reports on the LRA. “They were looking for batteries. Batteries make them mobile.”

    Talk of LRA strategies to avoid detection abounds, though specific tactics are hard to confirm. "They try to avoid using one phone for a long time," said Grace Matsiko, a Kampala-based journalist who has reported extensively on security issues. This decreases the chance of phone tapping.

    Despite access to modern communication technology, Okello said, “a lot of the LRA['s communication strategy] is based on non-communication.” The LRA has successfully put itself beyond reach by limiting communication with the public, he added. Since the attacks in Garamba the LRA has not had any official communication with local or foreign journalists.

    “They [the LRA] don't have the technology to avoid being detected," said Ugandan military spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye. This may be true, but the group's command structure seems to obviate the need for this technology.

    The LRA is divided into small units of 5 to 10 fighters which take orders about once every three months, agreeing where to meet next, and often have no communication in between. This limits the ability of the army to acquire intelligence by tapping into phones.

    Though the utility of tapping the phones of LRA fighters is questionable, there is a controversial bill before parliament that would legalize phone tapping by security agencies. The government has admitted to tapping the phones of LRA fighters illegally. Minister for Security Amama Mbabazi told a parliamentary committee that the bill will allow the government to use intercepted information in court, according to the Daily Monitor.

    Okello finds the perception of the LRA as a group of rag-tag, disorganized fighters misleading at best. LRA leaders are politically astute, he said. "You've got to have clear communication strategies to last this long."

    For 22 years Uganda has been fighting the LRA, an insurgency that claims to represent the needs of the historically marginalized Acholi ethnic group. In practice, however, LRA abductions of Acholi children and indiscriminate killings of Acholi adults in an attempt to frighten the population bring into question this goal, and the group’s political objectives are anything but clear.

    The International Criminal Court has indicted Kony and three of his commanders on charges of systematic murder, sexual enslavement, and intentionally attacking civilians. In November 2008 peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA collapsed.

    www.shelbygrossman.com

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - Econet Wireless has commenced its mobile operations in Burundi, as it connects its subscribers for a one-month network testing, which will take place in 16 provinces. Yanick Mugisha, the brand manager at Econet reportedly said that the operator’s plan was to have a subscriber base of 100,000 in the first month.

    - BlackBerry customers in South Africa will not be able to use BlackBerry App World until a local version is available, which is expected in the coming months. We will of course keep you posted when BlackBerry App World launches in South Africa so you can try it out yourself.

    - MTN has partnered with Garmap, the leading provider of satellite navigation and mapping services in South Africa, to provide the next generation of Garmap’s mobile phone navigation - Garmap for Mobile Online - on BlackBerry® smartphones.

    - The central African nation of Burundi was home to 480,000 mobile subscribers at the end of 2008, up 78% on the 270,000 reported the previous year, according to data published by the national telecoms regulator, Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Telecom (ARCT). U-Com claimed the lion’s share with 344,830 users as at 31 December 2008, with the remainder split between its three rivals.

    - As of April 2009, TradeNet is changing its name to Esoko. Along with its new name comes a host of new features being released throughout 2009. Starting in June, this will include a cleaner and easier to use interface, a java version for mobile phones, and a suite of new tools for tracking and polling data (like weather, inventory, transport, crop activities etc).

telecoms

  • Burundi plans to privatise its main state-owned telecoms company Onatel this year to make it more competitive, government officials. Onatel runs a landline network, GSM and Internet services. It launched its mobile phone service in 2004.

    "The government's wish is that the entire process of privatising the company ends in December 2009," Transport and Telecommunications Minister Philippe Njoni told reporters.

    He said the aim was to make Onatel more competitive against other operators within Burundi and across east Africa. "The best way to achieve this ambitious goal is to give more space to private investors in the company," he said, adding the authorities had yet to decide how much of the firm to offload.

    An international consultant would be named soon to advise on the breakdown of the proposed sale, said Jean Marie Nzomukunda, who heads the board in charge of privatising state companies.

    Last week, the tiny central African country's telecoms regulator said the number of mobile phone users in Burundi grew 78 percent to 480,000 last year, mostly due to better network coverage and more competition in the sector.

    It said it expected subscribers to rise to 700,000 by 2012. The coffee growing nation of about 8 million people -- which is struggling to emerge from more than a decade of ethnic war that killed 300,000 people -- had 270,000 subscribers in 2007.

    Reuters

  • Kenya's Orange is confident of becoming market leader in data services once high-speed Internet hits Kenya this year, having won 700,000 mobile subscribers since launching mobile services last September.

    Orange, once the state-owned landline monopoly Telkom Kenya and now majority owned by France Telecom , has been investing heavily to improve its fixed-line network ahead of the arrival of submarine cables allowing high-speed broadband.

    Chief executive Dominique Saint-Jean said the SEACOM undersea telecommunications cable should be ready for use at the start of the third quarter and The East African Marine Cable (TEAMS) up and running during the same period.

    "This is why Q3 and, to be on the safe side H2, is the big change in the landscape of international connectivity in Kenya," Saint-Jean told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

    "In this case, I think that we have a position where competition will be quickly overcome. It's not like with GSM. We are much more confident of taking the leadership soon."

    Saint-Jean said mobile subscriber numbers were in line with its target of 1.5 million by the end of 2009, but said most users were taking Orange as a second or third mobile line and average revenues per user (ARPU) were low.

    "As far as gross connections are concerned we have exceeded 700,000. Now as far as net goes -- permanently utilised -- we are busy working on improving the connections," he said, adding Orange had about 500,000 "net" mobile users.

    Safaricom , 40 percent owned by Britain's Vodafone dominates the Kenyan mobile market of 15 million users with a 77 percent share. Second is Kuwait's Zain which has been slashing tariffs to woo customers.

    Orange has been on an intensive marketing drive, offering low tariffs and putting up 500 base stations since last year. "It is the ARPU that is worrying us a little bit," said Saint-Jean. "The ARPU is lower than 200 shillings, or 2 euros, per month which is probably something, as I said, where we have to innovate to boost this."

    "Safaricom (ARPU) is probably higher, but this is basically because they have a big customer base in the corporate segment and this is the segment that we will in fact soon address in a very innovative way," said Saint-Jean.

    He said the undersea cables project was "less visible and has less impact on the day-to-day life of Kenyans but it's a huge project. It will give us an important competitive advantage in order to address the needs of the corporate segments, SME segments."

    The company spent 10 billion shillings ($124 million) on infrastructure last year and plans to spend 8 billion shillings this year on its fixed-line, broadband, mobile and wireless Internet networks.

    Saint-Jean said the money would be raised locally and that Orange was looking at different funding options. "Of course, the situation of the world and the financial crisis is putting some additional pressure which had not probably been envisaged, but it is not changing the basis of the huge investment," he said.

    Saint-Jean said two more submarine cables were due to land in 2010 -- the Eastern African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the France Telecom/Orange Lion cable.

    He said the latter would go from the French-run Indian Ocean island of Mayotte to Mombasa port and that having more cables would mean Orange could offer the reliable Internet critical for outsourcing businesses such as call centres.

    Orange will also start promoting its wireless Internet service using EVDO technology soon to take on Safaricom's 3G product. Saint-Jean says will match its rival for speed and has a greater footprint in Kenya.

    Reuters

  • G-Mobile, Malawi’s third cellphone network company is within the next 10 months expected to roll out its operations in the country after it was awarded a licence by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA).

    The company, formerly known as Globally Advanced Integrated Networks (GAIN) comes at a times when Malawians have been calling for another mobile phone service provider to ensure efficient telecommunication services in the country.

    Speaking during the presentation ceremony in Blantyre, Macra board chairperson Thengo Maloya said the country has high expectations from G-Mobile, considering the disappointment Malawians have had with the quality of services being offered by existing companies [Zain Malawi and TNM] that are characterised by high rates of prices and dropped calls.

    According to Maloya, if G-Mobile fails to roll out operations within the 10 months period, its licence will be revoked. Said Maloya: “We are giving them 10 months to roll out and if they don’t, we will act according to the law, the licence will be revoked.”

    G-Mobile vice-chairperson Limbani Kalilani promises first class telecommunication services in Malawi saying his company, which is expected to invest US$40 million (about K1.6 billion) within the first five years of operations, will bring more advanced technologies in the system. “We will be introducing the first ever hybrid network in Malawi. We want [mobile] services in the country to match the best in Africa,” said Kalilani.

    As disclosed by Kalilani, the company is expected to provide about 900 jobs to Malawians, in addition to reaching the rural masses by providing facilities which will “facilitate easy access to telecommunications services.”

    Nyasa Times

  • Information Communication Technology Minister Nelson Chamisa said that he would meet the Attorney General to discuss whether TeleAccess can be granted a license to start operations. Chamisa told an ICT breakfast that there was urgent need for the country to have a second fixed line operator to complement TelOne. This would improve service delivery.

    "There is need for another fixed telephone line provider and we will engage the Attorney-General to see what is happening with the licence granted to TeleAccess," said Chamisa. "We want to see whether it should continue to possess the licence or we give it to another operator," he added.

    TeleAccess, owned by businessman cum politician Daniel Shumba, was granted a licence by the Government to operate a second fixed telephone service in 2003 but legal wrangles have seen the company failing to start operations.

    The company failed to meet the deadline to roll out its network within six months as stipulated by the Postal Telecommunication Regulatory Authority and also lacked the financial stamina to kick start the project. Chamisa said the presence of another service provider would complement existing service, enhance and improve service delivery.

    Chamisa said his ministry would work towards resuscitating TelOne's aging and vandalised infrastructure. He said the ministry would also engage relevant stakeholders to ensure obstacles that were being faced in sourcing equipment by the industry were removed. Players in the industry had faced challenges such as high duty in procuring equipment."Most technology used in the industry is imported and it has to be understood that ICT equipment is not a luxury," he said.

    The Herald

  • - The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has announced it will begin to implement number portability within GSM networks in May, allowing subscribers to move freely from one network to another, whilst still retaining their original number. The commission has also fixed January 2010 as the deadline for SIM card registration by all GSM service providers.

    - Last summer, Vodafone spent US$900 million to acquire a 70 per cent stake in the west African state-controlled fixed line and mobile operator Ghana Telecom. Now more than 20 per cent of the workforce at the carrier is to be cut with 850 out of 4,000 people being made redundant in what is, initially at least, a voluntary programme, in an effort to slim down the bloated staffing numbers to a level commensurate with a modern telco.

    - Uganda’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Aggrey Awori, has said that the phone tapping Bill was necessary to protect the citizens and the State.

    - After long period of discussions over licensing standardization with existing GSM service providers in Liberia, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority has finally completed agreement with MTN-owned LoneStar Communication Company (LoneStar Cell), leading to the company committing to send US$5 million to the Government.

    - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has published the long awaited license fee regulations. The main purpose of the license fee regulations is to prescribe the administration fees associated with applying for or registering a license, and the annual license fees payable by licensed telecoms providers.

internet

  • The wholesale costs of connectivity in Rwanda are expected to reduce from $3,000 to $25 for each Mbps.

    Information Communication and Technology (ICT) can dramatically improve the quality and availability of public services, World Bank Country Manager Victoria Kwakwa said recently. In her remarks Kwakwa, highlighted that nearly two-thirds of Africa's population now lives within the range of a mobile network from close to zero.

    This was during last week's three-day '3rd annual African e-governance Forum 2009' that took place in Kigali from the 23rd to the 26th of March. "Broadband is the key to the future of ICT in Africa," Kwakwa said. It's said that broadband in Africa is expensive and inaccessible, not available on a large scale anywhere in Africa.

    This year the government of Rwanda committed to invest above $100 million in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) industry.

    The big investment priorities include laying a national broadband backbone connecting to the coastal submarine cables expected to be completed by 2010.

    Laying of the national backbone across the country will pave away for rural telecommunication development and increase the rate of telecommunication penetration in the country and bridge the telecommunication gap.

    Two of the submarine cables being targeted include the East Africa Submarine System (EASSy) and The East African Marine System (TEAMS). Costs of Internet broadband in the country are expected to reduce from $3,000 to $25 for each Mbps.

    Currently charges for bandwidth of 512 kilo bytes per second (512kbps/ 128kbps) costs Frw950,000 per month on wireless while on fiber connection its Frw360,000 for 256 Kilo bytes per second (256kbps/96kbps) per month.

    Once the cables are complete, access to international bandwidth connected to Rwanda will increase more than three times and the price will fall by over 50 percent.

    According to Diogene Mudenge, the Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Agency (RURA) boss, the current Internet penetration is 5 percent from licensed Internet Service Providers (ISPs), MTN, Rwandatel and Artel which is a communications company that belongs to government.

    The government is targeting 60 percent penetration by 2012. Currently, mobile phone subscribers in Rwanda are 1.5 million with 1.25 million subscribing with MTN. About 250,000 subscribe with Rwandatel. The country is targeting 5 million subscribers by 2012.

    The projection is based on the growth in mobile phone penetration with a 3rd mobile national operator expected to open office by the end of this year. With the help of New Artel, 120 mbps plus Internet connection have been provided to rural areas.

    The move will help institutions in rural areas to be connected to their main branches for enhancements of services and thus meeting the customer's satisfaction.

    The New Times

  • JSE listed Allied Technologies Limited (Altech), announced the acquisition of 100% of the equity in and claims against Lateral Technology Concepts (Pty) Ltd (Technology Concepts), an Internet service provider (ISP) and information technology company, subject to the fulfillment of normal conditions precedent.

    “We have been interested in purchasing an ISP for some time. As a result of the changed regulatory landscape, moving into Internet service provision is a natural extension of Altech’s existing business. Through the strong distribution footprint in Altech and in particular Altech Autopage Cellular, which has approximately one million corporate and retail clients, we are in a position to rapidly scale Technology Concepts by introducing new Internet services to these clients,” commented Altech’s Chief Executive Officer, Craig Venter.

    This acquisition by Altech enhances the ability of Altech Autopage Cellular to provide data services to its voice cellular subscribers, recognising the developing convergence of voice and data in the telecoms arena and the increasing demand for bundled services.

    Altech will utilise its cash reserves to fund the maximum purchase price of R45 million. An amount of R7.5 million will be paid initially, and the remaining maximum R37.5 million, will be released to Technology Concepts shareholders in terms of an earn-out mechanism over two years based on after tax profit targets for years ending February 2010 and 2011 being achieved. If all profit warranties are met, the effective (PAT) PE multiple to be paid by Altech will be 5.23.

    “About 64% of Technology Concepts’ business is annuity based and, although it is within a competitive market, is showing high profit growth. The acquisition thus ensures a regular and consistent income stream for Altech which will positively affect our headline earnings per share,” said Venter

    Founded in 1999, by Wayne de Nobrega, Technology Concepts, an established Internet technology services business and corporate Internet service provider, offers a full range of ISP products, services and solutions which are developed and managed in-house. The company has built its own hosting infrastructure and with a client base of 270 customers, consisting mainly of SME’s and corporate customers, it was a natural selection for Altech’s strategic diversification plans. Although Technology Concepts’ focus has been primarily on high margin and high average revenue per user (ARPU) customers, they also have the expertise to drive a retail offering.

    The company consists of two divisions, namely ISP and Support Services and Web Software Development. The ISP and Support Services Division generates annuity income from the provision of internet access, MPLS networks, managed firewall services, hosted and archived email, data centre hosting and automated off-site backups. The Web Software Development division offers development expertise in internet, intranet and web based applications. In addition to these two divisions the company sells hardware, software and technical services that are needed to support these various activities.

    Technology Concepts’ distinguishing product is its Channel Bonding technology which was launched 20 months ago and which combines multiple ADSL’s to create a single, virtual high speed connection, enabling customers to have high bandwidth at a fraction of the normal cost associated with a leased line solution. The deal ensures that Altech acquires full Intellectual Property Rights (“IPR”) through Technology Concepts.

    To preserve current efficiencies and standards, Altech will retain existing Technology Concepts management and staff whilst it will provide supporting administration services and strategic direction to the company.

    The acquisition is a part of Altech’s overall data strategy, taking into account its recent attainment of an I-ECNS license and the imminent landing of the SEACOM submarine cable in South Africa and then continuing up the African east coast. It complements Altech’s extensive data network and ISP operations in East Africa and is a reflection of Altech’s expectation that there will be explosive growth in the demand for data services in Africa.

  • At least 5,000 VSAT nodes of the National Information Communication and Education Programme (NICEP) network would be deployed to different parts of this country by Galaxy Backbone Plc before the end of the year.

    The Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone Plc, Gerald Ilukwe said this at a meeting with House of Representatives Committee on Governmental Affairs saying that meeting the timeline is dependent on the security and readiness of sites.

    Ilukwe in his response informed the Committee that a state of the art Network Operating Centre located in Abuja which could be described as the heart of the project and that 70% of the network was completed and handed over to Galaxy.

    According to his explanations, "the delay in connecting more sites was due to security issues as it would be irresponsible of the company to deploy such equipment to locations that are unsecure. Another reason is the fact that there are not enough sites that are ready for connectivity and this is Galaxy’s responsibility".

    Although, the Committee disagreed with Galaxy's position, Ilukwe insisted that due process was complied with in the payments to the contractor as the necessary evaluations, due process certifications and relevant authorizations were obtained from the relevant Government institutions.

    Daily Trust

  • - MainOne Cable Company has commenced the main route survey operations of its submarine cable project. Tagged Kommandor Jack, this first phase is expected to extend from Portugal to Nigeria and Ghana respectively and will comprise 1.92 terabits per second of bandwidth, more than 10 times the bandwidth currently available by other subsisting submarine cable in the territory.

    - Eutelsat is launching its W2A satellite on April 3rd. Worth more than 130 million euros (R1.6 billion), it will have 10 C-band transponders dedicated to servicing Africa's growing demand for GSM trunking and enterprise networks.

    - Many MWEB ADSL subscribers in South Africa have been left without Internet access because of ‘high usage’. MWEB recently announced that at the end of April it will discontinue its unlimited free local-only ADSL bandwidth trial. As of 1 May 2009, MWEB will allocate subscribers a free 10 GB quota of local-only bandwidth.

computing

  • Government has met stakeholders in the information communication technology industry to map the way forward for coordinated policies and discuss a proposed national strategic framework.

    In his opening remarks the Minister of Information Communication Technology Nelson Chamisa on Wednesday said Government took ICT very seriously as the driver of national image.

    "The Government has always been aware of the need and impact of information and communication technologies and hence decided to dedicate a whole Ministry to ICTs with the view of exploiting its potential and positive impact on the national economic development agenda," he said.

    The ministry presented a 25 project plan for the first 100 days that include infrastructure audit, Develop a National Communications Infrastructure Master Plan, Review the ICT Policy Framework of 2007 to critically address convergence issues, Develop ICT Bill after consultations with the stakeholders and various others.

    Minister Chamisa said the inclusiveness of the Government should not end or be for the politicians only hence the decision to engage stakeholders in designing the strategic framework.

    "If information is power, communication is authority, and the ministry is aimed at establishing a vibrant ICT sector," he said. The ministry's key activities include the development and management of a nationwide infrastructure that is comprehensive, expansive and reliable, the mobilisation of resources and establishment of smart partnerships for ICTs development programmes and Promoting ICT literacy, awareness and advocacy.

    Minister Chamisa said Zimbabwe needs to strategically position itself to a level where it lands best advantages to enable fast evaluations to the level of developed countries.

    "Countries like India and Malaysia are the best starting point (baseline study), over a period of less than 30 years they have fully and effectively exploited the potential of ICTs and attracted considerable investment for the benefit of their national economies," he said.

    Due to current financial constraints, said Minister Chamisa, the ministry was now exploring possible business partnership to enable the implementation of some critical ICT programmes. "The suitable partners in the ICT arena include: local stakeholders, large international ICT companies, Foreign embassies in Zimbabwe and Non Governmental Organisations, Civil Society and Multilateral organisations e.g. IMF, World Bank ABD etc," said Chamisa.

    At the meeting, the ICT sector has commended the move by the Ministry to recognise business stakeholders as partners and encouraged the introduction of retention allowances for ICT experts. The players encouraged the ministry to advocate the reduction of red tape so as to increase response efficiency to requests on development matters in the country.

    The Herald

  • South African social computing giant, MXit has announced a R100,000 competition for developers and budding computer cowboys. The competition, which runs from 01 April to 01 June, is to source a PC client for the mobile based instant messenger. The developer of the best PC client is set to win R100,000 and will be offered a job with MXit.

    “The rationale for the launch of the PC client competition is that innovation comes from the core community of our users. We know there’s great talent out there and we want to enable our user base to create a PC client that works for them,” said Herman Heunis, CEO and founder of MXit. “This underpins our company philosophy of inspiring innovation. The idea is to connect with users by encouraging creativity and we look forward to building a strong relationship with developers,” continues Heunis.

    MXit is a free instant messaging program for mobile phones. It allows members to chat to other MXit users anywhere in the world by means of instant messages to and from mobile phones using GPRS or 3G - instead of using standard SMS technology which is expensive. The search for a PC client is the logical next step in MXit’s evolution.

    However, the competition has strict criteria. In order for a developer to submit their application and stand a chance to win the cash prize and a job, they will have to register on the development landing page on the MXit website (http://devzone.mxit.com). The competition runs for two months and will be judged by MXit developers and beta testers. MXit will ultimately own the software and the winning developer will be announced during the month of June.

    “Given the strong MXit user base and the versatility of the MXit platform, the right to develop is a ‘no brainer.’ We’re excited to see how our open approach will push new boundaries of instant messaging development and are eager for all enthusiasts to share their creations with the MXit community,” concludes Heunis.

  • South African government’s State IT Agency (Sita) Free and Open Source Programme has released its second public newsletter outlining the progress of open source software in government. Among the range of issues covered are details of the progress made in migration the SA Revenue Service over to open source software (we recently covered that) and steps forward in the education arena.

    The SA Revenue Service already uses Linux, especially Suse Linux, extensively in its backend infrastructure. And on the education front Sita has launched a home-grown learner record tracking system which is built using open source software.

    http://www.sita.co.za/FOSS/FOSSFocus%202nd%20Issue,%20March%202009.pdf

    Tectonic

  • - Ethiopia’s college of Engineering and Technology is striving to put in place a laboratory infrastructure for nurturing competent and qualified students. The College is currently providing degree and diploma courses to a total of 2,500 students.

    - Two Nigerian students, Master Davidson Oseremen, 12, and Miss Oluwaseun Alade, 13, have emerged Africa 's youngest ever Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) in the area of Client End Operating system of the Microsoft business solution tool.

    - The 2008-2009 Davos World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report ranks Tunisia first in the Maghreb and in Africa for the third consecutive year. In Africa, Tunisia comes well before Morocco (86), Egypt (76) and South Africa (52).

    - A special Harare City full council meeting convened to specifically discuss the city's computerisation programme, recommended that council should pay outstanding licence fees and money for work already completed amounting to 1.1 million South African rand.

    - Nigeria’s Senate urged relevant agencies of the Federal Government to urgently take step to regulate the influx of obsolete e-products that are hazardous to health and environment.

    - The main outlines of the "e-Algeria 2013" project were presented in Algiers by Hamid Bessalah, Minister of Postal Services and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) at a workshop on the e-governance. Bessalah pointed out that "e-Algeria 2013" strategy represents a developed multisectoral plan that defines the targeted objectives and the required actions for the next five years. Nearly a thousand of actions have been proposed as part of the strategy, including 400 online services meant for citizens, enterprises and administrations, the minister said, while emphasizing the need to mobilize national competences and researchers in ICTs and make them involved in the decision-making and the drawing up of the "e-Algeria 2013" strategy.

Digital Content

  • MXit’s 12 million+ worldwide users will be able to reach contacts across multiple instant messaging (IM) communities such as Yahoo, Windows Live Messenger, G Talk and ICQ, when it switches on its multi-platform gateway today.

    This move, expected to attract millions of new users to an already massive user base, is a well-timed response to growing global appetite for social networking tools that are universal.

    “For the first time MXit users will be able to send instant messages and connect with friends across the various instant messaging platforms, allowing the user to have a fully networked set of contacts at their fingertips. Our aim, as always, is to create a fun and user-friendly mobile social environment where users can create, communicate and share and we believe that the ability to converge social communities is an exciting prospect for our users,” says Juan du Toit, marketing manager of MXit.

    The benefit of having a multi-platform instant messenger such as MXit is that users have the convenience of being able to chat with contacts across different instant messenger gateways, without the hassle of having to log into various IM’s or having to be PC-bound.

    In South Africa, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger have the biggest market share of the fixed-line instant messaging market. The ability to converge communities on the MXit network will allow users to significantly increase their contact base, and, more importantly, allow them to communicate over multiple channels from their mobile phone. The evolution of MXit into a multi service instant messaging tool is also likely to increase the number of mobile networkers in South Africa because of its one-stop-shop appeal.

    The creation of a multiple community messaging gateway is also expected to attract international interest. MXit, who already has over 2 million international users, has its sights firmly set on increasing its footprint throughout Africa, South East Asia and South America. The company, already internationally respected for being one in only a handful to successfully generate revenue in the mobile social networking industry, is now better positioned to take advantage of the global growth in the global social mobile networking market.

    According to eMarketer, 800 million people will be participating in social networks by 2012, compared to 72 million in 2007.

    “Our success is forged on the principle of listening. We listen to what our users want and then we make it happen. Demand from our international users led to the multiple community integration gateway and all existing users uploading the latest version of MXit, version 5.8.2, will have access to the gateway,” concludes Du Toit.

  • Telkom should never have considered providing content; rather its networks should only be used to carry content. This is according to Telkom CEO Reuben September, speaking at a media briefing held last week in Sandton. September says he argued against holding onto Telkom Media since he took up his position as the head of the business just over a year ago.

    Telkom, which owns 66% of the pay-TV broadcaster, has been in discussions with several businesses to potentially take its shareholding off its hands. The company was hoping to regain some of the R700 million it invested in the business.

    However, last week, it became clear all hope of a sale had been washed away with the global economic crisis and Telkom announced its intention to close Telkom Media's doors. While September did not indicate whether the telecoms business had any intention of recovering the massive investment, September did say Telkom should not have been involved in the creation of content.

    “We tried hard to sell it, and on several occasions interested parties indicated they had the funding required to buy it. In the end, it turned out that they didn't,” he noted.

    September hinted that an international business had been the primary bidder and the credit crisis left it without resources to raise funding. “It turns out this company's country was hit hard by the global economic crisis.” Telkom still needs to meet with other shareholders of the business to have the company shut down.

    The minority shareholders in Telkom Media are Videovision Entertainment (15%), MSG Africa Media and WDB Investment Holdings (5%), a staff incentive trust (4%), as well as an unnamed black empowerment shareholder (5%).

    Employees of Telkom Media are still reeling from last week's announcement. One insider said Telkom's turnaround has been a shock. "We tried hard to sell it, and on several occasions interested parties indicated they had the funding required to buy it. In the end, it turned out that they didn't."

    “It's a very strange situation. The business plan was very viable and had been re-evaluated a number of times. It could be that some elements within Telkom could have been unhappy with some aspects of the plan, but this was never communicated to Telkom Media.”

    ITWeb

    The Chairman of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority Albert Bropleh has been sent to the Monrovia Central Prison after spending one night at the Liberia National Police headquarters in Monrovia. LTA Chairman Albert Bropleh was found guilty for perjury after allegedly lying on the House of Representatives for receiving the amount of Fifty two thousand United States Dollars as lobbying fees. The House took the decision to incarcerate the LTA Chairman for one month after he (Bropleh) later asked for mercy before the House having admitted that he had made a “mis-statement” to it.

    Albert Bropleh has gone to the National Legislature to respond to allegations of financial improprieties at the Liberia Telecommunications Authority as reported in the General Auditing Commission reports conducted at the LTA. In the Audit report, the leadership of the Commission was accused of system breakdown and system failure. Commissioners at the LTA had been at each other throat over the running of the Commission with some Commissioners blaming Bropleh of single handedly running the affairs of the Commission.

    Meanwhile, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has classified all the Commissioners at the Liberia Telecommunications Authority as incompetent. The Liberian leader also ordered the immediate reduction to half salaries of Commissioners at the LTA. President Sirleaf frowned at the constant wave of confusion at the entity and promised an overhaul at the institution

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • The world's mass consumption of cell phones, laptops and other electronics fuels widespread sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a new study released Wednesday by the non-profit Enough Project that echoes what many human rights activists and humanitarian workers have been saying for years.

    The paper, "Can You Hear Congo Now? Cell Phones, Conflict Minerals, and the Worst Sexual Violence in the World," details how "conflict minerals" that are mined in the war-torn DRC are sold by rebel groups to purchase arms, and serve as a direct cause of widespread sexual violence in the war-torn country.

    "The conflict in eastern DRC - the deadliest since World War II - is fuelled in significant part by a multi-million-dollar trade in minerals," the report states. "Armed groups generate an estimated 144 million dollars each year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold."

    Working with other non-governmental organisations, the Enough Project has spent the last year researching the supply chains that link these conflict minerals to many of the world's most demanded electronics, including cell phones, portable music players and computers.

    DRC has suffered from violence brought on by the "resource curse" for well over a century. Over the past decade, various militias and military units that have dominated conflict-ridden areas of the country have vied for control of mineral-rich areas and their inhabitants in part by using sexual violence.

    According to the study, 1,100 rape cases are reported each month, the world's highest rate of sexual violence against women and girls. "Women from communities that are being displaced are sometimes so traumatized by the sexual violence that they will never return to their home areas," wrote John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough, in a recent editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle. "These crimes destroy families, decimate communities, and lethally spread HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases."

    Years of unrest have plagued the region. Following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by government forces and government-backed militias, hundreds of thousands of Hutus associated with the regime fled across the border into the DRC, as the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) conquered the country.

    While many have since returned to Rwanda, the continued presence of "genocidaires" in eastern Congo has been cited by Kigali as justification for repeated incursion by its forces over the past 12 years into the region.

    Indeed, the new study was released as Oxfam reported Wednesday that some 250,000 people in the DRC have been displaced following an unprecedented joint operation by Rwanda and the DRC's own army against the remnants of the Hutu forces earlier this year.

    While the operation was hailed as a success by the two countries, the withdrawal of Rwandan forces over the past several weeks has enabled the Hutu militias to return to the region where they have carried out a campaign of looting and terror against the local population. Oxfam said that Congolese soldiers have also engaged in the violence.

    "There is widespread looting, burning of villages and an unacceptable peak of sexual violence," Marcel Stoessel, Oxfam's country director in DR Congo, told the BBC.

    According to the Enough study, the three main armed groups responsible for the violence and who also control much of the mineral trade are the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and renegade units of the Congolese army (FARDC).

    These armed groups profit from the mineral trade by forcibly controlling the mines and exacting bribes, or taxes, from transporters, local and international buyers and border controls.

    The conflict minerals - tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold - are moved from Congo to countries in East Asia where they are processed into valuable metals needed for the manufacture of a wide range of electronics products.

    The biggest use of tin worldwide is in electronic products, as a solder on circuit boards. Congolese armed groups earn approximately 85 million dollars a year from trade in tin, according to the paper.

    Trade in tantalum, which is used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones earns the armed groups an estimated 8 million dollars annually. Tungsten, used to make cell phones vibrate, earns approximately 2 million dollars a year; and gold, used in jewelry and as a component in electronics, provides from 44 million dollars to 88 million dollars a year.

    Enough called for electronics companies to endorse a pledge - similar to that made by the diamond and jewelry industry seven years ago regarding so-called "blood diamonds" - that they will manufacture their products without conflict minerals and make their supply chains subject to a transparent audit to back up the pledge.

    According to the report, companies such as Apple, Nokia, Hewlett Packard, and Nintendo should "change their procurement practices and demand that their suppliers provide proof of where their minerals are sourced from."

    Enough also urged consumers around the world to use their purchasing power by demanding that companies examine their business practices and become accountable for the sources of minerals used in many of their products

    "We're asking consumers to endorse the conflict minerals pledge and contact the 21 leading electronics companies through our Raise Hope for Congo website to build pressure on these companies to make their products conflict-free," said Prendergast.

    The paper also asks that U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress take concrete steps to ensure the end of violence in the DRC by combating its causes.

    "President Obama must make a clean break with past policy toward Congo, which has too often been designed to half-heartedly manage the symptoms of the crisis through humanitarian aid, erratic diplomacy, and peacekeeping assistance," according to Prendergast.

    He called for Obama to name a high-level special envoy with a team that can work in co-ordination with others on the local, national, and regional sources of instability; provide all necessary support to the International Criminal Court as it attempts to investigate and prosecute war crimes in the DRC, and press for making rape as a weapon of war a primary focus of criminal investigations in the eastern part of the country.

    Enough also urged Congress to introduce legislation "that requires companies to disclose where their minerals are sourced, and creates penalties for those who continue purchasing conflict minerals.

    IPS

  • An estimated $10 billion will be needed for the provision of key infrastructure in the telecommunications industry over the next ten years. Operators in the sector stated this last week at an interactive session with the House of Representatives Committee on Communication.

    The operators blamed the prevalence of poor services in the industry on the energy and security challenges facing the country, stressing that epileptic power supply had been a major drawback on their investments in Nigeria.

    In his presentation, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Zain Telecommunications Limited, Osondu Nwokoro, disclosed that over $6 billion had been invested in the countryby various service providers over the past five years. He explained that the telecommunications industry in Nigeria had about 12,000 base stations compared with the UK] which has about 35,000 base stations.

    "The major problems confronting the nation's telecoms industry include multiple taxation, high import duties, insecurity and power outage.”We are trying to be proactive ahead of the regulator by addressing major challenges such as drop calls and provision of infrastructure," Osundu said. Other operators including Globacom, MTN, Etisalat and Visafone also expressed concern over the inadequate infrastructure in the country, blaming high cost of tariff on the erratic power supply and inadequate of security for the infrastructure provided by the operators.

    This Day

  • A loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will enable the deployment of transformational financial infrastructure in Uganda that will provide Ugandan citizens, currently left out of the formal economy, with access to an array of financial services, including banking services.

    OPIC has begun disbursement of its direct loan to MAPSwitch Uganda, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MAP International, a U.S. small business that utilizes integrated electronic identification and mobile financial technology in order to transform financial services infrastructure in developing countries. With its biometric data and the use of mobile devices, MAP can provide access to financial services to the unbanked citizens in rural, remote or under developed areas, bringing these citizens into the formal economy.

    The model begins with obtaining unique biometric data from applicants. MAP then issues a financial identification card based on that data that connects the card-holder to a host of products and services via access points throughout the country, including ATMs, Point of Sale units, and mobile banking

    The OPIC financing will enable MAP to fully deploy its technology in Uganda, where, in partnership with the government of Uganda, it will tackle the challenge of reaching up to two million citizens where today only five percent of the population has bank accounts.

    “OPIC is pleased to support innovative projects that promote sustainable development,” said OPIC Acting President Dr. Lawrence Spinelli. “By improving financial infrastructure at an individual level, particularly for underserved rural banking customers, this project will accelerate the integration of thousands of ordinary Ugandans into state-of-the-art banking services.”

    Michael Landau, Chairman of MAP International, stated, “The lack of accessible and effective banking and identity infrastructure hampers economic development at its most basic level in developing countries. Map is pleased to be partnered with OPIC at the forefront of transformational work that advances the private sector and high technology to meet today’s global development challenge.”

    OPIC was established as an agency of the U.S. government in 1971. It helps U.S. businesses invest overseas, fosters economic development in new and emerging markets, complements the private sector in managing risks associated with foreign direct investment, and supports U.S. foreign policy. Because OPIC charges market-based fees for its products, it operates on a self-sustaining basis at no net cost to taxpayers.

    OPIC’s political risk insurance and financing help U.S. businesses of all sizes invest in more than 150 emerging markets and developing nations worldwide. Over the agency's 38-year history, OPIC has supported $188 billion worth of investments that have helped developing countries to generate over 830,000 host-country jobs. OPIC projects have also generated $72 billion in U.S. exports and supported more than 273,000 American jobs.

  • African wireless capital expenditure spending is forecasted to decline 11.8% in 2009 after growing 16.4% in 2008, according to the latest report from EJL Wireless Research.

    "The spending levels for wireless capital expenditures have been sequentially increasing for the first three quarters of 2008 but declined in Q4. Regionally, both the North and South Africa regions declined in 2008 on a year over year basis. With a mobile penetration rate of 35.7% in Africa at the end of 2008, we believe that it will be tougher for mobile operators going forward to make money as APRU continues to decline," says founder and President, Earl Lum.

    "Given the economic uncertainty, wireless capital expenditure spending by most of the major wireless operators in Africa will decline in 2009 when compared with 2008. We expect a brief market recovery in 2010 and then a more moderate decline in 2011. The economic uncertainty may also lead to more operator consolidation over the next several years," says Lum.

    Cellular News

  • - According to Bloomberg, MTN is the front-runner among suitors interested in taking control of Congo-Chine Telecom, the country's third-largest player. Bloomberg estimates Congo-Chine Telecom to be worth $400m and said the Congo's low cellular penetration rate of 15% could see it add 25-million subscribers within five years.

    - Essar Communications, a major shareholder in Econet Wireless International (EWI), has dismissed reports that South African wireless group MTN is considering a takeover of subsidiary Econet Wireless Kenya (EWK). India-based Essar currently holds a 49% stake in EWI. The shareholding agreement between Essar and Econet Group reportedly gives Essar the first option to buy its partner’s 51% stake. CommsUpdate yesterday reported that MTN Group hoped to enter the Kenyan wireless market, but Essar has apparently dismissed the KES36 billion (USD450 million) offer as too low.

    - South Africa’s telecoms company, the Huge Group, is hoping for an amicable ending to its spat with the JSE, and has no intention of suing the stock exchange for defamation arising from share trades that apparently breached the Companies Act.

More

  • *AFTLD ANNUAL EVENT

    13-17 April 2009, Arusha, Tanzania

    Under the theme "Securing Africa’s Internet Infrastructure”, the AfTLD annual African ccTLD event for 2009 will include a detailed three (3) day technical training workshop on Attack/Disaster Contingency and Recovery Planning(A/DCRP) for technical managers and staff of ccTLDs. AfTLD. The event is jointly organized and generously hosted by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and the Tanzania Network Information Centre (.tzNIC).

    http://www.aftld.org

  • * Information and Communications Technology Manager - South Africa

    FoodBank South Africa is an exciting new Section 21 company established to alleviate hunger in South Africa by creating a national system of foodbanks, in both urban and rural areas. FoodBank South Africa is an independently managed private sector collaboration among existing food relief NGOs, food companies, religious organisations and government.

    FoodBank South Africa requires a full-time Information & Communications Technology Manager to join our national management team in Cape Town to make our data management processes easy-to-use, cost-effective, efficient, secure and business focussed. The closing date for this job is April 9th 2009.

    http://www.ngopulse.org/opportunity/foodbank-south-africa-information-an...

  • Algerian Railways and Nortel - Algeria

    Nortel Networks has been selected to deploy a GSM-R wireless communications system for a new railway line in Algeria. The line links the cities of Ain Toutta and Msilla, as part of the High Plateaus railway system that crosses the country from East to West. This new contract follows announcements last year awarding Nortel the Algerian GSM-R technology contracts for two new railway lines connecting Tabia-Mecheria and Bordj Bouarreridj - M'Sila , as well as the country's first GSM-R network which was awarded to Nortel in 2006 for the El Gourzi-Touggourt line in Eastern Algeria.

    If our correspondent is "off the mark" or you have factual amendments, mail them to us and we will include them in subsequent News Updates. If you'd like to contribute, write and let us know.

    If you need information about a particular place or issue, just send your questions in. We are always happy to follow up on readers concerns.



    News Update is a free e-letter produced by Balancing Act that covers African internet content and infrastructure developments, It goes out to government, the private sector, education and NGOs. To subscribe, send a message saying "I want to subscribe" to info@balancingact-africa.com

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