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Comesa chairman blasts Africa telecom infrastructure investments

Eastern and Southern African countries have failed to develop their ICT infrastructure to enhance communication in the region, according to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, also the chairman of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

This week at the North-South Corridor infrastructure development conference in Lusaka, Kibaki said that more achievements have been realized in telecom policy and regulatory harmonization than in physical telecom infrastructure development in the region.

Comesa wants to develop the region's telecom infrastructure through a broadband telecom project dubbed Comtel in order to boost communication. However, the project has over the past four years failed to take off, despite member countries making efforts to harmonize telecom policies and regulations to pave way for Comtel project connections.

Comesa is a regional economic bloc based in Lusaka, Zambia, whose objective is to accelerate the regional economy. Comesa, East Africa Community (EAC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), known as “the tripartite”, want to promote the development of joint regional telecom infrastructure in order to enhance efficient communications in the three regions.

"Indeed, telecommunications infrastructure has enormous potential in opening up remote communities and boosting trade by facilitating the flow of information," Kibaki said.

Kibaki said the development of telecom infrastructure and services is vital. However, the Comtel project -- whose goal is to enhance telecom access and affordability across 21 countries in eastern and southern Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia -- has failed to take off.

The proposed multinational broadband project was supposed to interconnect Comesa member-country networks. Kibaki claimed that most member countries have already harmonized their telecom policies and regulations at the request of Comesa in order to participate in the project.

Comtel was supposed to have been operational by 2007 at a cost of US$30 million. National telecom operators (NTOs) from the 21 countries agreed four years ago to coordinate pricing and network infrastructure through Comtel in order to lower the region's high telecom costs. The progress on the Comtel project stopped after the Enderberg-Ericsson consortium withdrew from the project in 2005. The project never found a new equity partner.

Comesa however, is still hoping it will still be able to source money from banks and donors to finance the project can go ahead even without an equity partner. The North-South Corridor conference was aimed at getting donor funds to finance telecom, energy and road infrastructure projects.

It is curious that the Kenyan President is complaining about the non-implementation of a long-dead project when there are a considerable number of bilateral fibre links being built.

Computerworld Zambia

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