Issue no 593 24th February 2012

top story

  • In August 2011, the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) officially issued guidelines for mobile money services that will serve as the legal framework for the future rollout of mobile money services in the country. It is a laudable step forward for a country that has one of the lowest GDP per capita in Africa and a banking sector that is as shallow as a paddling pool. Following conversations with various stakeholders, Isabelle Gross reports on how mobile money services have been so far rolled out

    The guidelines for mobile money services issued by CBL prescribe a “financial institution-led model whereby money mobile services are provided only by financial institutions and their agents”. CBL has favoured a “bank centric” model versus a “mobile centric” model or a “neutral/agnostic” model. The success of the former model has yet to be demonstrated while the mobile centric model has been successfully rolled out in several African countries. Of course, the case of Kenya springs straight into everybody mind. According to CBL’s guidelines, the local mobile operators are mere transmission pipes. It is sad that CBL doesn’t understand where the real dynamic and innovations lie when it comes to mobile money services. It is definitely not with African banks.

    Since the publication of the guidelines, two banks have announced partnerships with mobile operators: United Bank of Africa with Cellcom and Ecobank with MTN/Lonestar. Last year in September, the latter couple rolled out commercial services. So far, how has the mobile money model prescribed by CBL been implemented? According to a discussion with an Ecobank’s representative, the mobile money services offered by Ecobank and MTN/Lonestar runs entirely on the MTN Money platform which the mobile operator has already rolled out in several of its other African operations. It looks like that there is a big gap between the principle of a bank centric model and what is really being developed on the ground. It is not Ecobank that “runs the show” but MTN/Lonestar. Beside the contradiction between what is written on paper and what’s happening in reality, there is further a lesson for CBL, the banking regulator which prescribed a business model for mobile money services that totally ignored the underlying factors that made mobile money services a success in other African countries. 

    As of February 2012, they had 50,000 registered users to the mobile money services. If you start to drill down further and assume that between 5% and 10% of the registered users actually use the service this comes to between 5,000 and 10,000 users. If your drill down even further and assume that among the mobile subscribers that have used the service, there are about 10% among them that use the service on a regular basis that equates to between 500 and 1,000 regular users. MTN/Lonestar claims to have about 800,000 mobile subscribers and thus regular mobile money users represent less than 0.1% of its subscriber base. Of course, it is early days but to just reach 1% would mean a ten fold increase in the number of regular users. This will require a considerable financial investment in awareness and marketing campaigns. There is a long way to go before reaching any critical mass in Liberia.
    Not everything is bad in CBL’s guidelines for mobile money services. The guidelines prescribe a “many to many model which allows several banks and several GSM companies to entertain each other’s customers”. Exclusive partnership or monopolies are explicitly prohibited by CBL. This principle is a first step towards interoperability between mobile money services and it is a good thing. It has further the potential to boost the financial viability of rolling out mobile money services in a very small country. Liberia’s total population is around 4 million and the addressable market for mobile money services (above 15 years old) is roughly about 2.5 million. Any entity that wants to launch a mobile money service has to bear in mind this last figure if it wants to roll out a sustainable business. 

    Interoperability between mobile money systems is inevitable and it will further boost the adoption of mobile money services. The question is more how soon it will come. In Liberia, in principle, when a second mobile payment service will launch, it would be allowed to interconnect with the existing mobile money service operated by Ecobank and MTN/Lonestar as stipulated by the “many to many model”. So, CBL has to prepare itself to having to take some tough decisions in the future if it wants to stick to the principles that it stated in its guidelines for mobile money services.

    Are mobile money services doomed in Liberia? Not necessarily, if CBL acknowledges that successful mobile money services have been driven by mobile operators rather than by banks. It is all about reaching the unbanked population to allow it integrate into a more formal transfer and banking system. The overall economy will benefit from it too because moving money via a mobile phone is fast, reliable and cheap

     

    To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr

    This week on Balancing Act’s You Tube channel:

    Data centres and managed services

    Jonathan Tawiah, CEO, Ostec on providing managed services in West Africa


    Le Cloud en Afrique selon Hedera Tech (en francais)

    Robert Aouad, CEO Isocel on data centres in Benin

    Services that drive data centre use - M-Money

    Reg Swart, Fundamo on how Uganda’s Lake Victoria fishermen and the truckers who buy from them use m-money services

    Nadeem, Juma, CEO, Mobipay on the up-take and use of Z-Pesa in Tanzania

    Kamal Budhabbatti, Craft Silicon on integrating other day-to-day tools into into its m-money platform ELMA

telecoms

  • Transport, Works, Supply and Communication Minister Yamfwa Mukanga has urged Airtel Zambia to consider reducing the cost of making calls on their network so that Zambians can use their phones for business purposes and not for mere luxury.

    Mukanga said Airtel should strive to reach a level where all Zambians are able to make business calls on this network thereby using the phones as necessities to improve their living standards. He said government would want the mobile service provider to invest more in technology so that calls can be cheaper for Zambians.

    He noted that government has reduced the cost of doing business in Zambia and therefore expects service providers to do the same so that the benefits can trickle down to the common Zambians who use phones every day.

    The Minister was speaking shortly after he toured Airtel head office to familiarise himself with the operations of the giant telecommunication service provider. Mukanga stated that government will welcome all investors who will do businesses that are aimed at benefiting Zambians and urged the company to improve the conditions of service for its employees.

    And Airtel Managing Director Fayaz King emphasised the importance of ICT advancement his company has made to improve the quality of service delivery to its clients.

    Fayaz said ICT in mobile communication have significantly transformed the lives of people adding that his company believes in improvement of every person’s quality of life.

    He noted that there was a positive correlation between investment in ICTs and economic growth saying his company will continue investing in ICT and work closely with government to improve people’s lives.

    Airtel recently undertook a 3.75G network roll out, an investment which is expected to contribute to the country’s economic growth by increasing efficiency, productivity and reduce the cost of doing business.

    Lusaka Times
  • Egypt’s Orascom Telecom said it will give shareholders most of the $1 billion it is gaining in its recent deal with France Telecom announced this week.

    The recent deal includes the majority of remaining shares of Mobinil to be purchased by France Telecom. Mobinil will retain some five percent of the company, as under Egyptian law, a foreign company cannot own 100 percent of a company, a Mobinil official told Bikyamasr.com on Wednesday evening.

    “We expect a big portion of that will be given out to our shareholders as dividends, and we will keep the money we need for specific business development opportunities, which are not very clear for now,” said Khaled Bishara, Chief Executive of Orascom.

    He also added that Mobinil will still be operated by them through a contract. Bishara explained that after the sale, Mobinil would still retain more localized representation than the country’s two other mobile service operators, Vodafone and Etisalat.

    The deal was reportedly worth some $2 billion.

    bikyamasr.com
  • The government has blocked a bid by Econet Wireless to install a fibre optic cable linking Zimbabwe to high-speed undersea cables in Mozambique.

    Transport and Communications minister Nicholas Goche told reporters recently that the service was already being provided by Econet competitor and State-run TelOne. Government policy is that service providers must not compete for the provision of infrastructure, but on the provision of services, Goche said.

    It is also government policy that the public sector must provide infrastructure such as national backbone and that mobile cellular companies ride on the infrastructure. That service is already being provided by

    TelOne, which is connected to the undersea cables in Mozambique. Therefore, it would not have made business sense to have another company providing the same service, according to the Minister. But Information Communication Technology minister Nelson Chamisa said the move was not part of government ICT policy.

    Goche urged the country’s three mobile phone operators Econet, NetOne and Telecel to consider sharing infrastructure such as base stations. Goche also said a strategic partnership deal between MTN and TelOne was still under discussion.

    Bulawayo24
  • Telecom Egypt expects to maintain its profitability this year as it presses ahead with cost cuts and business clients look again at investing after a turbulent 2011, company executives said on Thursday.

    Telecom Egypt reported fourth-quarter net profit of 584 million Egyptian pounds, up 0.5 percent from a year earlier according to Reuters calculations.

    Revenues, hit by slower business activity, weaker household incomes and depressed tourism, were down 3.2 percent in the full year at 9.9 billion pounds.

    But annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 46 percent of sales, more than expected by analysts such as Mohamed Helmy at CIBC brokerage.

    "We are positive overall on these results," he said, rating Telecom Egypt a "buy". "The EBITDA margin was almost flat despite higher salaries and call connection costs... Their cost optimisation programme has been very successful."

    Telecom Egypt's main fixed-line retail business has been slowing and the company is trying to keep profits growing by focusing on new broadband and wholesale services, getting more income from existing customers and a venture with Vodafone, which is Egypt's biggest mobile operator.

    It lowered non-payroll operating expenditure by 148 million pounds in 2011 and expects similar reductions this year and next.

    Chief Executive Tarek Aboualam said business customers who suffered in 2011 when Egypt's economy was struck by a political crisis had decided in the last quarter that they could not continue waiting for a rebound in the country's fortunes.

    "Maybe we have reached the bottom. But we cannot say that the last two months were different to the last quarter ... in the business sector," Aboualam told Reuters.

    Net income in 2011 was held back by a higher corporate tax rate, but the company played down prospects for any sharp increase in profits this year.

    Chief Financial Officer Hassan Helmy said management expected flat revenue in 2012 and "to still maintain our EBITDA margin within the mid-40s range and for capital expenditure we will be spending 1-1.2 billion Egyptian pounds".

    Capital spending in 2011 was 689 million pounds. EBITDA was 4.55 billion pounds in 2011, down 2.4 percent from a year earlier, the company said in a statement.

    The company is sitting on record amounts of cash and is looking to acquire a licence to operating a virtual mobile network in Egypt, but is waiting for the industry regulator to issue the licence terms.

    "They declared they are working on it and theoretically we should see something coming out from them by the end of Q1. We will study it and follow this opportunity," said Aboualam

    Reuters Africa
  • More than 7.5 million mobile phone numbers in Ghana are likely to be deactivated come March 3, 2012, the legally set date by which all SIM cards in country should have been registered.

    The latest Summary of Data Verification for the SIM registration, available from the National Communication Authority (NCA), indicates that as at February 6, 2012, 5,580,875 various identity cards presented for SIM registration were rendered invalid.

    Meanwhile there is another 1,457,858 cards that have been submitted but are yet to be verified by the respective agencies such as the Passport Office, Electoral Commission (EC), Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), and the National Identification Authority (NIA).

    Again the NCA has confirmed that as at January 16, 2012 the total number of data submitted for verification stood at 22,708,716, which the NCA said was 98% of the total number of mobile subscriptions in Ghana; so the remaining two per cent, which is about 463,443 subscriptions have not even bothered to register.

    So in total, 5,580,875 plus 1,457,858 plus 463,443, which is equal to 7,502,176 (33%) mobile subscriptions face possible deactivation come March 3, 2012, some through no fault of theirs.

    Out of the total, which face deactivation, 3,048,242 are MTN numbers; 2,066,301 are Vodafone numbers; 936,143 are Tigo numbers; 924,216 are Airtel numbers, and the remaining 56,355 are Expresso numbers.

    The data also shows as at January 16, 2012, MTN had submitted 9,162,599 registration data for verification; Vodafone came second with 5,425,911 submissions, Tigo came third with 4,821,288 submissions, followed by Airtel with 3,103,779 submissions and Expresso followed with 195,139 submissions.

    The NCA has recently stated in a press release it would not extend the March 3, 2012 legally mandated deadline, no matter what. It has therefore asked the telecom operators to follow up with their subscribers whose registrations have been declared invalid to go regularise their registration or they would be deactivated on March 3, 2012.

    But the telecom operators have argued that, in as much as they are ready to deactivate the 463,443 subscriptions, whose owners have not bothered to register, and of those whose ID cards were actually found to be fake, they have a difficulty deactivating those whose registration may have been made invalid due to human error at either the registration or manual verification point.

    In several meetings between the NCA and telecom CEO’s, the latter have argued that they have managed to get back to several of the subscribers to go regularise their registration but those subscribers submitted the same identification cards and particulars, which were declared invalid during the manual verification at the various agencies.

    The telecom operators provided a common short code, 400, to which all subscribers on every network are required to send a blank text message and receive a reply that would indicate whether one’s SIM card is registered or not.

    The telecom operators have also pointed to a situation where several subscribers are likely to take legal action against the operators for deactivating them because those subscribers might have submitted valid and genuine particulars for registration, which might have been declared invalid due to human error during the verification process.

    Adom News is reliably informed that the whole verification process is nothing more than a group of people hired by the NCA and placed at premises of the various identification agencies to do a manual check of IDs people submitted against the hand-written records in those agencies.

    Information reaching Adom News, for instance, indicates that, at a particular agency, those doing the verification sit under trees because there is no space in the offices for them, and they work under very lax conditions, which creates room for human error.

    An official in charge of the verification process at one of the agencies said on grounds of anonymity “I have stopped going to the office because this whole process is not working – it is not very efficient – we are kidding ourselves.”

    But the NCA insist most of the problem came from registration agents who work for the operators, saying most of those agents registered persons without valid IDs and with fake IDs.

    Some NCA Board members are said to have insisted “this is a national exercise and we will not allow foreigners (the telecom operators) to dictate to us on this.” The NCA bosses have also said they are ready to meet anybody in court if any deactivated subscriber feels aggrieved and takes legal action.

    Meanwhile the NCA is said to be installing some automated verification equipment in the course of this month, to help do verification quickly and more efficiently and get the actual invalid registrations ready before March 3, 2012.

    This move by the NCA is being interpreted to mean the NCA itself acknowledges there are flaws in the current manual verification process, and yet it insists on the telecom operators deactivating subscribers based on an admittedly deficient verification process.

    Meanwhile the technical guys at the telecom companies say that automated equipment need to be tested to ensure the results it generates are reliable, and that takes time, but the NCA seem to gloss over that as well.

    So as things stand now, 14,521,639 Voters’ ID have been submitted to the EC for verification, and 14,401,259 have been verified, out of which 12,508,613 (86.9%) were valid and 1,892,646 (13.1%) were invalid; the remaining 120,380 are yet to be verified.

    For NHIS card, so far 4,281,852 have been submitted to the NHIA for verification, and 4,053,884 have been verified, out of which 2,105,070 (51.9%) were valid and 1,948,814 (48.1%) were invalid; some 227,968 are yet to be verified.

    In the case of Passports, 1,415,869 have been submitted to the Passport Office for verification so far, and 1,222,619 have been verified; out of which 509,830 (41.7%) were valid, and 712,789 (58.3%) were invalid; the remaining 193,250 are yet to be looked at.

    So far 1,406,555 Drivers’ License are with the DVLA for verification, and they have verified all of them, but only 452,875 (32.2%) were valid, and a whopping 953,680 (67.8%) were invalid.

    Finally, 1,090,277 National ID Cards have been submitted to the NIA for verification and they have verified only 174,017, out of which 101,071 (58.1%) were valid, and 72,946 (41.9) were invalid; and an overwhelming 916,260 have not been verified yet, and all those people face deactivation through no fault of theirs.

    But the opportunity still remains for subscribers to check if their SIM card is registered by sending a blank message to short code 400 on all networks.

    Joy Online
  • Econet Wireless is seeking at least $3.1 billion in damages from Bharti Airtel in a dispute over ownership of its subsidiary Airtel Nigeria, according to a suit filed on Wednesday.

    The move follows a Nigerian court ruling on January 30 that Bharti Airtel's ownership of its subsidiary Airtel Nigeria is "null and void" because co-founder and 5 percent shareholder Econet was not consulted on the transfer.

    South Africa-based Econet Wireless is disputing the Indian company's ownership of one of its top Africa operations.

    Bharti said last month that its stake in its Nigerian unit was "completely safe" and that the world's fifth-biggest mobile phone carrier by subscribers had appealed against the verdict.

    "The claim for damages and equitable compensation against the Applicant and some of the Respondents might be in excess of $3 Billion," the document filed to the court said.

    "The above estimated damages might also be in addition to a claim for $100 Million received by the Applicant as fees for the management of VNL (Vee Networks Limited, a former name of Airtel) for a period of 6 years which sum should have accrued."

    Bharti Airtel inherited the legal case as part of a $9 billion acquisition of Zain's Africa operations in 2010, including 65 percent of Zain Nigeria. The basis of Econet's claim is that its 5 percent stake was unfairly cancelled when Zain took control, so any decision made since then without it, including the transfer to Bharti, is void. The Nigerian court upheld that claim. Nigeria contributes about 9.5 percent to Bharti's consolidated operational profits, the company says.

    Econet disputed the buyout of Airtel's stake from Zain Nigeria in 2010 because its right of first refusal over the stake was denied, in a dispute that had been ongoing since 2003, when the same assets were first sold to Vee Networks.

    Reuters Africa
  • Calling rates could rise to a minimum of Sh4.42, if a request by Orange-Telkom to the government to set a minimum calling rate is heeded. The company wants to set the minimum rates to shield mobile phone companies from revenue losses.

    The rate, Orange-Telkom CEO Michael Ghossein said, should be double the mobile termination rate. At the current mobile termination rate -- the amount an operator pays if subscribers call another network -- of Sh2.21, the minimum price should be Sh4.42 per minute.

    "If we don't do this, we will kill the industry," Mr Ghossein said. He was speaking on Tuesday during the launch of the Angukia loyalty product.

    Currently Safaricom and Orange have the highest off-net calling rates at Sh4.00 per minute. Airtel and YuMobile charge Sh3.00 per minute. With Sh2.21 paid to the terminating company, the operator is left with less than 80 cents in revenue.

    In 2010, the Government slashed termination charges by 50 per cent from Sh4.42. Lower rates have favoured smaller firms whose subscribers make most of the off-net calls, while eating into a revenue stream for the bigger companies.

    Lower rates also sparked a price war as Bharti Airtel and YuMobile gained the headroom to lower their tariffs. A 47.4 per cent drop in the profits of market leader, Safaricom, was largely attributed to the price wars.

    Ghossein warned that telecom companies would not be able to expand in line with the upcoming devolution, if termination rates continue eroding profits. He suggested asymmetric charges determined on a case-to-case basis for each telecommunications company. The firm also intends to write to the Communications Commission of Kenya requesting a review of the mobile termination rates.

    Pleas by Safaricom to the industry regulator for a similar audit were spurned two weeks ago. The French-owned firm has been struggling to manage expenditure in the low-profit environment. Ghossein revealed that the company would be undertaking cost-cutting measures in the coming months. It will also focus on its data offerings as an alternative revenue source.

  • Residents of Camp Freeman Town adjacent villages and towns in Grand Cape Mount County have frowned at the Lonestar/MTN for not extending its network coverage to their areas.

    The residents said though other GSM companies operating in the country don't also have signals there, they are particularly concerned about Lonestar/MTN because according to them, 90 percent of the citizens in the affected areas with mobile phones are Lonestar Cell subscribers. The residents explained that they are completely out of coverage area and, as a result, they don't receive Lonestar's signal in their towns.

    Speaking at program marking the formal turning over of a six classroom school building by the Elephant Falls Mining Company in the county, the residents told the New Dawn that they usually travel about two hours away from the town to an area called Mafia Pai in order to receive Lonestar /MTN signal before they can make calls to relatives and friends in Monrovia.

    More than five towns and villages are said to be suffering from the lack of network coverage. Some of the affected towns include Fula Camp, Varney Camp, Camp Israel, Kpelle Village and Mafia Pai, amongst others. Our reporter, who visited the areas, said more young people in the areas were seen with cell phones and Lonestar/MTN SIMs, walking around with music blaring from their phones.

    The town people said their phones are only being used to play music from media files and to record numbers. "we are really suffering here; it is like we are in a different world. We cannot get Lonestar Cell signal here; in fact, not Lonestar Cell alone, but other GSM companies do not have signals here too. Are we outcast? We want to talk to our relatives and friends, but no way because no network on our phones," Varney Duma, a town chief.

    Camp Freeman and its surrounding towns and villages take about five hours drive from Monrovia and it is a mining area. Most people from Monrovia go there to work for mining companies. Francis Kamara said he took assignment there and Francis Kamara said he left his family in Monrovia and took assignment there to work for a mining company.

    Francis noted that since seven months ago, he has not got in touch with his family. "I know that my wife and kids are worried about me. I never really knew that here don't have signal, and all of my family use Lonestar Cell, so the company should really try to solve our problem here; we need to call too," he emphasized.

    The residents said they listen to radio discussions regularly and want to participate on talkshows, but are unable due to the communication problem. Meanwhile, Lonestar/MTN has promised to look into the citizens' concern.

    Lonestar/MTN Chief Communication Consultant Dr. Laurence Bropleh, said the company loves all Liberians no matter where they come from or in which part of Liberia they reside. Bropleh promised to take the issue up with the appropriate authorities of the company to finding a remedy for the subscribers.

    The New Dawn
  • - Cellular operator MTN Rwanda is reporting revenues for 2011 of RWF80 billion (USD132 million), up from RWF73.6 billion a year earlier. The company says it is targeting sales of RWF96 billion in 2012, while capital expenditure (CAPEX) will be cut from USD35 million in 2011 to USD30 million this year, Bloomberg reports. MTN is the largest of Rwanda’s two mobile network operators, with almost three-quarters of the overall market of around four million users.

    - Vodacom Tanzania, a unit of South Africa-based Vodacom Group, says it expanded its customer base by roughly a third to twelve million users last year, and plans to spend USD94 million in the next twelve to 18 months to improve its network coverage and data capabilities.

internet

  • The Ségou Village Connection “cruise for Internet literacy” on the river Niger, in Mali, in partnership with the Loire-Niger UNESCO heritage project [fr], has now  completed a two-week training tour of schools on the banks of the river, with very positive results. Boukary shares highlights of his groundbreaking cruise.

    Rising Voices: How many villages and schools did you visit and train during this educational cruise?

    Boukary Konaté: The UNESCO barge stopped in Sékoro, Ségou, Markala, Mopti, Kokribozo, Macina, Diafarabé, Ouro-Modi and Mopti to present their photo exhibition on the Niger cultural heritage. I gave introduction workshops to the Internet in as many school along the way. In Mali, 40 to 60 pupils per class is average. On occasions, the whole school attended. We estimate the number of persons who have been introduced to the internet and basic search on the Web at around 800, from primary school kids to adult students.

    RV: What did you teach them?

    BK: Most villages along the Niger live from fishing or grow rice paddies, there is no road, no electricity or TV,  they are isolated but even the poorest shepherd has a mobile phone now. A lot of people had heard about the Internet, but did not know what it was. I am a teacher by profession, I emphasized that it is a learning tool. We did searches on Google on whatever they wished, and every time, they found the answers to their questions. I also introduced them to Skype, information websites such as Maliweb, Yahoo News, Global Voices, the Ministry of Education website, Twitter and Facebook.

     RV: Tell us about a training session that struck you.

    BK: In Macina, I lectured in a vocational school for farmers and cattle raisers (IFP). They searched Google on volcanoes, on the chemistry of soil, water, but what struck the students most was to discover that their village was on the Internet! And not only that: that there was another Macina, in Serbia! There was quite a debate with their teacher on books versus the Internet, but school books are rare, and we agreed that the Internet could become one day the school library.

    The Fulana chiefdom at Diafarabé has welcomed the Internet in their village. Photo by Boukary Konaté, under a Creative Commons license

    RV: How did the local authorities react?

    BK: Very well. There is often at first a prejudice, that “internet is for the rich”. In Fulana villages, I was told that “Once a man has enough to eat and drink, he needs to have information and share information, to know people and to be known”.  The villages would like to have a permanent access to the Web.

    RV: what have your learnt yourself from this tour?

    BK: Being a Bambara, I have discovered ethnic groups and languages I knew nothing about, the Fulani and Bozo. I have discovered my country! I was struck by how welcoming the Fulani are, by the beauty of their villages and architecture, up North. I am now comfortable sailing on water, something I was afraid of. And I will always cherish the beauty of sunsets and dawns on the river Niger.

    RV: How do you see the future of the Ségou Village Connection project?

    BK: We hope that UNESCO will organize another tour, that the Ministry of Education in Mali will take notice and mainstream such initiatives. All you need is second hand laptops, a solar cell, a transformer, and minutes of mobile phone credit to access Internet via mobile network, which is reliable in Mali even in remote places. The other solution is to crowdsource good will, not as a beggar, but as a person convinced that what he/she is trying to do is important.

    Rising voices
  • "I will vote for Wade, of course!" shouts Amadou, a young taxi driver, taking me to my hotel in downtown Dakar. "Wade has worked hard and that's how it works here." We drive past large posters of the various presidential candidates as Amadou points them out: Abdoulaye Wade, Macky Sall, Moustapha Niasse and Ousmane Tanor Dieng.

    I arrive at the hotel where an elderly gentleman greets me at the counter. "Is your family not afraid for you? There were protests not far from here and people were killed. This is serious, very serious. The youth do not want Wade any longer. He is too old." Behind him there is a portrait of the President of the Republic. "He built roads," he explains. "He gave us lights. He did a lot for us."

    It's been an hour since I arrived in Senegal and I've only met fans of Wade. I'm a little surprised, after all the criticisms I've read in the international press and on the internet. This 85-year-old politician seems to have many friends.

    However there are demonstrations scheduled to take place at Dakar's Independence Square, organised by the opposition movement M23. After a tumultuous weekend around the country when several people died and others injured, things are heating up again. Mr Blog, @basileniane, is there.

    Basile Niane (28) is the President of the Association of Bloggers of Senegal:

    "I blog therefore I am," is his motto. "We, the Senegalese bloggers, have created our own # on Twitter to differentiate ourselves. Renamed as #Kebetu, it means chirping in Wolof, the most spoken language in Senegal."

    As the police start throwing tear gas at demonstrators, Niane writes on his mobile:

    "#Senegal video Demonstration Independence Square: Cheikh Bamba Dieye received his shot @sunu2012 #kebetu youtu.be/Ne5JJCfU2GM".

    Niane is not against Wade, he says. He came to Independence Square to inform people. "We do not have the power Wade has, but the web is very, very, very powerful. Everyone is on the internet to connect and learn."

    Basile Niane is absolutely sure that this election is a very special election: "Never has an election in Senegal triggered so much excitement across social networks. And nobody will be able to rig this election because we are here. Our power is in being able to watch and tell people: here's bad information and here's good information. Even if they do not have access to the internet, they can always use their mobile phones. We are in Africa and we will take the risk."

  • Reacting to the irregular Internet connection experienced by MTN users over the past days, the CEO of MTN Rwanda, Khaled Mikkawi, on Tuesday explained this is due to multiple cuts in the undersea fiber cables between Djibouti and Port Sudan.

    While acknowledging that both MTN broadband and mobile data users experienced disruptions, Mikkawi announced that measures are being taken to bring the situation back to normal.

    "Our fiber capacity depends on two cables: 80% of our traffic is driven through the EASSy (East African Submarine Cable System) undersea cable and 20% through TEAMS (The East African Marine System)," Mikkawi explained.

    As the CEO pointed out, the cuts affected all telecom operators that depended on the EASSy cable in the sub-Saharan region and the impact of the cuts was substantial as MTN remained with only 20% of the international bandwidth capacity. "We have currently re-routed our traffic through TEAMS and have looked for other service providers to give us additional capacity, which will double the available bandwidth," he declared.

    Before this problem occurred, however, MTN network users had already been experiencing interference and outages. "The reason behind the outages is the upgrades that were carried out to expand our infrastructure," Mikkawi said. "As a growing telecom operator, this is needed to increase our outlet capacity and better serve our subscribers."

    Those upgrades were done to increase 3G sites by over 30%. "With more people using smartphones and requiring more of our data services, this upgrade is necessary," Mikkawi pointed out.

    Tests and optimization exercise have been carried out on the new 3G sites. "The challenge is to do that while keeping our clients and subscribers online," the MTN boss said. "I can compare it to upgrading a road to make it wider and better without interfering with the traffic."

    Given that the optimization exercise has to be done at the same time, this caused some disturbance.

    MTN's chief Marketing Officer, Yvonne Manzi Makolo said that MTN is currently working on a compensation plan for all data clients including those with BlackBerry smart phones. "Yet the compensation plan cannot be implemented before all upgrades are completed and the fiber capacity fully restored," she explained. "Voice subscribers are billed per second so they didn't lose any money although they were inconvenienced by the upgrades."

    And Mikkawi announced that when the networks are once again fully operational, they will have a bigger capacity - from 14 megabytes per second to 21 megabytes. "Our customers will feel the difference," he said, adding that in the course of this week the network will be opened to its full capacity.

    Rwanda Focus
  • The Tiziano Project is a multimedia website and an outreach effort focusing on training citizen journalists in conflict and underreported regions around the globe. The project has trained community journalists in places like Somalia, Rwanda, DR Congo and Kenya and is developing guides and tools that will help these journalists produce and showcase their work.

    Its pilot project Tiziano | 360º Kurdistan featured personal accounts of Iraqis along with contributions from professional photojournalists. It showed that with sufficient tools and support, people can tell convincing stories about their community and have a great impact on the viewers.

    Rising voices
  • The country's 18 provinces will be interlinked by fibre, meant to expand and improve telephone and internet services, says the minister of Telecommunications and Information Technologies, José Rocha de Carvalho.

    The official said this while speaking at a Conference on Information Technologies, as an instrument at the service of development, held under the 10th edition of the National University Students Holiday Camping (Canfeu), that is to last until February 25.

    "It is a project that has various phases and we are near the end, we are close to having the 18 capital cities linked by optical fibre", said the Minister.

    The programme will comprise about 10.000 kilometres of optical fibre until its conclusion, being that later it will include the link between municipalities and communes to provide more services in matters of information and communication technology, in any part of the Angolan territory.

    The Angolan satellite may be operational in the coming three to four years, under a project that is worth 320 million US dollars.

    Angola Press
  • - Satellite providers Global Telesat and RascomStar have entered into a joint venture to offer satellite-based internet access throughout Africa, beginning with Angola. The venture, using capacity on the Rascom-QAF1R satellite in the C- and Ku-band frequencies, is aimed at extending connectivity to a range of customers including SMEs, large corporations, telecoms operators and ISPs, and extending high speed internet coverage in rural areas at ‘competitive prices’.

    - The Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority has announced that all registered companies at the Egyptian Exchange must launch their own websites to provide all necessary financial and non-financial information. In a statement, the authority said the step will enable investors to smoothly and transparently have access to all information they need to know about these companies.

computing

  • New information has surfaced about the manner in which the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) awarded the N$63,8 million electronic voter registration contract to a South African IT firm, Face Technologies.

    It has emerged that Face Technologies initially tendered for N$83 million while another shortlisted South African company, Lithotech Exports, tendered for N$63 million. Lithotech, a subsidiary of South African Bidvest Paper Plus, is now preparing to take the matter to court.

    It alleges that the awarding of the contract to Face Technology at N$63.8 million was not fair since the ECN appears to have colluded with Face Technologies to secure the deal.

    After the initial bids by the two companies where they quoted N$83 million and N$63 million respectively, they were allegedly told by the ECN to submit a second round of bids.

    This was based on the fact that the ECN's initial specifications stipulated that the voter registration machines must be able to read ten fingerprints, which was deemed impracticable. In the second round, Face Technologies lowered its bid to N$63.8 million while Lithotech came in at N$57.1 million.

    Section D (5) of the tender requirements indicates that the two companies were required to be given seven days to design a prototype of the machines which they would then demonstrate to the election body. Lithotech alleges that ECN bent its own rules and gave the companies only two days to design the prototype.

    "It seems these guys already had Face Technologies in mind because to design the system in two days is just not reasonable," said a Lithotech representative in Namibia, who declined to be named.

    ECN director Moses Ndjarakana said last week that ECN has commented enough on the matter. "In the context of the impending court challenge we would not comment further," he said.

    Some tenderers have also asked why a contract of this magnitude was granted exemption from the normal tender procedures although there is no urgent need for general voter registration. General voter registration usually takes place every ten years and it was last done in 2009.

    The tender was given a type of exemption called "fast-track procurement", where prospective tenderers are given one week to prepare their bids. The normal time frame for tenders advertised by the Tender Board is 21 days.

    At least 30 companies collected application forms for the voter registration tender but only five submitted bids. The Tender Board gave the ECN the authority to select the successful tenderer.

    "How can one prepare documents for such a huge tender in one week," asked a company representative who preferred anonymity.

    The Namibian
  • In a bid to continue standardize habitation countrywide, the the ministry of local government has embarked on a program to provide GPS (Global Position Satellite) tools to the districts, to help them elaborate and design settlement maps and master plans.

    As Local Government Minister James Musoni put it, local leaders should design their territorial plans in a more convenient and technological way. After making an inventory of all households living in Imidugudu, the findings showed that there was a need to improve the quality and the standards of village layouts.

    "This is in line with ensuring sustainable land management, human settlement either rural or urban, developing the access to low-cost housing materials and elaboration of layout plans of Imidugudu sites," Musoni said. "So we think that with devices given to them all this will be easier, because they can now picture their territories and redesign them to match with their plans, and identify areas for habitation, farming, economic zones and other."

    Esdras Rwayitare, the officer at the ministry in the department of territorial management, explained that district leaders and their technicians were trained on how to use GPS tools in designing their master plan and Imidugudu layouts.

    "After the training, we have given them the devices alongside digital video cameras and laptops," Rwayitare said. "They will now have to design at least a map showing one village plan down to the cell levels within an agreed time, and we shall continue assisting them in the process."

    Emile Nyakagabo, who is in charge of habitation and urbanization in the Gicumbi district, confirmed that they are ready to embark on the implementation process in better planning. "The GPS facility which will speed up the layouts of Imidugudu at the cell levels, and we will start to sensitize the population on the program so as to make clear guidelines," Nyakagabo explained.

    Rwanda Focus
  • - A Ghana government official says the country's drive to get voters to register their biometric data will result in “fraud-free” elections in that country later this year. The country's electoral commission has announced it is to start carrying out a biometric voter registration exercise between 24 March and 25 May in the lead-up to the December parliamentary and presidential vote.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Subsidiaries of Libya's sovereign wealth fund are no longer subject to a freeze on their assets abroad under an informal easing of U.N. sanctions targeting the regime of late leader Muammar Gaddafi, a U.N. panel of experts said on Thursday.

    The U.N. Security Council's financial sanctions had frozen $170 billion in Libyan assets, but a large sum was released in December when the council lifted the sanctions on the central bank's $100 billion, mostly cash assets.

    Libya made major investments in Africa during Gaddafi's rule, some of them managed by the LIA through a $5 billion fund known as the Libyan African Investment Portfolio.

    One of these investments, worth nearly $1 billion, was in the LAP Green Network, which operates in six African countries. Its chairman Wafik Shater said on November 30 that it had sought the expertise of an international lawyer to lift U.N. sanctions as it was in default with some creditors and its assets were frozen in some countries including Zambia.

    In January, Zambia dissolved the board of Libya-controlled Zamtel and appointed a new acting CEO, a day after it announced plans to seize 75 percent in the fixed-line operator from owner LAP Green.

    Libya will do all it can to protect its 75 percent in Zamtel, Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal said on January 30. Financial experts appointed by the National Transitional Council are currently reviewing the LIA's investments. The sanctions regime was "never intended as punishment of the Libyans or to prevent trade," the U.N. panel member said.

    "It was aimed at preventing Gaddafi and his family and associates from using financial assets and property both in Libya and overseas to fund repression against their own people."

    In general, authorities worldwide moved quickly to ensure that assets were identified as soon as possible and accounts frozen so that the funds would not be accessible, he added.

    "The previous regime is no longer in charge. So some people would ask why is everything not delisted? There are a number of issues. There are good contacts with a number of institutions and they want to make sure everything will run smoothly when the money comes back," he said.

    Reuters
  • Mobile banking is set to get a major facelift after Nigerian bank FirstBank and Airtel have agreed to join forces to develop and produce a unified mobile money service to millions of users in the country.

    The two companies, in a press conference on Monday following the signing of the deal, said the new deal should enable users to have secure, convenient and user-friendly services through their mobile phones.

    In recent months, the Nigerian government, operators and the banking sector has pushed forward with efforts to create a better banking sector for the country, especially for those unbanked in Nigeria.

    Airtel Nigeria CEO and Managing Director Rajan Swaroop said that “Partnering First Bank to bring mobile financial services to all corners of country further demonstrates Airtel’s commitment to Nigeria and supports the concept of borderless mobile telecoms services across the country.”

    Speaking at the signing, Swaroop said, “Indeed, we are excited to partner with one of the biggest financial institutions in the country. This partnership will, without a doubt, assist us in realizing our vision of empowering more Nigerians with innovative and affordable mobile financial services. At Airtel Nigeria, we are committed to creating value propositions that will delight, enrich and benefit our customers regardless of their income level and location.”

    bikyamasr.com
  • Ali Ahmed Nur (Jim'ale) according to the statement released on Friday by the Security Council's department of public information, held leadership roles with the 'radical-Islamist element', the Somali Islamic Courts Union. Jim'ale was added to the list of people and entities subject to travel ban, assets freeze and targeted arms embargo by the UN Security Council. Jim'ale according to the UN Security Council Committee on Somalia and Eretria is one of Al Shabaab's 'chief financiers'. Jim'ale is accused of facilitating large lump sum payments to the Al Shabaab including owning a hawala fund where he collected Zakat and distributed to the terrorist organization.

    The statement also says Jim'ale established the service of Zaad which allows users' mobile to mobile money transactions, the reason being that Jim'ale helped facilitate Al Shabaab easy money transfers without the need of identification. Jim'ale is one of the biggest stakeholders in the telecommunications company Hormuud and according to this report Hormuud is one of the single largest financiers of Al Shabaab and provides logistical support, weapons, fighters and ammunition.

    Two months after the September 11 2001 attack Jim'ale was listed as being associated with Al Qaeda. Jim'ale who had majority stake in the then former Barakaat telecommunications company was accused of financing Al Qaeda and having close ties with Osama bin Laden. Barakaat was subsequently shut down and their assets frozen by the US which led to tens of thousands Somalis to lose access to their funds.

    The UN Security Council has imposed embargos on Eritrea and Somalia and has expanded its embargos on Eritrea recently, in order to prevent support to armed groups destabilizing Somalia. Transitional Federal Government President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed recently asked the UN Security Council to lift an arms embargo to fight Al Shabaab in southern Somalia. The ban which was imposed in 1992 has not stopped militants in Somalia from importing arms.

    Garowe Online
  • Speaking at the launch of the new purchasing method for pre-paid electricity in Windhoek on Tuesday, the deputy mayor of Windhoek, Gerson Kamatuka, said the municipality will not repeat the mistake it made in July 2011 when pre-paid electricity consumers were thrown into disarray after the sale of electricity through third parties was abruptly stopped.

    The municipality at the time cancelled the eight-year-old contract it had with Namibia Electronic Payment Terminals, which sold electricity on its behalf through vending machines, service stations, convenience stores and supermarkets.

    Shortly afterwards, the City of Windhoek went into a temporary arrangement with MobiPay to provide pre-paid electricity to its customers. Windhoek consumers this week received yet another method of buying electricity from the comfort of their homes.

    First National Bank (FNB) of Namibia clients can now purchase pre-paid electricity from the City of Windhoek by using cellphone banking. FNB manager for cellphone banking Desery van Wyk said the service will be available to all FNB clients with FNB transactional accounts. However, these clients should be registered for cellphone banking.

    The service is currently free of any bank charges and only cellphone network fees apply, which at this stage are N$1 for MTC customers and 25 cents for Leo customers.Van Wyk stressed that this service is currently available for Windhoek residents only, but plans are underway to expand this offering to other parts of Namibia as well.

    The Namibian
  • - Pretoria — Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has announced a proposal that will bring about relief for Gauteng motorists with regard to e-tolling fees. Delivering his Budget Speech, Gordhan said a special approbation of R5.8 billion was being proposed to reduce the toll burden on motorists as a result of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme (GFIP). The R5.8 billion is to be included in the 2011/12 expenditure. "This will reduce the debt to be repaid through the toll system, and will make a steeper discount possible for regular road users," he added.

    - Malian fixed line incumbent Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (SOTELMA) is expected to begin trading on the Abidjan-based West African regional bourse by the end of June 2012, following a share sale to be conducted in April this year, Reuters claims.

    - Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has announced in a public notice that as the Ecolife agreement with Trustco has expired, the mobile operator is unable to continue offering the mobile life insurance product. Econet says it will honor any claims from beneficiaries entitled to the cover as at midnight 17 February 2012.

Digital Content

  • The Moroccan telephone operator, Maroc Telecom, has blocked  access to several sites that provide free VoIP telephone service to its users.
    The ban has affected the Skype service that is used by most Moroccans to call their friends, relatives and customers overseas.

    The ban has also affected access to TeamSpeak and many other services that provide the VoIP functionality.

     This decision has been taken by Maroc Telecom, which is know for its predatory commercial practices, for the purpose of shielding itself against competition and pushing its users  to pay for its services and stop using  free online services, like Skype, TeamSpeak, Viber and others.

    The Maroc telecom is the former state telecom monopoly that has been sold to the French Company Vivendi. It has been a cash Cow for Vivendi for many years. it has been producing unusually high profits for the company.  Maroc Telecom is the default internet providers for Most users in Morocco.

  • A project of indicators of the health quality through mobile phone, even without using the Internet, was presented has recently been presented in Luanda by the National Department of Public Health.

    The act of presenting the project dubbed "Implementing Technology based on mobile phones to produce quality health indicators, an approach to decentralisation of the health service" was chaired by the deputy minister for public health, Evelize Frestas.

    This project will help early detection of levels of growth or decline of certain diseases, outbreaks, epidemics, drug stocks a certain standard and quick query of data in health centres of the cities, allowing the central structures to know what goes on in municipality centres, thus allowing prompt actions.

    The project will start in Huambo in June this year, with the collection of data on malaria, since this province has seen many cases of this disease.

    The project is to be extended to the whole country by the end of 2013.

    AngolaPress
  • An M-Pesa transaction was the key piece of evidence that nailed a suspect in a robbery with violence case. A court said the fact that cash was transferred from the victim's phone to that of Francis Ndung'u Njoroge was proof that he was involved in the crime.

    Nyahururu senior resident magistrate Alice Mong'are sentenced Njoroge to death. Phone-related crime has become rampant in Kenya because millions of people own mobile handsets.

    But while police have used phone signals to track down and arrest suspected criminals in the past, this is the first time a cash transfer transaction was being used as evidence in a robbery with violence case.

    Ms Mong'are commended the use of modern technology to track criminals. The technology, she said, was crucial in proving cases against the accused.

    The prosecution said detectives who had been trailing Njoroge pounced on him in Subukia where he was still using the victim's phone.

    Ms Mong'are said police had proved the case against the accused after they tracked him for more than a month before raiding his house in Subukia, Nakuru county.
    His victim's SIM card was found, as well as several personal items.

  • In curbing the growing SIM Box fraud in the telecommunications industry, which adversely affects the industry's revenue, Airtel Ghana has introduced a short code - 919- for customers to report SIM Box fraud numbers.

    SIM box fraud is a set up, in which some fraudsters in Ghana connive with partners abroad to route international calls through the internet, using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and terminate those calls through a local phone number in Ghana, to make it appear as if the call is a local call.

    The caller is often not aware of the activities of these cyber fraudsters which result in the loss of revenue to the state. This illegal activity is an issue of concern to Airtel-Ghana, the Ministry of Communication (MoC) and the National Communications Authority (NCA), since the revenue loss affects the nation's financial basket as well.

    In a release, the Managing Director of Airtel Ghana, Philip Sowah, said "Airtel Ghana has deployed state-of-the-art systems at very high costs to actively detect SIM box on a real time basis to enable us block these numbers the moment we detect them on our network".

    According to Sowah, besides the internal systems put in place, Airtel Ghana in collaboration with other telecom operators provide information to the security agencies, the NCA and the MoC to assist in arresting these criminals from their hideout.

    Sowah called on the general public to help Airtel Ghana in the fight against SIM box fraud which is a menace to the telecommunications industry and the country as a whole. To report a SIM box number, customers should text the SIM Box number to short code 919 and the number will instantly be taken off the system.

    The Chronicle

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - The Moroccan postal service Poste Maroc is reportedly planning to launch as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) within the next few months. A report from Telecompaper, which cites Moroccan news source La Vie Eco, says that Poste Maroc has held discussions with the country’s telecoms regulator ANRT over the award of an MVNO licence, while it has also contacted local cellular operators Maroc Telecom, Meditelecom and Wana Corporate for wholesale service pricing. Morocco currently has around 37 million mobile users across its three mobile networks.

    - Standard Bank Namibia, whose new computer system has caused an outcry from its clients, had Government employees seeing red last week. Police officers, teachers and secretaries who bank with Standard Bank, and who were scheduled to receive their salaries, were left empty-handed. According to the bank's spokesperson, Rejoice Itembu, "a technical issue" was behind the problem. She said it "has already been identified and thorough investigations are taking place to avoid this in future".

More

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