An African broadband protocol would help the continent bridge the digital divide, the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) ambassador to South Africa said ahead of it signing on behalf of his country.

"This is quite a major initiative because it will help us move forward in terms of narrowing the digital divide, because Africa is still lagging behind in terms of communication," Bene M'Poko told reporters ahead of signing the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) Information and Communication Technology protocol Wednesday. Mr Bene M'Poko said it is high time African countries caught-up with the rest of the world in terms of improved ICT.

The signing of the protocol by affected countries will provide for speedy implementation of the project which involves the construction of a 9900 km long Eastern African Sub-Marine System (EASSy) cable from Mtunzini in South Africa to Sudan.

Wednesday's signing by the DRC made the newly democratic country the 11th of a total of 23 Eastern and Southern African countries that participate in the project.

This network would then have all participatory countries linked up among them before being linked to the rest of the world, thereby integrating Africa's communication by harmonizing ICT infrastructure initiatives.

It is expected that, once in operation, the initiative will see communication costs in the continent decreasing.

The inaugural signing of the protocol was held in Kigali, Rwanda in August, where seven countries including South Africa signed.

These were followed by Botswana and Zimbabwe who signed last month in Cape Town and Mauritius which signed last week Monday.

According to Dr Henry Chaisa, the Executive Deputy Chairperson for the e-Africa Commission - a body established to manage the structured development of the ICT sector in Africa in the context of Nepad - Zambia was to sign the protocol on Thursday in Lusaka.

Countries that are yet to sign are Angola, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Sudan and Swaziland. Dr Chaisa said the process of implementing the protocol would not wait for all the remaining countries to sign before it could be rolled-out. "We are going to make a start as soon as we have a critical mass [majority of signatory countries," he said.

"We don't have to wait until all the 23 [countries] have signed, we will start as soon as the one(s) that have to sign tomorrow [Thursday] have signed." He added that all the countries that had already signed had the "necessary economic muscle to be able to sustain this kind of a project."