A representative of the Ugandan regulator UCC has given the go ahead to private telecom companies to join the Kenyan Government submarine cable project. This may undercut the credibility of the EASSy project that has been promoting its Government protocol on the cable as the “permission” for investors to roll out.

However, despite the offer, the Uganda government says it is still committed to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) undersea cable project - the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) that will run from South Africa to Djibouti.

By allowing the telecoms firms to take part in the Kenyan project, Uganda hopes that it will have increased bandwidth by the time of the leaders' meeting in November 2007, since the Nepad cable is only expected to start operating in early 2008.

"Private companies can route their traffic as they wish. It will be a commercial arrangement between the companies and Kenya if they go into the venture, involving the Uganda government," said Patrick Mwesigwa, Uganda Communications Commission technical manager.

Despite the green light, a senior official from Uganda Telecom Ltd said the company was not pulling out of EASSy. "We are still committed to EASSy; we signed a memorandum of understanding - that is all I can say," Hans Paulsen, UTL's commercial manager, told The EastAfrican.

Kenya last month abandoned Nepad's $300 million EASSy project for an alternative project that it hopes will run through Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

The Uganda government says it has not yet considered that option partly because Kenya has not presented that alternative route officially to it. The country has also already signed on to the EASSy Inter-Governmental protocol in Rwanda two months ago.

Other countries that signed were Tanzania, Rwanda, Lesotho, South Africa, Madagascar and Malawi. However, 16 of the 23 countries involved in the project did not sign and although Kenya originated the project during the first East African Business Summit, its delegation did not show up.

A communique published in The EastAfrican recently by Telkom Kenya said that the fact that some operators and governments did not support the signing of the protocol in Kigali did not mean that they are against the development of the EASSy cable.

"A protocol must promote an enabling regulatory and operating environment. If it does not have the endorsement of all stakeholders it will be counterproductive. The EASSy parties therefore reserve the right to accept or reject any terms and conditions of such a protocol," said the communique signed by John Sihra, the EASSy project co-ordinator.

The progress of the EASSy project is not dependant upon the coming into effect of the Nepad protocol, Mr Sihra said in the communique .

Meanwhile, stakeholders in the industry are wondering how the telecoms companies will raise capital for both ventures if they join Kenya's UAE deal after having signed the MOUs that commit them to EASSy.

MTN Uganda and Uganda Telecom, the country's two national operators, are among the companies that committed themselves to join EASSy two years ago. Maybe Uganda should go the Kenyan way and raise funds for the project through the Uganda Securities Exchange [USE]," said a stakeholder in the telecoms industry. Neither MTN nor UTL are listed on the USE.

Kenya last month said it would raise the money for its $110 million Fujairah telecommunications cable through the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Simon Rutega of the Uganda Securities Exchange said it would be possible for the government, but not for the telecom companies, to raise funds for the project through the local stock market.

The East African