The Rwanda government has nominated its ICT development agency, RITA, as its official representative to the multi-million dollar Eastern African undersea cable project. But RITA must be licensed first as an operator before joining the consortium, according to the conditions governing it.

RITA executive director, Dr. Shem Ochuodho, told Business Week in an interview last week that Rwanda's membership to the consortium was through Rwandatel, which has since been sold to Terracom.

He said RITA has since been nominated as the government's representative to EASSy but that hurdles over its status as a government body were hampering its active participation in the consortium.

"We have been negotiating with other EASSy members over these hurdles but as you may know, RITA operates the Rwanda Internet Exchange (RINEX) and we hope to be a licensed data operator," he said.

Controversy has been brewing among consortium members over its financing ever since the World Bank expressed willingness to jointly finance the project on condition that members accept its Open Access principle.

The project, expected to cost US$200million has had a financing shortfall because some of the members are unable to raise the required capital from their own resources, prompting a call of help from the World Bank.

The Open Access principle holds that members must accept not to charge excessive premiums from non-members when the project is complete.

Consortium members, however, contend that they own the project and have a right to charge market rates to recover their investment.

Under the World Bank offer, members must relax their exclusive right to capacity and other tight controls and allow unlimited use of the project, lest the purpose for which it was created, namely increase use of telecoms services through low rates, will be defeated.

"It would be the same as a similar one running through West Africa which has not helped people due to high telecom prices," another official said.

Also proposed by the Bank under the open structure, is funding through commercial debt and equity.

The 8,840km undersea project, mooted two years ago, has 20 consortium members from over a dozen countries, with Kenya leading the group.

Others are South Africa, Botswana, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Malawi, Madagascar, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, Sudan and Zanzibar.

East African Business Week