Government ministers from Southern and Eastern Africa have signed a declaration on the East Africa Submarine System Project known as Eassy. The declaration signed in Johannesburg yesterday commits fifteen countries to this project which is expected to see the construction of infrastructure to ensure cheap broadband access for countries on the eastern side of Africa (from Mozambique to Sudan). The construction of the undersea cable is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2008 according to one of the signatories, Kenyan Deputy Minister David Were.

At a press conference chaired by Lesothos Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Thomas Thabane, it was announced that the ministers had agreed on major areas around the implementation of the Eassy project. The represented countries were Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somali Republic, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In a major departure from the precedence of the SAFE/SAT-3 which is led by national telecommunication companies and is a closed club, the NEPAD e-Africa Commission will take the lead in the development of the necessary protocol and in the coordination of the project.

The major highlights of the declaration are that it proclaims an open access model (meaning anyone can join in as an investor in the project); it commits countries to developing and signing a protocol on the policy and regulatory framework for the Eassy project. In a related development the summit also selected Rwanda as the host of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, South Africas Minister of Communications, said the open access model was critical to ensure a level playing field and equal access. She commended the signing of the declaration calling the second successful project of the e-Africa Commission after e-schools project.

Kenyan Deputy Minister of Communications, David Were, said that prior to the meeting he had expected fireworks. He blamed the media for having created a picture of disharmony between South Africa and Kenya.

In response to media questions on the open access model, Dr. Henry Chasia, Executive Deputy Chairman of the NEPAD e-Africa Commission, stated that all parties that wished to participate in the Eassy project would have to be guided by the declaration. His statement was in reference to the current situation with the monopolistic model of SAT-3 - the satellite and submarine cable system serving the western parts of Africa.

The Eassy project is expected to cost 300 million United States dollars excluding additional costs of in-country infrastructure. According to Casaburri ninety percent of the funding for the project will be raised from within the continent with a debt and equity portion. It is understood that the World Bank has offered 170 million USD towards the project.

The protocol on the regulatory frameworks is scheduled to be signed heads of states of participating countries in August this year.

Highlights of the Eassy Declaration by the 15 Southern and Eastern Africa government ministers who met in Johannesburg on 5-6 June 2006 are as follows:

1.Resolve to contribute to the harmonious, balanced, equitable and sustainable development of our countries by facilitating the speedy construction of the regional backbone ICT infrastructure network and to facilitate the formation of an entity and/or entities to own, maintain and operate the said infrastructure on Open Access Principles and generally to achieve the objectives and principles set forth in this Declaration;

2.Note, recognise and appreciate the work that has already been carried out to realise the objectives and principles set forth in the Preamble, and in particular, to construct the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network for Eastern and Southern Africa, including the Eassy cable, and to this end direct the NEPAD e-Africa Commission, in collaboration with regional economic communities (SADC, COMESA, IGAD, EAC), regional regulatory associations and the Join Steering Committee to fast track the process.

3.Commit ourselves to take such actions, within our respective countries as are necessary to ensure an early approval by our Governments of a Protocol on Policy and Regulatory Framework for NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network for eastern and Southern Africa and to arrange for the earliest possible signature and ratification of the Protocol as may be applicable.

4.Affirm our intention to ensure that existing policy and regulatory frameworks within our respective countries are progressively adopted over time facilitate the realisation of the objectives of the proposed Protocol.