Bridging the digital divide to Africa

This article was first published in the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI, www.ilri.org ) internal intranet site. East Africa will be the last region in the world to be connected to the internet by optic fibre cable. This article helped to explain to our staff why internet connectivity has been so expensive and slow from East Africa and to convey the excitement we all feel that finally decent connectivity is coming to the region. Since the article was first published Ethiopia has commissioned the optic fibre link via Djibouti.

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Africa has always felt disconnected, or at most connected by a thin thread, to the digital world. In the past, many projects attempting to connect African countries by fibre optic cable have floundered at an early stage.

The IDRC map “The Internet: Out of Africa” below shows the status of internet connectivity per capita in 2002.

The Internet: Out of Africa

The Internet: Out of Africa

The larger the circle over a country the more bandwidth per person was available from within the country, mostly from satellite connections. 

Only four fibre optic submarine cables landed on African soil and SAT3, the main West African cable, was not used to full capacity for many years due to poor infrastructure within the countries and poor management and marketing by incumbent telecommunication monopolies.

Since then, the availability of satellite connectivity has grown enormously but little has changed in terms of the fibre optic cables that connect Africa to the rest of the world.

The good news!

But all that is about to change! The map below “Sub-saharan Africa Undersea Cables (2011)” from our friend Steve Song’s blog site shows the eight undersea cable projects that are already underway and will be commissioned before the end of 2011.

Sub-saharan Africa Undersea Cables 2010 (source: http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/ )

Sub-saharan Africa Undersea Cables 2011

The thickness of the line indicates the comparative bandwidth that will be made available. The West coast, in particular South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, are set to benefit most from this revolution, but the East coast will also be connected for the first time!

When compared to the thin black line of the original SAT3 cable you’ll see that the planned explosion in available bandwidth driven by the telecommunication companies is huge.

Those who read the Kenyan newspapers will know that the red SEACOM cable is due to be commissioned in Kenya at the end of June 2009 and that the green TEAMS cable is not far behind. See: “Seacom steps up cable marketing” Daily Nation (Kenya) 23 February 2009.  

And at the end of February 2009, the government of Ethiopia finally commissioned the cross border connection to Djibouti. This provides a much needed alternative to the unreliable fibre route through Sudan. It also means that Ethiopia can benefit from the SEACOM cable and eventually the blue EASSY cable that has been plagued and delayed by political infighting among the consortium members.

Ian Moore

Ian Moore

About the author

Ian Moore, ICT manager for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). ILRI and ICRAF are headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and ILRI has a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ian is also the Project Coordinator of the ICT-KM’s Second-Level Connectivity Project. The objective of the Second-Level Connectivity project is to upgrade Internet access at up to 50 of our small and mid-sized remote locations, with particular emphasis on Africa. Read more about the Second-Level Connectivity project success stories.

 

Sources
Steve Song “Sub-Saharan Africa undersea cables (2011)” 

Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) “The Internet: Out of Africa” (2002 )



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