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Connecting Central Africa through Information and Communication Technologies

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  • High cost, poor access hinder information technology services for Central Africans
  • IDA-funded Central Africa Backbone Program will bring modernized Internet and phone service to three countries
  • Program will strengthen infrastructure, public-private partnership and capacity in public institutions

N’DJAMENA, October  22, 2009—People in Central Africa pay up to two times more in monthly Internet rates than people living in other African countries, and up to three times more than those living in other parts of the world. The region lags behind the continent not only in the cost of services, but also in delivery and access.

The plight of technology in Central Africa will soon change.  On September 24 the World Bank Board of Directors endorsed the Central Africa Backbone Program (CAB), a US$215 million effort that will provide 11 countries with access to the fastest, most modern and affordable Internet and telephone services.  The Program will also help countries harmonize the laws and regulations that govern the sector to favor private sector competition.

Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic to Pilot CAB Program

The Program will use an existing 1,000 kilometer fiber optic cable along the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline to connect the two countries and Central African Republic to a broadband Internet network.

Three countries – Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic – will pilot the CAB Program in an initial US$26.2 million phase.  A further eight countries are also eligible to participate in the Program—Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Principe, and Sudan. The cost of Internet services was higher in the countries targeted by the CAB Program (US$67 per month for an Internet connection) in comparison to the average for Sub-Saharan Africa (US$43) and the global average (US$21) in 2007.

International bandwidth tariffs for landlocked countries are an estimated 50 times higher than those for countries connected to underwater fiber optic cables. Chad and Central African Republic, for instance, are forced by geography to use expensive, poor quality satellite communications networks.

The CAB Program brings much needed connectivity to Central Africa.  Until now, people in Central Africa had the lowest quality and highest cost Internet and telephone services in Africa.

“The CAB Program is very important for the countries involved and lies at the heart of their development strategies. It will assist countries to strengthen their enabling environment, create competition and, ultimately increase access and lower the costs for end users,” said Mary Barton-Dock, World Bank Country Director for Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic.

In its recent Information and Communications for Development 2009: Extending Reach and Increasing Impact, the World Bank found that for every ten percentage-point increase in high speed Internet connections, there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points. The report also identifies the mobile platform as the single most powerful way to reach and deliver public and private services to hundreds of millions of people in remote and rural areas across the developing world.

Modernizing the ICT Sector, Promoting Successful Public-Private Partnership

In addition to infrastructure development, the CAB will address constraints to the sector at the national level; it will seek to strengthen the capacity of public institutions such as the sectoral ministries and regulatory authorities, and will promote a competition-friendly environment by liberalizing the sector and restructuring and privatizing telecommunications operators.

According to project leaders, poor regulation, an unfriendly investment climate, the complexity of a multi-country investment project, and doubts regarding financial sustainability have hampered past efforts to bridge the telecommunications gap in many countries.

“Regional communication infrastructure programs such as the CAB Program illustrate what can be achieved through a strong partnership between the governments, private-sector and development partners,” said Yann Burtin, Project Manager for the CAB Program. The contributions of the AfDB and of the African Union Commission are essential to the process, added Burtin.

The project also is meant to be a model of integration and successful public-private partnerships. Its design and implementation require the cooperation of several countries, international and regional organizations. Design goals will be to: (i) maximize the use of private financing (or minimize the use of public financing); (ii) ensure feasibility and attractiveness of the transaction; and (iii) secure open access to regional connectivity infrastructure and ensure competitive, reasonable tariff of international, regional and national capacity.

Development Partners

Of the World Bank Group, the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) will contribute US$215 million over a ten-year period. The African Development Bank will provide parallel financing with the aim of leveraging an additional US$98 million from the private sector.

In conjunction with CEMAC, the African Union will play an important role in facilitating inter-governmental cooperation and policy harmonization. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) will also assist governments in structuring Public Private Partnerships.

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