World Bank endorses Central Africa Backbone Program

The World Bank Group has endorsed a $215 million, ten-year Central African Backbone (CAB) Program which aims to bring rapid affordable internet to the region. The program will support Central African countries by developing their high-speed telecommunications backbone infrastructure to increase internet availability while reducing end-user prices. The CAB program will also help countries harmonise the laws and regulations that govern the ICT sector to increase private sector investment and improve competition.

Three countries – Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) - will participate in the initial $26.2 million phase of the program. A further eight are eligible to join – Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé & Principe, and Sudan.

The CAB program addresses problems that have long troubled Central Africa – poor connection quality and high tariffs. The population pays up to double the monthly Internet rates of other African countries, and up to three times more than those in other parts of the world. Mary Barton-Dock, World Bank Country Director for Cameroon, Chad and CAR, notes that the CAB Program “will assist countries to strengthen their enabling environment, create competition and ultimately increase access and lower the costs for end users”.

Mohsen Khalil, Director of Global Information and Communications Technologies at World Bank Group, added “ultimately, our goal is to develop regional and national broadband backbones and significantly reduce the cost of ICT services in Central Africa. Through better and affordable connectivity, the aim is to leverage the transformational powers of ICTs to support economic growth, SME development, employment creation, productivity gains and trade integration in the region.”

In addition to developing infrastructure, the CAB Program is intended to modernise Central Africa’s IT sector, restructuring telecoms operators and strengthening the capacity of public institutions such as the regulatory authorities. The sector will be liberalised to promote a competition-friendly environment.

The Program is hoped to provide a model of regional integration and successful public-private partnerships. Its design and implementation require the cooperation of several countries and international and regional organisations. Design goals will be:

  • to maximise the use of private financing (or to minimise the use of public financing);
  • to ensure feasibility and attractiveness of the transaction; and
  • to secure open access to regional connectivity infrastructure and ensure competitive, reasonable tariffs of international, regional and national capacity.

The World Bank Group and African Development Bank (AfDB), in partnership, are committing significant resources and making progress in helping to achieve the goals outlined at the October 2007 Connect Africa Summit. This partnership has already launched three major regional connectivity programs:

Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (RCIP)

The World Bank is providing US$424 million in financing for this Program to support regional connectivity and transparency in government through the use of ICT. The Program is available to all countries in the East and South Africa region; participating countries so far include Kenya, Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi.

East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy)

EASSy is a 10,000km submarine fibre-optic cable running along the East Coast of Africa from Sudan to South Africa. It will directly connect eight of the countries on the route and indirectly connect all of the others in the region to the international communications infrastructure. It will supply low-cost, high-bandwidth capacity to the markets in the region. It is one of three submarine fibre-optic cables due to become operational in the region between 2009 and 2010.

West African Power Pool

A joint initiative between the World Bank and AfDB, West Africa Power Pool aims to address the limited inter-country connectivity in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). The partnership has been closely involved in developing regional electricity transmission infrastructure – electricity networks with built-in fibre-optic cables whose spare capacity can be used to provide backbone services to communications providers.

The transmission infrastructure will be able to carry telecommunications traffic. In 2008 a stakeholder workshop in Benin endorsed the opportunity and committed to removing the bottlenecks associated with creating a regional backhaul network, for which the World Bank and AfDB continue to provide support.

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