The Modern World Finally Arrives in East Africa

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Internet broadband is one of those technologies that has become ubiquitous in the developed world. Adolescents probably cannot remember dial up 56k connections and we all take it for granted that broadband wireless will be available wherever we roam ” well almost. So imagine living in an area of the world where there is no broadband, not just in rural areas, but in cities, for firms or private homes. Well up to last month East Africa was pretty much like that. The fledgling call center industry in Kenya ” a low labor cost English speaking country on a similar time zone to Europe ” was having to pay for satellite link telephony at $30,000/month. Only 5.9% of Africans are connected to the Internet according to time.com, and most are in North African countries such as Egypt and Algeria. That compares to 26.9% for the rest of the world.

Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda will be transformed by the connection of a 1.28 Tb/sec cable costing $600m and linking East Africa via fiber optic sub-sea cable to India, the Middle East and Europe. The project is named Seacom and will require up to 17,000 kms of cable by the time it is extended down into South Africa. Indeed the Financial Times reports that part of the justification is the ability to handle streaming video coverage of the World Cup in South Africa next year. Worldwide bandwidth is doubling every 18 months mostly due to the demand for streaming video for services such as YouTube. But the benefits are much wider. A recent World Bank report found that countries experience 1.3% economic growth for every 10% increase in high-speed Internet connections. Seacom will not be the end of the process. New cables are being planned and with them will come opportunities for East Africa to enjoy commercial, political, economic and cultural integration with the rest of the world. When you look at how much of Africa has been left behind as the rest of the world has moved on that can only be a good thing.

–Stuart Burns

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