“You can’t manage Nigeria by remote control,”
The region’s broadband revolution began underwater, with submarine fiber-optic cables bringing
high-speed Internet to the continent. (Although
consumers use them wirelessly, mobile broadband networks connect to the Internet through
international cables, rather than satellites.) But the
task of running those cables was not only daunting from a project management perspective, it
was also capital intensive. More than US$3 billion
has been invested in projects to connect cables to
sub-Saharan Africa. Given their immense price
tags, public-private partnerships—in which private
and state-owned companies co-invest in projects,
sometimes alongside not-for-profits such as the
World Bank—have been vital to the success of
many such projects.
For example, the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE)
project will lay 17,000 kilometers ( 10,563 miles) of
fiber-optic cable along the continent’s west coast
from South Africa north to France. The project, the
first phase of which was completed in 2012, will cost
US$700 million and involves a consortium of more
than 12 stakeholders, including the Republic of Gabon
and the French telecommunications giant Orange.
The US$160 million South Atlantic Cable System
(SACS) project, which will deliver the first high-speed
connection between Africa and South America, is
being led by Angola Cables. Launched in December
2014, it is scheduled to be complete late next year.
With submarine cables now connecting directly
to each coastal sub-Saharan country, the big task
facing practitioners is extending high-speed broadband connections to inland consumers, says Bridgewater, New Jersey, USA-based Eric Handa, CEO
of APTelecom, a U.S. company that is part of the
SACS project consortium.
The challenges facing inland projects vary from
country to country. Obstacles can include slow-moving government regulators and a lack of local
operators to collaborate with. The logistical issues
Beyond the Basics
Three tech projects made possible by sub-Saharan Africa’s ICT boom
Sub-Saharan Africa’s improving ICT infrastructure translates to an increasingly connected populace. That, in turn, means big project opportunities for technology businesses. Here are three examples of sub-Saharan
African tech projects building on the region’s developing technology base.
RWANDA’S SMART COLLABORATION. Like other countries in the region,
Rwanda is keen to capitalize on what Jean Philbert Nsengimana, PMP, minister of youth and ICT, government of Rwanda, Kigali, Rwanda, has called
“the transformative power of technology for development.” As part of the
Smart Rwanda program to help the country become an ICT hub, Mr. Nsengimana in March signed a memorandum of understanding with Swedish
electronics company Ericsson to collaborate on projects delivering online
government, healthcare and education services. Ericsson also will provide
network security for government systems as part of the deal.
GHANA’S DIGI TAL CAMPUS. When he noticed the vast majority of
Ghanian college students are now using smartphones, David Mumuni
saw an opportunity. Mr. Mumuni, 26, is CEO of Flippy Campus, an Accra,
Ghana-based mobile-app development company whose signature product
facilitates electronic communication between colleges and students, ex-
tending the reach of physical campus announcement boards. “Right now
you have people who are tech-savvy enough to use a mobile app or a web
application,” Mr. Mumuni says. “Seven years ago that wasn’t the case.”
Yet Flippy Campus’ app rollout project last year hit a few snags.
At Knutsford University College in Accra, where Flippy Campus first
promoted the app, wireless Internet access was too inconsistent to
facilitate its use. Mr. Mumuni turned his focus to the nearby University
of Ghana, where wireless Internet service was better—but still not stellar. The organization’s 3.5-megabyte app takes students more than 10
minutes to download and register.
Despite the infrastructural limitations, Flippy Campus’ app is a success: More than 1,000 students downloaded the app within a week of
its release, and Mr. Mumuni will pitch for US$50,000 of seed capital
from the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, a tech-busi-ness incubator in Accra, in June.
KEN YA’S TECHNO CI TY. Kenyan officials are executing a technology hub megaproject to bypass the piecemeal, gradual upgrades that
are the hallmark of ICT infrastructure development. Konza Techno
City, located southeast of Nairobi, aims to provide world-class urban
infrastructure to position Kenya for rapid, high-tech economic growth.
Preliminary construction began last year at the site, with the first phase
of the project expected to close by 2019. The whole project is budgeted
for a cost of US$14.5 billion.
Konza Techno City, Kenya