This April while in Rwanda I was amazed to see Rwandans of all ages digging ditches along the major roads and laying down fiber optic cable from gigantic spools. Since then, I have been fascinated by the internet revolution occurring in East Africa right this very moment.
I took this photo outside of Covanya, Indego Africa's partner coop in Nyamata, Rwanda.
Up until now, East Africa has been the only region in world not connected to the internet through undersea fiber optic cables. Instead, it relies on satellite connections, which I can tell you from personal experience are slow, unreliable, and expensive. But now several companies are competing to literally plug in Africa.
A company named SEACOM made the biggest bet on the market. James Watson writes in Wired Magazine: "The company’s sales proposition has been similarly audacious for a continent stuffed with telecom monopolies: offer an open access connection down the east coast, providing a link all the way back to London or out to Mumbai – all at just a tenth of current prices. It’s a hell of a bet. SEACOM is investing some $650 million in the project, way more than its main competitors. But it’s gambling, in part, on the huge benefit of being the first to market." It won that particular bet, going live just last week in five African countries -- Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, and South Africa -- with Rwanda set to launch as early as this week.
The competing cables -- government-backed TEAMs (The East African Marine System), the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), and Lion -- all expect to to be operational by mid-2010. Yet, as Watson notes, "[r]egardless of which cable rival gets there first, the ultimate winner will be African consumers."
Rwanda could be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Sarah Lacy writes in TechCrunch that "[i]n two years, every district of the country will be connected to each other and the Internet, something the United States can't boast," and that "Rwanda is emerging as an interesting test case on how a digital divide is actually being bridged in a methodical, well-thought out, step-by-step manner." Sounds good to me! And all the more reason why Indego Africa's training programs, particularly the computer-skills classes at our very own computer centers, are so important.
Want to learn more? Check these out. And please send in updates!
- "East Africa Gets Broadband: It May Make Life Easier and Cheaper," Economist, June 18th, 2009.
- "How to Cross the Digital Divide, Rwanda-Style," TechCrunch, June 24, 2009, Sarah Lacy.
- "The Cable Guy: How to Network a Continent," Wired Magazine, June 29, 2009, James Watson. If you like reading thrillers about pirates, sharks, robots, digital villages, and amazing feats of engineering, I recommend this article.
- "Kigali City to Go Wireless By September," The New Times, July 22, 2009, Saul Butera.
- "Sea Cable Ushers in New Internet Era," AllAfrica.com, July 23, 2009, Lee Mwiti.
- And a terrific roundup at the blog White African - "Reactions to SEACOM Going Live," July 23, 2009.