The NEPAD Business Foundation (NBF) hosted its inaugural Ithuba Business Forum on the 20th of November 2008. The purpose of the forum was to provide a comprehensive update on the status of the submarine cable initiative and e-schools project under implementation, and how private sector can actively participate in both projects.
“The inaugural Ithuba Forum is an initiative promoted by the NBF where we provide a platform for project promoters and interested private sector parties to discuss the aims and status of particular NEPAD projects. This forum focused on the various Information Communication Technology (ICT) initiatives aimed at connecting Africa to the rest of the world. ” says John Rocha, Senior project Manager at the NEPAD Business Foundation.
One such initiative discussed was the NEPAD submarines cable, a project established in Abuja in 2003 where the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee (HSGIC) decided to prioritise the establishment of a broadband network. The purpose of this initiative is to connect African countries to one another and internationally by a broadband fibre-optic cable network.
In July 2004, a workshop of stakeholders was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Participants at the workshop agreed on a basic broadband ICT network for the region, consisting of a terrestrial segment (Umojanet) and a submarine segment (Uhurunet). The agreed network sought to bring together a number of network development initiatives in the region, such as COMTEL, SADC region Information Infrastructure (SRII), and the EASSY cable, into a unified plan for the development of the basic infrastructure.
The Uhurunet component will circumvent the entire African continent linking all African coastal regions to Africa and internationally. The implementation of this cable will be conducted in different stages of implementation and this will be based on the needs and level of preparedness of the African countries concerned.
Dr Edmund Katiti, NEPAD e-Africa Commission Policy and Regulatory Advisor reiterates, “African countries will have a shareholding in Uhurunet through a 75% stake of the initiative being owned by African entities and the remaining 25% by international investors.”
The terrestrial component entitled Umojanet will connect all landlocked and coastal countries residing in Africa to one another. A feasibility study is also underway for this component of the project and will be completed in April 2009.
In alignment with the NEPAD principals of African ownership and leadership, the e-Africa commission took a strategic decision to ensure that the NEPAD submarine cable is owned and managed by Africans and have developed a structure or Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Baharicom, headquartered in Mauritius. Baharicom is an entity that was established to make provision for all African entities and private investors such as telecommunication operators to make strategic investments and own various spheres of the (SPV).
Dr Katiti adds, “the SPV will provide considerable benefits including, open and affordable access to regional and international communications for citizens on the continent and help ease the facilitation of economic integration in the various African regions and the continent as a whole, through ICT broadband interconnection between countries”.
The Ithuba forum also focused on the NEPAD e-Schools project that will harness ICT technology to improve the quality of teaching and learning in African primary and secondary schools. An additional objective of this initiative is to impart ICT skills onto young Africans thus enabling them to participate confidently in the Global Information Society and Knowledge Economy. The first phase of the Initiative, a Demonstration Project has been implemented by NEPAD through the e-Africa Commission (eAC), in partnership with private sector organisations. The countries invited to participate in the first phase were as follows: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. Six schools that were identified in each of 16 countries were selected to participate.
A business plan encompassing core components for the phase 2 of the e-Schools project has being conceptualized by Ernst and Young and was presented to stakeholders in April 2008. The target is to connect 600 000 schools electronically across the African continent. Countries who wish to participate in this initiative are invited to contact NEPAD as well as their respective country governments.
Prem Panther, Regional Channel & Partner Manager of EMC South, Central and East Africa, an attendee at the event concludes, “I derived valuable insight into the NEPAD initiatives discussed at this event and believe that the NEPAD submarine cable and e-Schools initiative will definitely place Africa on the map to become the investment destination of choice in the world.”