DRC: "Coming up with innovative ways of making the most of the existing infrastructures is a must"

Author's name: 
Francoise Mukuku
Democratic Republic of Congo

It is 7Pm, under a streetlight, almost hundred students are gathering. All of them are trying to get the best of the yellow light coming on their notepads. It is school examination time, and the only place where there is electricity.

An hour ago, driving along a national road, you could see motorcycle taxis (normally for two including the driver) bringing 3 people of the nearest small towns, with their laptops, closer to the highway.

At another time, in another place, lays a village and a big rock painted in white, in the middle of the field. It is not art, neither some religious worshipping place; it is just the nearest and only place where your telephone can receive a signal.

This is in the Congo, in Kenya, in Mali and in many other places in Africa. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), in 2030, all Africans will live within 25km of an optic fiber line. According to a representative of a west African government study conducted this year, Ghana needs 3 million US dollars to wire the entire country with fiber optic. This amount of money will not suffice to build a road between Kinshasa and Bandundu Ville (DRC), Edea to Foumban (Cameroun) or Harare to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe).

Fiber optic cable is therefore cheaper than building roads, but it also requires new infrastructure. This is why it is so common to see people digging roads, spoiling the aesthetics hundreds of kilometers of green environment to wire the place. They have just enough time to cover it when a second company breaks the roads again, digging trenches to pass their own wire, sometimes cutting the wire of the first company. Almost everywhere in Africa, the government has left investment in infrastructure to private sector. It is not rare to see telecoms companies asking for compensation, in return of their substantial investment when the governments want to interfere with the cost of their services.

Africa is well behind in internet infrastructure. Wiring the place is very costly, because we cannot separate the right to communication, to the right to good road, to food, to electricity. Coming up with innovative ways of making the most of the existing infrastructures is really a must.

Whitespace abandoned by the television frequencies can be a solution. According to a report published by the information and analytics provider IHS, Microsoft 4 Africa innovative whitespace can increase the broadband penetration of Africa by a more than factor 11. Countries where televisions are going digital can use the frequencies left to connect the other internet-based services. Telecoms enterprises can use existing equipment and save more to distribute bandwidth evenly and 3 or 4G services to both big and small cities, which is not the case for the moment in Africa.

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