- The Kenyan government today approved of its own euro 87 million undersea fibre optic cable connection between the United Arab Emirates and Mombasa at the Kenyan coast, thus opting out of a controversial African joint venture, the EASSy project. The new connection could boost connectivity and investments in the entire East African region, the Nairobi government hopes.
The office of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki today issued a short notice, saying today's cabinet meeting has "approved the sourcing of an undersea fibre optic cable connection between Mombasa and Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman." The project, which was estimated to cost shilling 8 billion (euro 87 million), would be "a joint venture between the government and the private sector," the statement added.
According to the presidential office, the important infrastructure project was dimensioned not only to satisfy Kenyan needs for improved Internet connectivity. "The cable network that will connect East Africa to the rest of the world will also serve Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Somalia," the Nairobi government claimed.
That assumption however may prove a headache to other governments in the region, of which most had signed up to a 23-nation plan to lay an undersea cable that was to connect the entire region, the so-called Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy). Kenya was originally part of the EASSy project, but led a protest of several nations against South African dominance in the planned network.
Kenya's refusal to sign up to a recent protocol on the EASSy project has created irritation among several neighbours. A Ugandan government spokesperson earlier this week called the Kenyan position "absolute stupidity" and speculated that Nairobi would want to leave the project altogether. Also the Tanzanian government has tried to pressure on Nairobi to sign up to EASSy again.
East African neighbours observe a fear of South Africa's growing economic and political importance among Kenyan authorities, used to be the driving force in the region. Uganda and Tanzania have also signalled a preference of growing South African involvement at the expence of Kenyan supremacy in East Africa, and control of infrastructures such as Internet connectivity is seem as vital interests.
Statements made yesterday by Kenyan government officials yesterday thus were not helpful in cooling worries among neighbouring states. High officials had indicated that Kenya wanted to be in control of its own infrastructures to grow into to a regional hub. There existed plans to market Kenya as a centre for business outsourcing, as India has successfully done.
Currently, telecommunication costs are much higher in most African countries than in industrialised countries and India and connectivity is poorer. Still, most inter-African Internet activity is rooted via Europe. This, Kenyan officials hold, is limiting Kenya's ability to attract investments and create new business sectors in the country.
Little is still known about the new Kenyan-Arab undersea cable expect for its route and a cost estimate. While the EASSy project was to have been implemented by early 2008, no time frame has been set for Kenya's own cable. It was also unclear which players in the "private sector" were to participate in the project.
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