- The World Bank Group has announced its endorsement of the $215 million, ten-year Central African Backbone Programme (CAB Program), which will support the countries of the Central African region in developing their high-speed telecommunications backbone infrastructure to increase the availability of high-speed Internet and reduce end-user prices.
The CAB Program will also help countries harmonise the laws and regulations that govern the ICT sector to increase private sector investment and improve competition.
According to the World Bank, three countries - Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) - are participating in the initial $26.2 million phase of the programme, while a further eight countries are also eligible to participate. They are the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Principe, and Sudan.
The CAB Program is being supported through a partnership between the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank (AfDB). The programme also aims to leverage an additional $98 million from the private sector. In conjunction with the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), the African Union Commission (AUC) will play an important role in facilitating inter-governmental cooperation and policy harmonization. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) will also assist governments in structuring Public Private Partnerships under the programme.
Until now, people in Central Africa are said to have the lowest quality and highest cost Internet and telephone services in Africa. The population pays up to two times more in monthly Internet rates than people living in other African countries, and up to three times more than those living in other parts of the world. “The CAB Program is very important for the countries involved and lies at the heart of their development strategies. It will assist countries to strengthen their enabling environment, create competition and, ultimately increase access and lower the costs for end users,” said Mary Barton-Dock, World Bank Country Director for Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic.
In its recent Information and Communications for Development 2009: Extending Reach and Increasing Impact, the World Bank found that for every 10 percentage-point increase in high speed Internet connections there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points. The report also identifies the mobile platform as the single most powerful way to reach and deliver public and private services to hundreds of millions of people in remote and rural areas across the developing world.
“Ultimately, our goal is to develop regional and national broadband backbones and significantly reduce the cost of ICT services in Central Africa. Through better and affordable connectivity, the aim is to leverage the transformational powers of ICTs to support economic growth, SME development, employment creation, productivity gains and trade integration in the region,” said Mohsen Khalil, Director of Global Information and Communications Technologies at the World Bank Group.
In addition to infrastructure development, the CAB Program will also strengthen the capacity of public institutions such as the sectoral ministries and regulatory authorities and will promote a competition-friendly environment by liberalising the sector and restructuring telecommunications operators.
The programme is also meant to be a model of regional integration and successful public-private partnerships. Its design and implementation require the cooperation of several countries and international and regional organizations.
“This programme is a great example of the World Bank’s increasing emphasis on regional infrastructure as part of Africa’s development,” said Rick Scobey, Acting Director for Regional Integration in Africa at the World Bank.
The World Bank Group and African Development Bank (AfDB), in partnership, are committing significant resources and are making progress on the ground in helping to achieve the goals outlined at the October 2007 Connect Africa Summit.
This partnership has already launched three major regional connectivity programmes, among a range of other ICT activities, with a fourth in the pipeline.
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