Good news for the many outside and inside government who struggled to get this done, including our colleagues from Research ICT Africa. The necessary condition for cheap connectivity is about to the fulfilled.
Last week, in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, a regional communications revolution belatedly got under way when Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, plugged in the first of three fibre-optic submarine cables due to make landfall in Kenya in the next few months. They should speed up the connection of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as bits of Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, to the online world.
Of course, as the West African cable showed abundantly, and then the landing of SEA-ME-WE 4 in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh did, the cable by itself does not make things better. The link from the cable station must be well maintained (the one in Bangladesh used to get cut every few weeks at one point) and regulatory action is needed to ensure that no one is allowed to exploit the various bottlenecks to extract rents.
Rwanda may emerge as a winner. Its president, Paul Kagame, has long identified the internet as a key to his country’s development, offering concessions to software companies setting up there. But Kenya also wants to cash in. It has abolished sales tax on computers and in last week’s budget ended the sales tax on new mobile phones. It has also let businesses write off bandwidth purchases in the hope of dominating the regional internet market. That may make other countries push companies to drop their prices.
Now this is good news of another kind. Finally, governments getting the point that they can make more money by cutting, rather than raising mobile taxes.