Kenya is planning to help improve internet speeds for South Sudan through a new fibre network project aimed at reducing connectivity costs for the young country. The project will lay out the fibre cables from South Sudan’s Juba, through Kenya’s Eldoret and link it to submarine cables in Mombasa.
How noble and charitable for the Kenya government, I must say. The decision to aid a young nation like neighbouring South Sudan, to connect to the internet at a more effective, affordable and fast way through fibre-optic cable is indeed commendable.
In the new project, to be kicked off following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the two, the fibre network will be set up as part of a road construction that is currently underway and is being funded by the World Bank.
Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, Fred Matiang’i, said, “This project is part of our several infrastructure integration plans with South Sudan and we hope to engage in more similar initiatives that will help improve the lives of the young nation.”
As endearing as it is to want to “help out” a young nation by improving the lives of the people in it through connecting them to fast internet, I can’t help but also share in the thought of how Kenya is planning to benefit from all this – We all know there is always something behind a good deed, especially when countries shake hands on a project.
The above statement is the same reason I fear for Kenya and its many deals with the friends on the East – China. Great developments in the road sector, with the beautiful super-highways, but at what cost? A load of hackers infiltrating the country’s data? But that is a story for another day.
According to Matiang’i, the new project marks a proud moment for Kenya as it will be initiating South Sudan to the fibre-optic network world by giving them their first fibre-optic cable connection. The ICT project is said to open up the country to more opportunities in the future.
There is a saying that goes, “Do not go ploughing your neighbour’s farm before you are done doing the same in your own farm”, my question to the Kenyan government is simple: Are you satisfied with the internet connectivity in your country?
There has not been much noise about poor internet connections, with network operators priding themselves to having the best 3G connectivity across the country but at the same time continue to announce expansions of the same 3G networks to remote areas.
Safaricom recently announced that it had chosen Nokia to see through its 3G network expansions in more areas and also contribute to its 4G LTE Network that is planned to roll out later this year. Airtel was also not left behind saying it will not be riding on Safaricom’s 4G as it has plans to launch its own.
Airtel, the second largest mobile operator in Kenya, in terms of market share, has already launched its 4G service in Sychelles as the first African country and plans to roll out in more countries across the continent.
As wars on who has the best network connection continue, and as operators strive to catch up with the industry giant Safaricom, the government as always is sitting behind comfortably endorsing the projects by operators, but doing nothing about the national broadband network that was due last year.
The network was supposed to be launched and shared among operators, but Safaricom pulled out of the deal to go solo. It must have realized that the project would be a tall order and would cost the operator losses. I may not know the politics of business, but I believe I have a weighing on logic.
After the giant pulled out, other operators expressed their doubts about whether the national broadband project would ever see the light of day – and who wouldn’t? That was 2014, and now we are in a new year 2015, with no plans whatsoever made known about seeing through the project.
It is admirable that Kenya is giving the first fibre-optic cable connection to South Sudan, especially because it has plenty of fibre connections to share around, courtesy of Liquid Telecom, Access Kenya and the like.
However, the fact that the country is still lagging behind most East African countries including Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda in the 4G roll out is very disappointing.
So, No, I do not think Kenya should be proud of helping South Sudan connect to the internet. I also do not think it should be so excited about the project that it considers it improving the lives of people in the young nation.
Kenya should at least remember it has a portion of uncultivated land – the national broadband that needs to be attended to. So many people are still yet to come online, especially in the rural areas where telecommunications infrastructure is hard and expensive to put up.
Lest we forget, the National Broadband Strategy for Kenya envisions that by 2017, every Kenyan citizen will be able to connect to the internet at fast speeds of up to 5Mbps.