Connecting Africa Through Collaboration

Connecting Africa Through Collaboration

There’s no doubt that connectivity is key in driving economic development, especially in a continent as vast as Africa. Christine Leurquin, Vice President of Institutional Relations and Communications at SES, shares her views on how the digital divide can be bridged through government-industry collaboration.

Digitalisation holds great promise for Africa, with the potential to stimulate significant economic growth and increased employment opportunities across the continent. In the road towards digitalisation, building the foundations of broadband connectivity can help more communities gain access to better healthcare, education, agriculture applications and training opportunities.

It is estimated that developing nations need just 10% more broadband connectivity to drive 1.38% increase in GDP – to escalate economic development by creating jobs and establishing equality.

Yet, many parts of Africa remain isolated from the world economy due to inadequate infrastructures for widespread Information and Communications Technology (ICT). As things stand, only 25% of the African population have access to fibre connectivity – while the 300 million people who are over 50 km from a stable fibre or cable broadband connection, have limited or no Internet access.

According to the UN, Africa’s population is expected to grow by more than 42 million people per year, reaching 2.4 billion by 2050. With African cities of over 10 million inhabitants to double in 20 years, there’s much to be done to bring digitalisation and connectivity projects to fruition. And the core of this is international funding, accompanied by industry expertise, to bridge major gaps in ICT infrastructure and connectivity.   

The funding factor

African nations hoping for digital traction will need to ramp up collaborations with the global communications community, working with the private sector on technologies that can accelerate solution deployments. This not only helps to offset a part of the financial burden; but also creates opportunities to learn about the investors’ technology, experience and go-to-market expertise.

But maximising the potential of collaborative efforts in Africa has been an ongoing challenge. Take Europe’s contribution to Africa’s digital growth for example. The past decade saw only EUR 92 million being devoted by European Union (EU) to digital initiatives across Africa, Caribbean & Pacific countries – a mere 3-5 percent of the total European Development Fund (EDF) budget for ICT and connectivity projects.

This situation is turning around however, on European Commission’s proposal for an ambitious External Investment Plan (EIP), announced in September 2016. Set up to spur investment in partner countries in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood region, it includes the new European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) as the main financing mechanism, to draw public financial institutions and the private sector interests toward five investment windows, one of which is in innovative digital solutions.

Using this Public-Private Partnership (PPP) approach, EFSD hopes to rally funds, expertise and assistance to address local social needs and financial inclusion, as well as to promote job creation – to make a real difference to beneficiaries on the ground.

Collaborative connectivity

SES believes PPP initiatives are essential for Africa’s digital ambitions, having experienced what it takes to successfully set up connectivity in Burkina Faso.

In 2012, Burkina Faso rolled out SAT-Elections in collaboration with SES and Commission Electorale Nationale Independante (CENI), which supported 45 election stations via low-cost VSAT terminals. The project expanded to around 400 stations in 2015, to deliver secure digital transmission of the electoral results for the Burkinabe Presidential Election.

More recently, Burkina Faso and Luxembourg established the Indicative Cooperation Programme to improve the quality, reliability and accessibility of the country’s ICT infrastructure. Set to run from 2017-2021, this project is for a high-speed, flexible and reliable telecommunications network that can bring e-government, education and health to 881 sites country-wide. SES Networks will implement both the low-latency satellite technology and the wireless terrestrial coverage, to create a digital gateway that connects the people, and the world.

Replicating satellite success across Africa

At the EU-Africa Business Forum, ahead of the EU-AU Heads of State’s summit at Abidjan in November 2017, SES reaffirmed its vision for Africa – to engage businesses, broadcasters and governments in developing their respective regional markets, thereby meeting the continent’s growing content and connectivity demands.

With connectivity projects gaining momentum, satellite networks shall be integral to the delivery of reliable, borderless connectivity across vast regions, without discriminating between villages and cities. By complementing existing infrastructure with last-mile connectivity, they enable the high-speed Internet to accelerate positive outcomes for development policies, anywhere.

Ultimately, satellite networks empower the people and the nations of Africa with digital tools, applications and connectivity needed to thrive in the world economy.