After failing to get a regional broadband project off the ground due to lack of support by member countries, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the African Union are now focusing their attention on speeding up the implementation of ICT policy harmonization in order to enhance telecom development.
The effort is expected to bring to an end monopoly policies in the telecom sector that are blamed for poor and expensive communication services in the region.
At an ICT meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, last week, the two organizations agreed to push implementation of ICT policies in order to support economic development and regional integration, especially in the east African region.
It is not clear how the two organizations will speed up implementation of policies among their member countries. But a report and work plan on how that will be achieved is being compiled by the two organizations and will be submitted to member countries' policy makers, who will be meeting for the African Union and Nepad conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next month.
Both the African Union and Nepad have for a long time failed to secure a critical mass of countries to support the roll-out of ICT projects, including Nepad's US$2 billion broadband infrastructure project.
Nepad hopes that once the implementation of ICT policy harmonization is achieved, it will become easier to get support for its broadband project from member countries.
Nepad has identified ICT as a priority and has established a task force to coordinate the implementation of ICT projects. But the organization's broadband project has failed to get moving as many countries fear that signing on to it will mean changing their monopoly regulatory policies.
"Zambia has already ended the monopoly by the incumbent operator Zamtel through the establishment of a law that gives powers to the Communications Authority of Zambia to handle all communication agreements instead of Zamtel," said Geoffrey Lungwangwa, Zambia's communications and Transport Minister.
The Nepad broadband project sets out a policy and regulatory framework for the region. Plans include the establishment of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that will own, operate and manage the network.
If the harmonization of policies is accomplished, most African governments will no longer be able to protect incumbent operators from competition with private service providers. This in turn is expected to result in high quality communication services and reduce the high cost of communications, including the cost of bandwidth. The Nepad project hopes to connect all African countries to a communication network that stretches from South Africa to Rwanda. The network will operate on top of a submarine cable network system that will run along the east African coast.
Nepad also wants all countries to have equal access to the cable regardless of their distance from the cable's landing points on the east coast.
Last year, the African Union through Nepad invited all African countries to agree to the Kigali protocol in order to get the project off the ground. But fewer than 15 countries out of over 45 have signed the protocol. The Kigali protocol is the policy and regulatory framework agreement through which African countries can coordinate regulations and facilitate the construction and operation of regional broadband services. Countries are, however, shying away from signing the protocol, fearing that incumbent operators will be forced to close due to increased competition.