During 2019, there have been more announcements of subsea fiber cables connecting parts of Africa to the rest of the world. Half-way through the year funding was announced for 2 such telecommunications fiber cables on the West Coast of Africa.

First it was Google that announced that it will privately fund the Equiano subsea cable that will connect Africa to Europe. Once completed, the cable will run from Portugal and along the West Coast of Africa to South Africa.

This was followed in the same month by Cabo Verde Telecom announcing that it had received several million dollars worth of funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) so it can improve telecommunications in the country and connect it to the soon to be implemented in 2020, EllaLink subsea cable. The EllaLink subsea cable connects Brasil to Portugal, however, its route runs through the West African island nation of Cabo Verde.

Connecting Africa to the world

Beyond these two cables, the continent over the past several years is now surrounded by several high speed subsea cables connecting it to North and South America, Europe and Asia.

However, in the discussions around Internet connectivity in Africa, what is more important than subsea cables is terrestrial fiber cables connecting various African countries together.

A map of all the subsea telecommunications cables around the world. Source: submarinecablemap.com

Subsea cables linking Africa to the rest of the world are partly important because they reduce latency and the time taken to, among others, consume content that resides in data centers outside the continent.

Terrestrial fiber is important for Africa's development

However, this still, in my opinion, speaks to trade and industry models from yesteryear when Africa was mostly used as a source of labour and natural resources and in turn the finished product shipped back to the continent as a consumer product.

A map of rail networks in Africa built during colonial times which still persist to this day. Souce: citi.io

This is best illustrated when you look at the map of railway lines across Africa. Most, with the exception of Southern Africa, were built in a linear manner going from inland straight to a major port to facilitate the exporting of mostly raw natural resources. Very few railway lines in Africa connect with neighbouring or between cities. What is interesting, is that, as of 2013, the terrestrial map of fibre cables has an uncanny resemblance to the map of railway lines built during colonial times.

(2013) A map of terrestrial fiber cables across Africa. Source: manypossibilities.net

The importance of terrestrial fiber can never be over emphasized. For starters it lays the groundwork that makes it possible for us to have data centers in Africa that can serve data, media and information directly from the continent or its individual countries. This not only speaks to reduction in latency, increase in speeds but also data sovereignty.

Economic development

with the recent launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area, terrestrial fiber is important to intra-Africa trade. Where before your request for information for a server sitting in Kenya if you are in South Africa would need to be re-routed via Europe, North America or Asia, this can be a direct request.

It also opens up many other opportunities.On that note, it is encouraging to see the huge task that Liquid Telecom has undertaken with its One Africa broadband network which is well on its way of connecting all of Africa after recently signing an agreement to build a fiber network in South Sudan which will also be connected to their pan-African fiber network.

It is commendable that we are linking Africa to the world, but more important is to link Africa to Africa.

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