The second major fiber optic cable linking East Africa to the rest of the world, and specifically to Europe, known as the East African Submarine Cable System, was completed on Tuesday. Various studies have showed, or at least have suggested that better internet connection is good for stimulating businesses. If that hypothesis is correct, then East Africa has made one step further towards encouraging local entrepreneurs and other economic actors to diversify and expand their businesses. Of course, the fiber optic cable on its own is not enough to generate any economic growth and other factors are currently affecting local businesses. For example, Ugandan and Tanzanian business owners often complain about the power outages they experience on a constant basis which are clearly affecting their profits. While this problem is not necessarily the case for the major cities in East Africa – Nairobi, Kampala or Dar es Salaam, it definitely affects residents and businesses in secondary cities. For example, in Arusha, Mombasa or Mwanza I have often experienced long power outages myself so I speak from experience.
That being said, let’s hope that the new fiber optic cable will at least stimulate the local economies by encouraging more local businesses – restaurants, smaller hotels, shops etc – to allow buyers to pay with credit cards. Given the fact that all East African countries are predominantly cash economies, the possibility to pay with a credit card has not been made available to those consumers that have credit and debit cards.
Other potential benefits of a better internet access could be the incentive to create and use various online marketplace platforms, facilitating buyer-seller online transactions, and online promotion for various local firms. After all, buying goods online is a too common technique and practice in the West while Africa (with the notable exception of South Africa) is trailing behind the rest of the world from this perspective.
Furthermore, it might be possible that with this second fiber optic cable internet access for private internet users could become more accessible. At least in the last five years, internet access in Dar es Salaam has been very slow even comparing to other parts of Africa. In addition, getting internet access at a local cyber café in Dar es Salaam was something rather cheap for me but that was definitely not the case for the majority of local users – paying US$1.2 per hour on a constant basis is an expense which is not really affordable to most people.
Another hope of mine is that we could see more Wi-Fi hot spots in East Africa. In each of the major East African cities I know of only one cyber-café that offers Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, Rwandan President Paul Kagame pledged to make wireless access available everywhere in Kigali, the capital of the country, as early as July 2009, though I haven’t really been able to confirm whether this actually happened or not. Nevertheless, even the prospect of such a project for the rest of East Africa is something that can bring a lot of excitement.
The East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) is also supposed to actually have a direct effect on people’s lives starting in July 2010 when local residents in East Africa will allegedly have access to more affordable and higher speed internet.