On the eve of the opening of the Johannesburg Summit of FOCAC, Vice-Minister Liu Lihua of MIIT, Secretary General Zhao Houliu of the ITU and communication ministers of five ECA member states jointly signed a MoU on Jointly Building an Information Expressway in East Africa, aimed at working together to build the East Africa information expressway — a broadband platform covering five ECA countries. This will promote economic and social development in various fields in the region, and help the transformation of the region toward a “Smart East Africa”. The development of ICT industry in Africa and the building of the “Belt and Road” will facilitate the transfer of Chinese technologies, products and services, which will be of positive significance for promoting international production capacity cooperation.
The Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was opened on December 4th when President Xi Jinping announced to upgrade China-Africa relationship into a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, and said that China is willing to implement ten major cooperation initiatives with the African side in the following three years. Such a portfolio has won high recognition of various participating parties and warm response from the international community, and the strengthening of information and communication network is a cooperation measure listed in the ten major cooperation initiatives.
Providing needed help
East Africa information expressway welcomed by all sides
On June 5th, Minister Miao Wei of the MIIT said when attending East Africa Information and Communication Infrastructure Development Forum that China is willing to work together with East African counties under the coordination of the ITU to build an information expressway in East Africa, to promote IT transformation in Africa by accelerating the improvement of information and communication infrastructure there. In the process, China will keep to the principle of government providing the platform, businesses playing the leading role, commercial operation, standard management, win-win cooperation and benefit to the people. The MIIT will encourage businesses of the two sides to expand their cooperation to promote ICT development in Africa.
Tu Senlin, director general of the International Cooperation Department of the MIIT, led a working team to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce and financial institutions to elaborate on the ideas for cooperation with Africa, winning support from various parties. Officials of the Department of Planning and Department of ICT Development of the MIIT conducted field trips to businesses to exchange views with them on how the Chinese businesses go global. At the same time, the MIIT keeps to the principle of businesses playing the leading role and of market orientation to encourage relevant businesses to participate in the design of cooperation frameworks and evaluation of projects. Companies such as China Telecom coordinate various parties of the industrial chain to participate in the planning of the commercial model, laying the foundation for Chinese businesses to work together to go global.
The project of East Africa information expressway includes the construction of backbone optical cable network and access system of undersea optical cables, aimed at building a broadband platform connect five East African countries, and undertaking services of sounds, data, graphs and internet access. On the basis of that, efforts will be made to gradually promote IT and internet application in East Africa, including e-governance, e-commerce, remote education, and remote health care. At the same time, it will help Africa to build a basic platform of information technology such as internet data center, cloud basis, big data center and ICT basis.
Working together to go global
Chinese businesses should form a synergy in their cooperation with Africa
Telecommunication equipment manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE entered the African market years ago and developed a stable cooperative relationship with main operators in Africa, thus gaining the market edge. Information construction businesses such as China Comservice have also participated in the construction of backbone networks and IDC in many African countries, developing a good brand there. All of these have laid the market foundation for the Chinese businesses to participate in telecom operation.
Up till now, China Telecom has established presence in 17 African countries, having put in place backbone communication nodes in Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria and constructing nodes in Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania. China Unicom also established its office in South Africa in 2012, and has already completed license application. China Comservice has constructed and delivered several communication projects with each of them worth nearly US$100 million. The Tanzania ICT project, DRC national optical cable network construction project and Ethiopia national ICT project it constructed have been delivered and achieved good economic returns.
With such opportunities, the advantage of China in equipment manufacturing and network construction should be fully leveraged to improve Africa’s broadband network and promote Chinese products and solutions with their own IPR. It can help related countries to realize ICT upgrading by constructing national data centers and public key infrastructure platforms, and at the same time facilitate the efforts of Chinese telecommunication companies and internet businesses to work together explore Africa’s information and communication markets.
However, the journey of Chinese communication businesses in Africa is not plain sailing. Due to their weakness in brand building and IPR, imbalance in the distribution of Africa’s industrial chain, and the problem of emphasis only on construction and equipments instead of operation and services, Chinese businesses need to establish a collaboration mechanism led by leading businesses and strengthen cooperation with multinational companies of Europe and the US, emerging countries and local businesses, in order to make a breakthrough in the industrial chain, and grow bigger and stronger.
Information and communication will become a blue sea of China-Africa cooperation
At the Africa Transformation Summit held last October, President Kagame of Rwanda said that by 2020, Africa is expected to attract US$400 billion of investment into the ICT sector. He said that the development of ICT will greatly promote technological advancement and new investment in other fields, which is the most effective way to help Africa to address the two problems of poverty and development. At present, East Africa has cancelled roaming charges across countries there, but underdevelopment of infrastructure remains the biggest bottleneck constraint of ICT development in Africa.
Starting from this year, African governments have gradually come to realize the importance of backbone networks for their development, especially for internet economy and industrialization. African countries are now releasing national planning and regional connectivity programmes based on broadband construction. For example, South African President Zuma announced to take broadband construction as one of the eight key national strategies, and related project construction has already started. Kenya has also made it clear that broadband construction is the foundation for ICT development, and plans to hold a national broadband construction conference in January, 2016.
China has its experience in the construction and operation of undersea cables, satellite communication and information expressways. It should draw from its own experience, seize the opportunities of Africa’s need for backbone networks, advocate a new concept of backbone network operation and security, and promote in-depth cooperation in telecommunication. This will not only provide ICT support for Africa’s fast economic and social development, but also help Chinese businesses to seize the historic opportunities of Africa’s ICT transformation, so that the African land full of vigour and vitality can bear fruits of China-Africa win-win cooperation.