One Network Area: Potential for Africa’s transformation

Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda's Minister for East African Community Affairs.

Africa has often been said to be a continent that leapfrogs various intermediary stages of technology. From fixed to mobile telephony, Africa is indeed known to leapfrog the usual phases of technological advancement.

I am not surprised therefore, that on a global level, the East African Community (EAC) is one of the few, if not the only regional bloc that has already scrapped mobile roaming charges. And this is just the beginning.

Introduced in October 2014, the One Network Area aims to harmonize tariffs on mobile voice calls, SMS and data transmission within the EAC. Today, roaming charges between Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have been removed and all mobile calls between the three countries are local.

This has led to a minimum 400 per cent increase in the volume of calls; a direct benefit to EAC citizens and African businesses operating across EAC borders.

Previously, making calls across the EAC was in many cases more expensive than calling Europe, America or Asia.

The second phase of the ONA initiative is underway, whereby telecom operators have begun revising SMS and data charges downwards. Rwanda began this process in August 2015, and the idea is to have a truly integrated regional bloc with all mobile telephony barriers removed.

Compare this with older and more advanced regional blocs in the West or in Asia. The European Union (EU) only recently voted through new rules that will scrap mobile roaming charges – a reality that will happen in 2017.

This has taken the EU almost a decade of negotiations, and an interim cap on roaming charges is to take effect by the end of April this year, ahead of a full ban in 2017.

That the EAC managed to start this process in less than one year after an EAC Heads of State directive, illustrates how African countries really have the potential to make quantum leaps in development.

Tanzania recently expressed interest to join the ONA and so has Ethiopia; even though it isn’t a member of the EAC. South Sudan is already part of ONA.

At the highest political level, regional integration is about bringing people together and creating environments conducive for tangible gains and inclusive growth. I like to think of just how much more the EAC and Africa can achieve with this type of leadership that made the One Network Area a reality.

We are on the brink of a truly connected future. It is this spirit that convened six African presidents to sign the agreement for a One Africa Network, projected to be operational by July, 2016.

This decision was undertaken during a Smart Africa board meeting, chaired by President Paul Kagame at the margins of the Africa Union Summit in January, 2016.

The beauty about broadband is that it isn’t constrained by physical borders or distance.

When executed, the One Africa Network will see calling rates across the entire continent reduce drastically. One can only imagine the multiple opportunities for growth, inclusion and development.

It is exciting to look into a future where the EAC’s political will to connect its people even more may be replicated across the continent. The EAC One Network Area, the Single Tourist Visa and the use of IDs for travel in the EAC are just but a few examples of what is in our means to transform the lives of our citizens for the better, once we commit to it.

What the success story of ONA tells us is that the most intractable barriers are not of physical or regulatory nature, but those within our minds.

By Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda’s Minister for East African Community Affairs.

Source: The New Times

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