The PANAFTEL Remains on the Agenda

by david.nunes
Yaya KouroumaIssue:Africa and the Middle East 1999
Article no.:9
Topic:The PANAFTEL Remains on the Agenda
Author:Yaya Kourouma
Title:Head of the African Division
Organisation:Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT)
PDF size:20KB

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Article abstract

The idea of a Panafrican Telecommunications Network was submitted for the first time in Dakar in 1962, during the Regional Commission for Africa, organised by the CCITT (International Consulting Committee for the Telegraph and Telephone) known today as TSB (Telecommunications Standardisation Bureau).

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The problem was to find a satisfying and durable solution for the setting up of a direct telephone, telegraph and telex communication between the African countries, notably the Sub Sahara countries, without relaying through stations outside of the continent. After the African countries gained independence during the 60s, telecommunications were mostly achieved by decametrically wave connections, linking each African capital to its mother country, primarily exploited on a vacation hour basis. Because of the financial support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) together with the collaboration of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union Organisation (AUO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been able to undertake pre-investment research/survey between 1968 and 1972. Considering both technologies available at that period and the needs identified, the research strongly recommended the use of (analog radio relay systems with direct sight?) , as these systems were able to carry both voice and video signals on long distances/ways? Those wireless beams should be combined/linked/connected? To satellite earth stations to carry certain types of traffics. The promoters of the PANAFTEL early became aware that its implementation would spread over many years, and it was thought that the dynamism of the PANAFTEL concept itself would activate its evolution and meet the new technologies as they became available on the market, the purpose being to have a reliable and good quality telecommunications network as the key tool for the economic and social development of the African countries. The Progresses Achieved in the PANAFTEL Set Up. Since the official launch (Addis-Ababa, December 1972) the PANAFTEL now includes more than 40 wireless beams with direct sight, adding up to a total of 40 000 kilometres. In addition to these beams, comes a submarine cable connecting Nigeria to Europe with land junctions in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Dakar (Senegal) and Casablanca (Morocco). The connections are completed by international transit telephonic and telex central, most of the time combined to earth satellite telecommunications stations owned by INTELSAT, and currently operating in almost all the African countries. For those reasons in the beginning, the PANAFTEL network was made up of international channels and communication hubs. not sufficient for national operationa but it rapidly appeared that Consequently, in June 1981, the AUO Counsel of Ministers, during the 37th Ordinary session, which took place in Nairobi, extended the PANAFTEL idea/concept through its CM/Res-88 (XXXVII) Act, recommending the constitution, the exploitation and the maintenance of interconnected national networks, concretising the PANAFTEL network. This extension of the PANAFTEL concept is the source of the ITU support and implication within the RASCOM plan. Included in the RASCOM plan are efforts to disclosure rural and far areas in Africa. From this view, earth systems, satellite connections and submarine cables are the complementary and conditional components to the achievement of a reliable, modern and good quality Integrated Continental Network. Since the official launch of PANAFTEL in December 1972, the UNDP and the ITU combined their efforts to set up a series of projects, in order to encourage the African telecommunications authorities in implementing suitable infrastructure for the PANAFTEL such as: RAF/73/023 and RAF/82/060 regional projects, in extending and utilising the network RAF/87/007 regional project; or in maintaining and rehabilitating the network RAF/87/85 project, which will give rise to the National Improvement and Maintenance Plans (PNAM/NIMP). But, in spite of what have been done during the last four decades, we should note that the interconnection between the African countries remain a problem to resolve. Extension and Modernisation of the PANAFTEL Network. The evaluation achieved in regards to the above regional projects tend to show that the results achieved during the set up of the PANAFTEL network considerably vary from one sub region to another. Thus, whereas the sub regions of Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Western Africa have been able to establish direct connections between their respective countries, Central Africa is still behind. With the new technologies and specially the new services calling for the utilisation of wide frequency bands such as the INTERNET, it is necessary that the African authorities and the private sector, become more involved in the network exploitation through the different telecommunications restructuring processes. There is also a need for them to modernise the network by judiciously combining all technologies available and tested, in order to build a telecommunications network representative for the continent, which would not only meet the actual needs of those countries but also the needs to come, preparing Africa for its insertion within the global information technology infrastructure (GII). Moreover, the research achieved as part of the project AFRICA ONE in regards to the connection of enclave countries, is relying on the PANAFTEL channels, in order to reach that target. With the threat on practices such as call-back etc, characterising African countries, which in theory allows African countries to misuse the international traffic system 9it will be more difficult for the African authorities and operators to rely on the incomes generated by international telecommunications crucial to the network development. It is high time for the authorities to change their strategy. They need to prioritise the extension and the modernisation of the national and sub regional networks, in order to become less vulnerable to the threat of repartition? duties. That is why it is important to include a sufficient number of explicit clauses in the agreements between authorities and private partners, in order to promote the utilisation of the national and regional connections to carry the African and international traffic. Several African countries involved in the privatisation process have been somewhat reluctant to participate in projects such as AFRICA ONE Sub regional and regional organisations such as COMESA, SADC, CEDEAO, UEMOA or UPAT are in demand like never before, to play a role in the development of the modernisation and the rational exploitation of the national and sub regional communication infrastructures. In that way, the institution of a committee, reflecting on telecommunications and decided by the African ministers in charge of telecommunications during the African Conference on Telecommunications in Accra (Ghana) in March 1999 should be welcome. Conclusion For all those reasons, and despite the private sector coming into the management and the exploitation of telecommunications in Africa, it is important for the PANAFTEL concept to be maintained and activated as much as possible, to create a huge synergy between earth systems, satellite systems and submarine cables, in order to prepare the African continent to take up the challenge of the 21st century.

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