Interview: Axcèle Kissangou-Mouele
What are the remaining main obstacles for highspeed connection in Gabon?
AXCÉLE KISSANGOU-MOUELE: We need to accelerate the construction programme of digital infrastructure to achieve the goals of the Digital Gabon plan. This plan consists of six digital objectives that are simultaneously divided into 19 programmes, which include like construction of the submarine cable, the construction of a national broadband backbone, and construction of a national data centre and internet exchange point. If such roll-out efforts conclude successfully, we will be able to provide the country with high-speed connections, improve quality and extend geographic coverage.
One of the main challenges is the liberalisation of the sector, as stated in the 2001 Law of Telecommunication Regulations. Similar to the experiences of other countries, one obstacle that arises during service liberalisation comes from the management of the market opening. We need to remain pragmatic with current advancements. For example, we have launched an international call for tenders for the submarine cable’s management, as it has already been built but it not yet operational. We aim to provide free and equitable access, generating wealth for other sectors. Concerning the terrestrial backbone, the bid has been executed and two firms have reached the final stage. We expect approximately 15-16 months for construction.
What will be the impact on the country’s internet penetration rate, especially in rural areas?
KISSANGOU-MOUELE: The democratisation of internet will enable us to reach every corner of the nation, especially rural areas where internet services are still not as developed as we would like. This infrastructure will have a direct impact on tariffs, which will more competitive than current prices and substantially lower for the final consumer, who will see their internet prices fall in line with other countries with long internet trajectories in the next three years. The price reduction will also accelerate the use of internet services among the population and boost the internet penetration rate. It will also have a positive impact on content. Currently, content is limited and the high-speed connection will allow operators to upgrade and enrich their portfolios of products and services, which will eventually benefit the consumer. The better the services at a competitive price, the more customers will be willing to purchase them repeatedly, and the overall internet penetration rate will be enhanced.
How is the Central Africa Backbone Programme going to affect the sub-region?
KISSANGOU-MOUELE: The World Bank has implemented this regional programme for a broadband network in Central Africa and it has two main objectives: increasing the coverage of the network and reducing the cost of telecommunications services. We have obtained a loan of $58m from the World Bank to attend to two components. The first concerns international communication via the submarine cable, which has already concluded. The second is the land-based project. The national backbone, which is in its first phase, will go from Libreville to Franceville and from there connect with the Republic of the Congo. Gabon is looking for financial resources to extend the second phase from Port-Gentil to Mayumba and then to the rest of the territory. The challenge faced in this initiative is that every country in the sub-region follows its own pace, however, the World Bank funds have enabled all of us to accelerate our work. Every country needs to first implement a national network in order to eventually be able to connect with surrounding countries. Once these projects are finalised, the impact at an economic level will be immediate, especially in terms of trade. If we want to make profit from the new infrastructure, we cannot only limit ourselves to local customers; we need to target the regional market. This is why we have signed a partnership to connect with the Republic of the Congo. We will also expand our connections to the northern region, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
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