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The African Development Bank Open Data Platform Should Include ICT Infrastructure

13 July, 2013
Dr. Jabulani Dhliwayo
July 13, 2013

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has just announced the completion of an Open Data Platform for the entire African continent. The AfDB announcement follows their completion of the last phase of the project for 14 African countries that had not yet been included in the project. The countries include: Benin, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Kenya, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, and Togo.

Following the completion of the project, statistical data for all the 54 African countries are now readily available to those interested. Statistical data includes social and economic statistics, data on key development indicators such as climate change, food security, infrastructure, and gender equality which will obviously be useful for researchers in Africa and abroad.

My main interest in the AfDB data platform was the infrastructure section, especially ICT infrastructure data. All I found was the usual information that I can easily find on many other online platforms - number of fixed lines, number of personal computers, and mobile and Internet penetration. The level of ICT infrastructure data required in Africa is significantly more complex than what AfDB is offering and they should consider doing some more work to include more information critical to the development of ICT in Africa.

The key drivers for the ICT data reported by AfDB are the backbone networks that are currently in short supply in Africa. If AfDB were to include data on all the communication backbone networks in Africa – fibre optic, microwave and satellite – that interconnect all African countries to one another and to the world, then their platform would be priceless.

For many years, many of us with an interest in communications in Africa have been advocating for a modern intra-Africa network to replace the old Pan African Network ( PANAFTEL) and enable better and more cost effective communications between African countries.

Today, things have changed drastically since PANAFTEL, with Africa boasting of more than ten submarine fibre optic cables and over 20Tbps of submarine network design capacity connecting Africa to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, limited terrestrial fibre optic networks create a bottleneck between the submarine cable landing points and communities inland. More importantly, the 700 thousand kilometres of terrestrial transmission networks in Africa are not enough to effectively connect all African communities to one another. Moreover, these networks are being developed by over a hundred individual operators without an overall view of how they can come together to form a seamless continental backbone. Such a continental network with well-designed Internet exchange points could enable African traffic to stay in Africa, improve intra-African communications and significantly reduce communication costs between African countries.

The African Union has proposed a study of networks that have been developed so far, how they connect together and where missing links exist. With such a database of information, the continental body plans to work with African operators to develop a strategy to close the missing links and eventually complete a continental network. Unfortunately, this exercise has remained on the drawing board for a long time, presumably due to lack of resources.

It only makes sense for AfDB to extend their Data Platform to include telecommunication network infrastructure and support the African Union initiative.


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