ICT Africa Writer
February 21, 2013
You ask most Africans about the shambolic state of their economies, and the response is always quick – it is the government’s fault. While governments ultimately bear the responsibility for the performance of their economies, some of the members of the African public have done a lot to destroy their economies. The theft of cable and destruction of telecommunication equipment is one area where some members of the African public are helping to bring their economies down.
When I visited a friend at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, the institution could hardly conduct some of its critical activities because the Internet was down. Apparently, somebody had dug up and cut a critical cable that linked the institution to the outside world. It took several days to repair the cable and get Internet going again, but not before the operator of the cable lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The disturbing part of it all is that the thieves steal copper to sell it on the black market for a small fraction of its nominal value and for almost nothing relative to the operator’s lack of revenue due to network outage. This scenario is replicated throughout the continent. In Ghana, we understand that some of the technicians who install the copper for their companies are the same people who come back at night to take it out. In Nigeria some have even taken it several notches up, using guns to bring down cable running over power lines to avoid handling the cable for fear of being electrocuted. By 1989, there were well maintained public call boxes in almost every street corner of Harare, Zimbabwe but today, all of them have been ripped off. The scenarios are too numerous to exhaust in this article.
There are a number of ways governments and the telecommunication industry can mitigate this. There has to be widespread education of the general public for them to understand that the telecommunication industry loss of income due to theft and vandalism has a profound impact on the economy and ultimately, the wellbeing of the individual. Better yet, telecommunication companies should replace copper with optical fibre, which has no value to thieves, wherever possible. While we know very well that the cost of replacing copper with fibre cable is very high, the long term impact is priceless. We just learnt that Telkom Kenya is investing Sh4 billion ($46 million) replacing its copper cable with fibre throughout the country. I hope other telecommunication operators will take heed.