Weekly digest for 17 Sep 2021


This week’s main story is from Cable.co.uk and its latest ranking of global internet speeds. Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa are ranked the lowest in the world with average speeds of 6.6 Mbps and 5.68 Mbps respectively. The leading countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are Reunion (43.6 Mbps) and South Africa (19.9 Mbps). The slowest download speed is in Ethiopia at 1.2 Mbps. Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau have just slightly faster download speeds. There are multiple causes for this poor performance for Sub-Saharan Africa, but key issues are:

  1. High taxes and state interference: The state is taking a more prominent role in a lot of African countries. In Namibia, for example, the state owns 100% of the telecom sector. Namibia is ranked 185th out of 224 countries for download speeds. Similarly, the state is taking a more prominent role in Tanzania. Taxation is high and getting higher, with new, telecom specific taxes introduced across a range of countries (D.R. Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe are some examples);

  2. Spectrum paralysis: High Demand Spectrum takes far too long to allocate and is usually allocated to national mobile operators. Governments don’t understand that high prices for spectrum are ultimately fed down into higher prices for consumers.

But there is good news on both fronts: in Ethiopia, a second operator has just been licensed (a consortium led by Safaricom) and an RFP issued for the partial privatization of Ethio Telecom. This should really shake up the sector. In Botswana, the regulator has issued an Invitation to Apply for spectrum that is low-cost, regional and also available to licensees outside of the mobile operators.

  • COMESA: The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Competition Commission has fined Malawi Telecom Towers, Helios Towers Limited and Madagascar Towers SA a combined total of 0.05% of their turnover in the Common Market for failure to notify COMESA of their proposed merger. It’s difficult to see how this sort of double regulation (country-specific competition tribunals and then regional ones as well) can support competition in the region.
  • Uganda: Africell is effectively bankrupt and struggling to clear its debt, especially interconnection fees to MTN and Airtel. UCC is laying down tough terms for Africell, but this looks like a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
  • Botswana: Its been a busy few months for BOCRA. It has just announced tenders to connect 61 villages to high speed broadband through a combination of upgrading existing infrastructure or subsidising mobile operators to extend 4G services.
  • Tanzania: The government plans to use the electricity provider’s utility poles to extend backhaul infrastructure. The project will be executed by the state-owned TTCL. Given Tanzania’s poor record for government intervention in the sector, this looks like a white elephant.