One network area dream stalled by lack of political will

By Billy Rwothungeyo

Although Africa as a continent is yet to have a one network area

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Mobile telephony has been a massive success in Africa, but users still have to contend with high mobile roaming rates and incoming international tariffs when they travel to other countries in the countries on the continent.

The idea of "free roaming" across the continent has been floated around for a couple years now. During the 2015 Transform Africa Summit, leaders from across the continent pledged to make progress on this idea.

Two years later, nothing has come to fruition. Why? Rwandan president Paul Kagame has blamed the lack of political will as the sole reason why Africa is not yet one big network area.

"The delay has not been because of technology, it is not because we do not have the technology. In Africa, we even lack infrastructure but that integration has not happened because we lack infrastructure. It has been because we lack a sense of urgency to make what we already have in place to work for us," he said today at a leaders' summit at the 2017 Transform Africa Summit currently going on in Kigali.

"It is not even for the lack of understanding of creating that one network area that will serve us very well."

Although Africa as a continent is yet to have a one network area, regional blocs are championing the idea of free roaming. Kagame said this provides hope for the bigger one network area on the continent.

In 2014, East African Community regional bloc members Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania created a one network area, with benefits extending to South Sudan. Cross border rates were capped, while roaming charges were dropped. West African countries under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc last year followed suit and announced similar measures.

 "When we started (working on a one network area in East Africa), there were a lot of arguments, debates. Some people genuinely thought they were going to lose as others gain, but I think that was because of lack of understanding."

"The fact that we have five countries working together in this region, we have Rwanda and Gabon which is on the other side of the continent deciding to work together. It is also happening in West Africa. These are good signs of what is possible."