Central African Backbone project faces possible budget shortfall

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The Central African Backbone (CAB) program, funded by the World Bank, may run out of money before it is completed, according to a report from the Republic of Congo.

The bank is funding the project at the total cost of US$215 million. The program is aimed at helping the Central African region develop a high-speed telecommunications backbone infrastructure, increasing access and lowering costs for users.

The Republic of Congo said in a report that 53 of the 66 CAB projects have been completed, but that a budget and expenses review is necessary to prevent funds from being exhausted before the entire program is rolled out.

The report has revealed that 25 percent of the budget allocated to the CAB has already been spent on the completed small projects. However, bigger projects under the CAB program remain unfinished.

The report also calls for the restructuring of the whole project. The CAB project is expected to facilitate the interconnection among Central African countries.

The program involves 11 countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Chad and Equatorial Guinea. Currently, Central Africa has the lowest quality and highest cost of Internet and telecom services in Africa, according to the World Bank.

The bank says the population in the region pays up to two times more in monthly Internet rates than people living in other African countries, and up to three times more than those living in other parts of the world. However the bank, which funds most of the ICT projects in Africa, expects the CAB to bring the much-needed connectivity to Central African countries at reduced monthly rates.

Communication problems in Central Africa have mainly been caused by lack of investment in the telecom sector by foreign operators, following years of civil wars that have damaged telecom infrastructure and killed millions of people.

This week, the bank signed a $58 million agreement with Gabon for the construction of a fiber-optic network that will cross over to the Republic of Congo, as part of the CAB program.

But critics believe that the CAB program will not bring much change to the ICT sector in the Central African region as long as the region’s telecommunication infrastructure remains dilapidated and lacking investments by foreign telecom operators.

Edith Mwale, a telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development, said in an interview that merely having the CAB will not change the essential outlook of the region’s telecom sector.

“Continued fighting has forced major foreign operators to stay out of that region,” Mwale said. “What this means is that much of the communication infrastructure there remains dilapidated.”

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