ICT developments required within the ECOWAS region

Internal trade within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been growing in value by over 60%. Nevertheless, transport and logistics costs are among the highest in the world, and the demand for infrastructure in transport, ICT, energy and water has been predicted to reach significant levels.

The ECOWAS region, made up of 15 member states, has a population of around 300 million and an economic growth rate of about 6%. According to Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, president of the ECOWAS Commission, a number of infrastructure projects have been earmarked to meet the requirements for growth in ECOWAS trade, populations and member state economies.

“An initial assessment of about 20 selected priority projects, in all the sub-sectors, amounts to about US$85 billion, comprising 85 regional infrastructure projects in transport, energy and ICT,” stated Ouedraogo in a recent report. “There remains a lot more to be done to strengthen economic infrastructure in the region with a view to making the business environment appropriate for the global market.”

According to the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the projected demand for ICT infrastructure across the continent is predicted to grow significantly before 2020.

“Demand, around 300 gigabits per second in 2009, will reach 6,000 gigabits per second by 2018. The ECOWAS Commission has therefore been pursuing several programmes to ensure maximum connectivity among member states,” explained Ouedraogo.

Two ICT-related infrastructure developments have been prioritised in the strategic planning of the community.

ECOWAN: The ECOWAS Wide Area Network (ECOWAN) aims to connect all of the ECOWAS institutions, governments and affiliated organisations in the region. The purpose of this project, according to Ouedraogo, is to assist in the exchange of information. In addition, it will offer ECOWAS member states a secure portal for administration and communication of financial transactions within the community.

“The project will put in place a fibre-optic network within member states (‘middle mile’ connectivity), enhance cross-border penetration as well as ‘last mile’ (end-user) connectivity,” added Ouedraogo. “The coastal corridor leg of the network will connect cities along the coast and develop internal connections for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.”

ICT terrestrial connectivity: The ICT terrestrial connectivity project aims to ensure that each member state of the ECOWAS has no less than two broadband infrastructure connections. In addition, it will provide landlocked countries – in the region – with access to submarine cables.

“The project will secure access to landing stations in ECOWAS,” explained Ouedraogo. “Implementation will include the feasibility studies and business plans on links including Mali–Niger–Nigeria and Burkina Faso–Benin; and broadband links between Mano–River Countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) and neighbouring countries (Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau).”