East Africa telecoms policy needs fast reform

By:
Bill Boyle
Published on:

The United Nations Conference on trade and development held in Kenya has agreed that historical tariff barriers must be lifted

In talks which took place at the recent United Nations Conference on Trade and development, held in Kenya, between African ministers, there was agreement that present and existing domestic regulations, particularly in the form of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs), remain a barrier to free trade across Africa.

Opening the conference UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Regulatory frameworks governing trade, investment in and technology play a critical role, and rather than working to change the economic model for the better, many actual and would-be leaders are instead embracing protectionism and even xenophobia,” he said.

Speaking as one of the panellists considering the question of lowering the hurdles for trade costs, regulatory convergence and regional integration,Eddy Njoroge, writing in Standard Digital, said that trade barriers had to come down, particularly for the telecoms industry which contributes some $300 billion to Africa’s GDP:  “While we strive to position our regional telecommunications industry as the continent’s most competitive space that foreign investors can take note of, we need to clean our Augean stable – we have placed upon ourselves debilitating trade barriers right at home.”

The ministers present were aware of the glaring contradictions in the present regulatory environment. The example was used in the discussion that while Tanzania’s converged licencing model supports the so-called tripleplay telecoms; IT and broadcasting model, Uganda’s model is on emphasising infrastructure licencing and Kenya’s unified licencing framework concentrates on the service level. Rwanda, the discussion noted, issues an individual standard telecoms licence while Burundi offers only a basic telecoms licence.

As Njoroge said: “In a nutshell, the Governments of the day and private sector in the telecommunications industry should work in tandem to tackle barriers to regional and intra-African trade and make the region competitive."