COMESA and EU Partner to Boost ICT and Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is embarking on a mission to lower mobile phone network roaming and interconnection charges as part of its strategy to enhance regional integration, trade, and the growth of the ICT sector. This initiative is bolstered by a significant collaboration with the European Union (EU).

According to Kenya News Agency, The COMESA Secretariat and the EU have recently signed a Grant contribution agreement worth 8 million Euros, aimed at enhancing governance and the environment in the ICT sector (EGEE-ICT) across the Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean region (EA-SA-IO). State Department for ICT and the Digital Economy Principal Secretary (PS) Eng. John Tanui, in a speech read by the Director of ICT at the Ministry, Lyford Murithi, emphasized the Kenyan government’s commitment to digital development as a key driver of prosperity and economic progress in both the country and the wider region.

Tanui noted that Kenya’s digital economy contributes 9.24% to the country’s GDP and highlighted the recent launch of an assembly plant for affordable mobile phones, aiming to increase the uptake of digital services and deepen digital transformation across all societal levels.

The EGEE-ICT program, led by COMESA, is viewed as a vital initiative to spur ICT growth in the region. Tanui pointed out the importance of developing model policy and regulatory guidelines for the use of fiber infrastructure on an open access principle and infrastructure sharing, aimed at ensuring fair access to these crucial networks.

High roaming charges and costly international calls have been identified as barriers to communication within Africa. Reducing these costs is expected to positively impact cross-border trade, free movement of people, and regional integration. Kenya’s experience since joining the EAC one network area in 2012 has demonstrated the benefits of reduced communication costs, including increased traffic between Kenya and EAC partner states.

Dr. Bernard Zawanda, COMESA Ag. Officer in Charge of the Infrastructure Division, explained that the EGEE-ICT program aims to deepen regional integration and bolster the ICT sector by reviewing and developing various ICT policies and regulatory frameworks. This program will benefit the 29 countries of the EA-SA-IO region and is implemented through a cooperation framework involving five regional economic communities, with COMESA as the lead.

James Kivuva, from the East African Community (EAC) secretariat, mentioned that the EAC is already implementing a roaming framework which has significantly reduced communication costs within the community. This COMESA-led project aims to extend these benefits to Southern and Northern African countries.

Leonard Chitundu of the COMESA Secretariat, in charge of the Telecommunications Unit, added that the high roaming charges in Africa are under scrutiny, with COMESA ministers recommending their abolishment. This move would lead to uniform calling rates across countries, facilitating easier and more affordable communication across the continent.