The inland DR Congo cable

The inland DR Congo cable

It’s really unfortunate how language spheres work to separate information on the net. While it’s pretty well known that there are currently three deep sea internet cables being run up the east side of Africa, it seems that very few have heard about the new cable being deployed from the Atlantic Coast through DR Congo to the capital, Kinshasa. This is a 565km route that the cable has to take and while I realize that it’s not as massive a distance as the sea cables going up East Africa, this is really good news.

I found out most of the information from this article [dead site now] in French. The course of the cable is going to start on the coast at Muanda, bounce through Matadi and then to Kinshasa. The trench is all being dug by hand with the laborers getting paid the equivalent of USD $1 a meter. To connect this cable, it will tie in to the WACS line, although the potential 150 gigabits from that line will be dropped to a mere 3.8 megabits. I was unclear if that was for an individual connection or for the entire pipe as that would be pretty scant speed if it were the case. Once folks on this connection get word of bitorrent, you can kiss that pipe goodbye!

The deployment of this cable actually even brought out the president, Kabila II to inaugurate it. Seeing as how this is the first land internet connection being deployed in DR Congo (a nation of 2.3 million square kilometers and 66 million people), it’s understandable that this would be a big occasion. But there was another reason for this in that Kabila wanted to emphatically state that the fiber was not copper and thus had no value. While that isn’t completely true and it may seem like a rather ridiculous thing to have to say, Congo is notorious for “Article 15” which is a remnant leftover from Mobutu times in which he basically decreed that it was “okay to steal just a little”. Probably one of the most impressive examples of this was when 75km of power lines were stolen… in one night. So, one can understand that 565km of fiber would be a tempting target for thieves.

Why Now?

Of course, that’s the big question in all of this. It simply boils down to the fact that the Chinese government is backing the entire project as they are with a great many projects in Congo currently. Sitting at the Dambisa Moyo talk in San Francisco last Friday, you would get the feeling that the Chinese are really the good guys in all of this. They see potential development in DR Congo and are working to make it happen. The only issue in this is that I have yet to see a single, massive world power do something just because they want to help out. The US and Russia proved that point again and again. It is the case that there is a great deal of coltan in the east of DR Congo, as well as a great many other minerals. The Chinese know very well that this region (Katanga) holds one of the biggest yields of minerals in the world.

Sure, time may show that the Chinese are doing this for the good of Congo, but I don’t buy Moyo’s argument and I don’t think that a country who is manufacturing nearly all of the world’s personal electronics is going to ignore a country where one of the most crucial materials for the manufacture of said products exists in great abundance. In the meantime, I hope that the Congolese will indeed get some speedier internet, at least in part of the country. I know very well how sorely lacking it is.

5 Replies to “The inland DR Congo cable”

  1. Heh, I’m assuming from Portugal or that the author put an extra zero on there. I just mapped it and came up with about 500km for the Muanda-Kinshasa leg, so I’ve corrected the article. That’s the problem in being surrounded by distance in miles at the moment, you just don’t really double check these things…

  2. I’m personally delighted and surprised how fast the fiber optic has come to DRC. I don’t know personally the exact details of the deal with the Chinese, but I can only witness that it’s happening.

    Unfortunately, fiber optic comes at a price for freedom as well: Kabila’s government will firewall it. The Chinese also have that expertise to show off.

    Like the shutting down of RFI waves three months ago throughout the country, this could spell trouble for independent websites and few blogs.

    Anecdote: after the domain management of .cd was sold to a Swiss in the nineties, it was finally repatriated and managed by a Congolese recently (info to verify). There’s a wish at the National Telecom’s Ministry that Congo should get’s a chunk of the web.

  3. Why do you think that Kabila’s government will firewall the internet? Have you seen some examples during your recent visit?

    And on the .cd domain, I hope it becomes easily accessible to actual Congolese. It’s sad that many countries in Africa are not using their own top country domains because of high fees, not knowing that it’s a possibility, bad functioning, etc…

  4. Why firewall it? Why not, it’s rather trivial to put a filter on a cable or even monitor usage. It’s easier to track online with logs than on mobile frequencies which require a fair amount of human resources to monitor.

    Kabila’s government are tightening free speech right now and more and more journalists are being openly threatened :

    http://appablog.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/rdc-la-fondation-hirondelle-inquiete-pour-les-menaces-aux-journalistes/

    As for .cd, I guess one only needs to register here to find out it really works: http://www.nic.cd/

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