Surf Africa

Africa lit a shiny new fiber-optic undersea cable almost two years ago—so why are so few Africans using it?

19 min read
Photo showing Table Mountain rising up in the middle of Cape Town, South Africa.
Southwest by West: Table Mountain rises up in the middle of Cape Town, South Africa (left). The owner of this cybercafe in Owerri, Nigeria, sells slow Internet access via satellite instead of broadband access through an undersea fiber-optic cable (right).
Photo: Harry Goldstein

Johnson I. Ejimanya is a one-man pony express. Walking the exhaust-fogged streets of Owerri, Nigeria, Ejimanya, the engineering dean of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, carries with him a department’s worth of communications, some handwritten, others on disk. He’s delivering them to a man with a PC and an Internet connection, who converts the missives into e-mails and downloads the responses. To Ejimanya, broadband means lugging a big bundle of printed e-mails back with him to the university, which despite being one of the country’s largest and most prestigious engineering schools has no reliable means of connecting to the Internet.

Owerri is a sprawling town hacked out of the jungle in the heart of the oil-rich Niger Delta region formerly known as Biafra. What galls Ejimanya and his colleagues is that Owerri is barely 50 kilometers from the oil city of Port Harcourt and Nigeria’s recently inaugurated 5-Gb/s undersea fiber-optic connection to the outside world. Since the cable landed in the commercial capital of Lagos in December 2001, virtually nothing has been done to hook up the many businesses, schools, and other entities that could benefit from it. And so for Ejimanya and millions of other Nigerians, the high-speed, always-on Internet enjoyed by people in developed countries remains a distant dream.

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