French telecoms giant Orange Group and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have signed a ‘strategic’ deal, which will see the French firm’s local unit Orange DRC manage the country’s recently deployed fibre-optic backbone, as well as the controversial landing station in Muanda. BizTechAfrica quotes telecoms minister Kin-Kiey Mulumba as saying: ‘As soon as the Prime Minister gave permission to go ahead with the deal, I instructed the Societe Congolaise des Postes et Telecommunications (SCPT) to sign it. This is to demonstrate that the fibre-optic [landing] station is not a white elephant as some have said or written.’
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation (CITCC) commenced work on the rollout of the government’s USD221 million fibre backbone in late-2012, with the first 1,500km phase of the project encompassing Muanda, Bas-Congo and Kinshasa. Phase two of the initiative got underway in April 2013 with 3,500km of new infrastructure expected to be extended from Kinshasa to Katanga, through the provinces of Bandundu and Kasai.
On 14 June 2013 the DRC was belatedly connected to the West Africa Cable System (WACS) submarine link after a catalogue of errors by the government. Despite a recommendation from French-US equipment manufacturer Alcatel-Lucent, which endorsed an Indian company called Creative Electronics to build the station and deploy a fibre-optic cable route to the capital, the SCPT intervened and instead gave the job to local company Smart Trading Ideas. Smart had neither experience nor knowledge of the technology they were hired to utilise, and in April 2011, when the boat deploying the WACS arrived, the cable could not be connected at Muanda as there was no infrastructure in place to do so. Further, in May 2012 it was revealed that the problems had been exacerbated by financial irregularities at the SCPT, which saw USD3 million worth of government funds effectively ‘vanish’; the director general was subsequently charged with high treason and jailed for his part in the scandal.