African nations agree to US$1 billion Indian satellite project

African countries are signing on to a billion-dollar satellite project funded by India.

A critical mass of countries are signing on to a plan for India to invest US$1 billion in the Pan-African e-Network satellite project, a joint initiative with the Africa Union aimed at developing the region's information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure.

The African Union last year entered into an agreement that calls for the Indian government to supply funds for the project. The Indian government will finance the project over a period of five years through a grant to the African Union. Ethiopia for example, has been given a grant of US$2.13 million from India for the project.

So far, 27 African countries have signed agreements for the project, designed to connect African countries by satellite and fiber-optic network. The countries that have signed for the project include Zambia, Gambia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mauritius and Tanzania.

The project will include installation of Very Small Aperture Technologies (VSATs) to carry VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) communication. The VSATs will be used for online education and telemedicine programs expected to extend ICT infrastructure to rural areas and other underserved communities. The telemedicine network will be used to share knowledge from Indian doctors with their African counterparts through an online training program.

"The project is significant to African countries because it overcomes limitations that make access to remote areas in most African countries difficulty by using VSATs," said Patrick Sinyinza, Zambia's ambassador to Ethiopia, where the project is based.

India hopes the investment will help it sell more telecommunications equipment to Africa, including VSATs, as well as services for telemedicine and other social applications. Indian government officials also say the country wants to make inroads into Africa's ICT market before China steps up investments on the continent.

In order to participate in the e-network project, African countries must sign agreements with Telecommunications Consultants India, a government enterprise.

The Pan-African e-Network project was first announced by former Indian president Abdul Kalam in South Africa in 2004. In October 2005, the Indian government and the African Union signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize the project.

The Africa Union, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is an organization chartered to accelerate economic development and peace in Africa. Senegal has been chosen by the African Union host a hub in Africa that will act as the main contact point between Africa and India and oversee the delivery of services.

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