The BPO Value Proposition for Africa

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Am on the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET), a multi-stakeholder discuss list and Mr. Waudo asked “Thanks to PS Ndemo for bringing this out. As for Wafula’s question, the work force survey undertaken by the CSK earlier this year revealed that there is very little linkage between what the ICT training institutions (including Universities) are producing and the requirements of the industry either now or in the foreseeable future. Certainly there appear
to be no mechanisms to facilitate such linkage. Perhaps something could be done now before we find ourselves in India’s position?”. Below is my intervention;

We all know that one of the demons that has held back Africa’s rise is the DE-LINK between industry and academia (research) and also with governments. Prof. Ernest Wilson’s (of Maryland University) squad model makes the argument that you need a constant interaction between these constituencies for growth and innovation to take place. He argues that Silicon Valley is a clear example.

My proposition therefore as a way to answer the question above is to leverage the BPO opportunity. Most African governments are at least on board the BPO wagon so my idea is, lets establish the BPOs in the University environment given the current public policy favouring. The BPO companys can take advantage of cheap but good student labour whiles they build the real estate for their operations using university land on a “build operate and handover basis”.

The Universities then get real estate which they use for their long term expansion of physical infrastructure. The BPO companies get their work done cheaply and when they migrate in the long term, much value would have being gained. The University students get work experience for the long term job market entry and also interim cash to support their University education. This also gives the non-computer related students some basic skills and exposure and for the CS, EE etc students, they build their internal capacity not only to take calls and do word processing but more technical stuff. They would soon be writing software for those BPO companies. Mostly importantly this becomes the nucleus of the government/academia/private sector LINKINING which would grow into other areas.

Hence the value proposition of the BPO banwagon is, it gives us a foot into the door but we must move up the value chain very quickly or we would end up doing the low end jobs which would make us less competitive in the Knowledge economy.

When I proposed this to my Ghana Cyber Group friend (Yaw Owusu, leading the way with a private TechPark in Ghana) whom i have cced on this mail, he said, then the Tech Parks (BPOs + more) should be in the University/Research Environment and his example of been able to acquire land from the Ghana CSIR which is close to the University of Ghana would be a good prototype.

This is the story am going to be telling at the the first University Leaders Forum in Cape Town to which governments, academic leadership, private sector and Civil Society has being convened.

OPEN ACCESS EASSy

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In late 2004, I was admitted to the Digital Vision Program @ Stanford University and around the same time invited by the WorldBank through its Information for Development Programme (infoDev @ www.infodev.org) to join other colleagues to conduct a study “Leveraging New Technologies and Open Access Models: Options for Improving Backbone Access in Developing Countries (with a Focus on Sub-Saharan Africa)” . The study was done under the auspices of Spintrack AB @ http://www.infodev.org/en/Document.10.as….

Recent experiences in a number of countries with “open access” models for the financing and ownership of backbone telecommunications infrastructure offer interesting insights into how new technologies, including the migration to Internet Protocol (IP) based networks, make possible new technical and business models for financing this infrastructure buildout. Africa can learn from these experiences and adapt. In this paper, I look at Open Access in relation to the East African Submarine System, known by the acronymn EASSy (see http:// www.eassy.org). In the wake of the fallout in moving this project forward, I build grounds for commonality, charting the path for re-engagement by the various constituencies.

Open Access in the context of communication (Open Communication) means that anyone, on equal conditions with a transparent relation between cost and pricing, can get access to and share communication resources on one level to provide value added services on another level in a layered communication system architecture.

The concept of Open Access to communication resources is central in the ongoing transformation of the communication market from a “vertically integrated” market with a few operators owning and operating everything between the physical medium and the end-user, to an “open horizontal market” with an abundance of actors operating on different levels and providing value added services on top of each other. Put plainly, anyone can connect to anyone in a technology-neutral framework that encourages innovative, low-cost delivery to users. It encourages market entry from smaller, local companies and seeks to ensure that no one entity can take a position of dominant market power. It requires transparency to ensure fair-trading within and between the layers based on clear, comparative information on market prices and services. It seeks to build on the characteristics of the IP network to allow devolved local solutions rather than centralized ones.

Open Access is also about broad approach to policy and regulatory issues that starts from the question: what do we want to bring about outside of purely industry sector concerns? It places an emphasis on: empowering citizens; encouraging local innovation; spurring economic growth and investment; and getting the best from public and private sector contributions. It is not simply about making micro-adjustments to the technical rules of the policy and regulatory framework but seeking to produce fundamental changes in the outcomes that can be delivered through it.

The study published in August 2005, came at an opportune time, in that it helped to inform and shape the international debate and planning for the EASSy project now in the final planning stages. infoDev then provided follow-up support for this dialogue and planning process both by supporting the coordinating role of the NEPAD e-Africa Commission relative to the EASSy project, and by supporting dialogue and joint planning among civil society groups, and other key stakeholders, seeking to promote open access approaches within Africa.

This ensured acceptance of open access by the government, incumbent PTTs, Operators, ISPs, educational institutions, private investors and more generally by civil society. However at the signing of the EASSy protocol, which is the political framework for the build-out, there has been a division among the various constituencies on how Open Access is enshrined in the protocol.

EASSy in adhering to Open Access must align with the structure and principles below;

Within the structural framework, the cable must differentiate “Infrastructure” from “Services” where Infrastructure is seen more in the “Ownership” realm whiles Service is seen in “Access to capacity”.
A set of principle would hold for the ownership of the cable and those principles would be different from those for access to capacity.

The most distinguishing feature of the Open Access approach is that, ownership of the infrastructure DOES NOT GUARANTEE any access (discriminatory or not) to capacity on the value chain for the provision of service to the market.

Infrastructure ownership principles for the cable include;
The ownership of the EASSy cable must be in a public private partnership involving Governments, PTTs, ISPs, Educational Institutions, Civil Society and Consumers.
A fair distribution of these constituencies from the member countries in an equal sub-regional distribution leading up to the Board of Directors of the enterprise.
One set of rules must be established to identify the various shareholders from the various countries in the different constituencies
For the purposes of this exercise a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) must be a legal entity with an African wide structure, which must must be majority African owned in order to trade in the various countries.
The SPV must have a public interest combined with a private sector approach in it’s business model in order to ensure a “regulated return on investment” to ensure cheap and affordable bandwidth to the end-user.

Value Chain access to capacity for Service delivery principles for the cable are;
The SPV must sell capacity to all entities who meet the legal and regulatory requirements in each country directly and without discrimination.
Service Providers shall be offered Transport Infrastructure Layer access to different capacities depending on their requirements.
End Users shall be free to choose any local Service Provider connected to the Regional Network.
The SPV shall not compete with Service Providers (its customers) by offering services at the Services Layer directly to End Users.
All countries must create a regulatory structure that recognizes the SPV.
The SPV shall be formed, owned and operated in such a way as to facilitate competition and to foster innovation at the Services Layer, and where practical and commercially viable at all levels, with a view to maximizing usage of the network and benefits to the End Users.

This sets out a framework for Open Access as it applies to the EASSy cable. .

NB: These principles are drawn from the Open Access study conducted by Anders Comstedt, Eric Osiakwan and Russell Southwood for InfoDEV @ the WorldBank – http://www.infodev.org/en/Project.80.htm…

Avoiding an EASSy debt for Africa

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On the 29th of August 2006, seven (7) Southern and Eastern African countries signed the Inter-Governmental Protocol of the Inter-Government Authority (IGA) of the East and Southern African Submarine System (EASSy) which is the governmental framework through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) within which the cable is going to be owned, built and operated.

The protocol, which is the outcome of an African led consultative process, mandates that the EASSy cable has an African majority ownership. The current proposal for the cable is a combination of debt and equity financing of 70% against 30% for the total cost of three hundred million dollars ($300,000,000). The question must be asked why do we want to saddle Africa with another debt if the business proposition of the cable is viable?

The NEPAD E-Africa Commission, which is facilitating this process with the government’s mandate to have an African majority ownership of the cable based on an Open Access structure, must consider my proposal not to accrue debt for this project because much of the money can be raised through equity and stocks on the continent.

The EASSy Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) must be owned in a public private partnership with the participation of governments, private sector, educational institutions, network operators, civil society and the consumer.

The EASSy SPV should be listed on the various country stock exchanges so that it works within the stock exchange discipline, which allows it stocks to be traded without burdening the company to make huge profits to pay it shareholders. This approach meets the current “regulated return on investment” clause in the protocol in that the company would not be bent on paying it’s investors huge profits so would price capacity at cost however the investors can trade their stocks in the company on the stock exchanges to make profit based on the performance of the company.

Governments and public institutions must be able to invest public funds, pension funds etc into the EASSy SPV. The stock market would serve as a platform to trade these shares later or an exist strategy to recoup the investment.

For the “indigenous” private enterprises the proposal is to lower the financial uptake for equity from the current one ($1,000,000) to two ($2,000,000) million dollars to between hundreds of thousand of dollars and one million dollars ($1,000,000). This must include not only Eastern and Southern Africa private enterprise.
Educational institutions who consume a lot bandwidth must also be allowed to invest like the UbuntuNet Alliance which has about three million dollars ($3,000,000) for the purposes of participation in the EASSy SPV.

Civil Society and Consumers must be allow to purchase shares or bonds of the EASSy cable on the stock market – hence my proposal is for the various governments to guarantee the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of the EASSy SPV on the various country stock exchanges.

The trading of stocks of the EASSy SPV on the exchanges would seek to rapidly expand the participation of the African people and create the African ownership, which is the flagship of NEPAD.

The process would also generate long-term activities on the exchanges and create a trading post for a critical regional infrastructure company, which would ensure effective and efficient management of the enterprise.

This would also have an impact on the stock markets in that trading of an “unusual” entity would create innovation, ensure that our financial sector is able to re-engineer to scale with development interest – that private interest is at par with development goals to create a win-win situation.

The stock market serves as the platform for trading the stocks of the EASSy SPV so that should the company be doing well then the investors can make money by trading their shares; otherwise the stock market is a good exit strategy for those who want to dispose off their shares if the company does do well in their opinion.

Why should we saddle Africa with an EASSy debt when the viability of the project can guarantee raising equity for it implementation ensuring that an African led process, is African financed without debt?

State of IXPs/ISPAs and RXP in Africa

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It is important for us to establish the principle of technological good and that is, the network laying and architecture of a regional ixp builds on national ixps and the national ixps are made up of local isps and network operators. As AfrISPA we have consulted widely within the technical, social and policy community over 5 years and the consensus is to move in this framework so am sorry we cannot do contrary. We have communicated this position extensively to the regional organs as well as the donor community and those interested in helping with this exercise.

We have followed that sermon with practical steps which over the last 3 years has being supported by the multi-donor CATIA programme lead by DFID to help isps in countries for form ispas and ixps with collaboration from government and regulatory policy bodies. We have done this with extensive collaboration of other regional institutions like AfNOG www.afnog.org), AfriNIC  www.afrinic.net) and other international partners like Cisco, NSRC etc (forgive me if i cant mention all of them). Today, there are 15 ixps on the content and we expect 10 more by the close of 2006 and hopefully a doubling of the total number by the end of 2007.

In 2002, there where 6 ixps in Africa and when we agreed on the above layout of how to proceed with the engineering of the African Internet Infrastructure we got support from IDRC to develop a concept paper on same then we proceeded after long long delays to develop the ungana free software application which is currently being inserted into the current ixps so that we can know the “exact” traffic on isps, ixps network in order to make a proper estimation for the regional ixp (rxp) which we call the Pan African Virtual Internet eXchange (PARVIX). PARVIX is based on a satellite interconnection platform now because of the lack of fiber to all the relevant ixps. We have however requested fiber to be used where it is available since the growth of fiber links on the continent is gaining speed. We have also made room for the use of microwave links where possible to connect the various ixps. In the long term fiber is it with satellite and microwave for redundancy. We have being actively supporting the building of fiber networks in an Open Access manner for this same purpose.

Please permit me to acknowledge the awesome response of EARPTO to this regional vision by their move to connect the Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda ixps through an RFP which seeks to empower a regional carrier in the process and this has being with direct collaboration where our various ispas in the countries are involved and our GM is part of the technical working group.

We are complimenting each other so once this happens then we use whatever resource we have for other ixps. Our 2003 EoI had two entities selected to establish a regional carrier to provide the service. We are currently in consulting with a third entity which responded later due to several delays but that does not close the options – we are ever open to anyone who wants to fit in this vision and workout the framework of how to build the African Internet Infrastructure and your constituency is no exception.

I was in lagos last three weeks and met with the Secretary General of WATRA and she was of the view that WATRA is in the process of following suit with the EARTPO example especially because they have just established the harmonization policy framework which is an essential pre-requisite to get things done. AfrISPA is set on that collaboration because we have a growing consensus in West Africa and with the collaboration of ECOWAS and UOEMA we are set to live up to it.

Having established the general operating principles and framework as well as what is going on, let me finally respond to the issue of “The Regulatory body has contacted your institution to conduct a study and finalize arrangements for the establishment of the Regional IXP. I think they did not get any response from your firm (I think the request and ToRs were in French).” I want to put it on record that we where never contacted by the regulator but rather by the PPP of Senegal and the ToR requested the establishment of an IXP not an RXP in Senegal. The request came after we had conducted an IXP workshop in Dakar under the CATIA support framework so for us the physical construction of the IXP was a logical next step.

Let me also put on record that it took us 2 weeks to respond to the letter because we where in the process of concluding the CATIA Programme and where all tied up in the field in workshops from country to country. We made all these clear in our response to the letter and requested to be given time to respond but we never got a response to those communication. The ToR suggested we get further details from local regulator and again our e-mails never got a response.

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