How to characterize the telecommunications sector in Africa?
How did the African telecommunications sector develop over time?
Who invests in the African telecommunications sector?
describes the African telecommunications sector and reflects on the
implications for individual access to internet services.
Africa is the
least connected region in the world. As of January
2021, Eastern and Middle Africa recorded the lowest rates of internet
penetration: 24 percent and 26 percent, respectively. The majority of web
traffic originates from mobile devices; only around 15 percent of the
households have fixed broadband access at home. Access to the internet tends to
be extremely costly, compared to European standards.
In Africa, as in
most other parts in the world, the telecommunications sector was traditionally
regulated by state-controlled monopolies. Today, internet service providers
(ISPs) are owned by a variety of different shareholders.
countries, notably Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, the government has always
been the only shareholder of the only ISP operating in the country. In
Senegal,, in turn, the state never owned a majority-share in any ISP.
In Uganda, ISPs have largely been owned by foreign-private companies from
different continents, including the French Orange, Indian Bharti Airtel, or
In view of the
political and economic sensitivities associated with infrastructure ownership, privatized
and/or foreign ownership provides a “barometer of states' willingness to
share authority with others” (Doh et al. 2004:234). If the state holds itself
shares in the company, the corporate management is likely to favor compliance
with political requests, such as manipulating access to internet service or
sharing consumer data, in contrast to a privately-owned company committed to
corporate social responsibility principles.
This study looks at determinants of state versus
private investment in telecommunications projects in developing countries.
Private investment in telecommunications turns out to depend on financial
incentives and state policies.
FREYBURG, T., GARBE, L. & WAVRE, V. 2021. The Political Power of Internet Business: A Comprehensive Dataset
of Telecommunications Ownership and Control (TOSCO). Manuscript. University of
Presentation of the Telecommunications Ownership and Control (TOSCO)
dataset that provides detailed information about the shareholders and their
exact shares of all ISPs across 49 African mainland countries (plus Madagascar)
since 2000s until today.
Taking the example of South Africa, this study demonstrates how an
oligopolistic ISP landscape and regulatory strategies can lead to an
overpricing of (mobile) data. High data costs are a problem in many African
countries, as exemplified by the #DataMustFall movement.
Mapping of national networks of autonomous systems, for identifying a
small set of autonomous systems that act as points of control for each national
network, and for measuring the complexity of the networks of autonomous systems
within each country. Those autonomous systems are the ISPs and other large
organizations that are responsible for routing traffic and as such act as
points of technical and political control of the internet.
This contribution researches why firms undertake foreign direct
investment (FDI) rather than alternative strategies. Focusing on the role of
shareholdings and their corporate control, it suggests enriching traditional
theories of the (multinational) firms with insights about corporate ownership
(and other governance dimensions).