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Cablegate on African broadband: Sept-Dec 2009 (Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia)

September 8, 2011  »  Broadband & Business3 Comments

On September 1, 2011, all 251,287 unedited WikiLeaks documents were made public. For reference, only some 2,000 odd documents were published amid extreme media coverage in January 2011.



The cables had been distributed via the closed U.S. SIPRNet, the U.S. Department of Defense’s classified version of the civilian Internet. Many contain information relating to terrorism, UN Security, and human rights. Activists, whistleblowers, Iraq, Kuwait, and Egypt are all hot topics. However, the vast majority focus on more mundane political relations and internal government affairs. The rest examine economic conditions.

Quite a few deal with the behind-the-scenes of African broadband affairs. Upon interacting with local businesses and gauging the domestic scene, the respective U.S. Embassy would send a summary and supporting paragraphs to Washington, D.C. Typical recipients were the Department of Commerce and the State Department.

Using we have listed the “juiciest” cables (if African broadband can be described as such), below. The total number of cables is surprisingly high; 119 contain “africa broadband”, 398 have “africa ict”, and a whopping 2,097 contain “africa internet” in some form. All of these cables except for two regarding Ethiopia (due to touchy foreign investment views & political climate) were unclassified, meaning that their contents were not life or death. Still, we find all cables extremely telling of what goes on behind closed doors and how the U.S. views African business.

Summaries and notes will be listed in reverse chronological order, beginning with three cables from September-December 2009:


  • Summary: Kenya Data Networks (KDN) suffered 153 fibre cuts in just 3 months of 2009. The company feels the majority were the result of sabotage.
  • U.S. viewpoint: Kenya needs cheap and reliable Internet access. Greater redundancy will alleviate the effects of sabotage. Major operators should cooperate to achieve this goal. In the process, smaller operators will be driven out of business.



  • Summary: As of 2010, Zambia’s telecoms sector is under-developed but with less than 1% fixed-line penetration has great room for growth. Privatization will help, but high infrastructure costs, and state control over international gateways and electricity post challenges.
  • U.S. viewpoint: An improved licensing system, prospects for the privatization of ZAMTEL, and efforts to improve international fibre connections will lead to greater economic growth. Costs and last-mile connections pose challenges. Don’t expect rates to lower yet.


  • 75% of ZAMTEL to be privatized by June 2010, but corruption involving the sale could delay such a move.
  • Mobile penetration at 32%; fixed-line Internet less than 1%.
  • Most fibre networks are via Namibia, but ZAMTEL connects via microwave in Botswana and has plans to connect to Tanzania’s EASSy line.
  • Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) laid 1,700km of cable in 2008-09 and plans on an additional 5,000km via Botswana and DRC starting in 2010.
  • 9 domestic ISPs.
  • ZICTA (regulator) will build network of telecentres linked to domestic fibre networks.
  • Link: Dialing Up Zambia’s Telecommunications Sector, November 17, 2009


  • Summary: In 2009, Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) CEO Amare Amsalu told Embassy officials that ETC would stay state-owned. He deflected questions about poor telecom services in Ethiopia and instead focused on foreign investment.
  • U.S. viewpoint: ETC’s CEO should be exposed to the U.S. business environment so that he brings potentially large profits to U.S. companies instead of the Chinese.
  • Ethiopian viewpoint: The United States should invest more like the Chinese and build infrastructure.


  • Ethiopian praise for the Chinese & Seacom
  • ETC admits to mistakes incurred through trial-and-error
  • ETC claimed 60km of cable to connect Ethiopia to Djibouti would be completed by the end of 2009
  • “Despite having his own Apple iPhone with limited functionality, Amsalu seemed unfazed of the poor quality of telecom services in Ethiopia.”
  • Link: Telecom Ceo Toes The Ethio-china Party Line, September 15, 2009

Tentative Post Schedule:
9/8/11: (2009) Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia
9/9/11: South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania
9/10/11: Tunisia, Kenya, South Africa
9/12/11: (2008) Senegal, South Africa, Uganda
9/14/11: (2007) Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya
9/19/11: Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Kenya