At one point, it was unimaginably expensive to make a telephone call in Africa. Worse still, to make a call to another caller who is outside Africa. With a radical change, the gateway is open to contact anyone in any part of the world at the fastest time possible. Just a click of a button. Endless hours of streaming on the internet.
Little is told about how this came to be in Africa. Little is told about how the efforts of one man, the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, led to a drastic transformation in the accessibility of telecommunications in Africa. The whole of the continent used to rely on European and America infrastructure for its own communications. And that included paying a hefty price to them so that everything said from Africa could pass through their infrastructure.
Connecting the entire continent by telephone, television, radio broadcasting and the internet seemed a remote possibility for Africa. It only required the collective efforts of the continent to put an end to this. Before Gaddafi made his simple yet grand gesture of transforming the connectivity of the continent, telephone calls made to Africa and outside Africa were ridiculously the most expensive in the world. It was a luxury to make a call that could last for more than five minutes.
Africa relied on European and American satellites for its own communication. This meant paying a mammoth $500 million annually to them. The only financially prudent option was to create an own satellite and cease all reliance on European satellites like Intelsat for phone conversations. It would mean the end of paying the annual $500.
The conception of this idea was finally birthed in 1992 when 45 African nations gathered to deliberate a way forward as regards this matter. They established the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM). The major obstacle that had to be surmounted was on how to source the funds necessary for financing such an enormous project. The goal was to create a satellite with a one-time payment of $400 million. No more $500 million to Europe every year.
The West would lose out on this one and were extremely reluctant to help with the financing of the project. Their monopoly over a continent's telecommunications systems was being shattered.
Since all Western financial institutions were unwilling to offer some sort of assistance, Muammar Gaddafi stepped in. That is how he helped transform Africa's telecommunications systems. He put forward $300 million. This opened the way for the African Development Bank to contribute US$50 million with the Western Development Bank putting an additional US$27 million. On 26 December 2007, Africa got its first communications satellite. The initiative by Gaddafi to set everything in motion by a mere gesture of putting forth $300 million was all that was needed to get results. And that is how Africa got its first communications satellite, thereby reducing the money paid to Europe every year.
The RASCOM satellites are an attestation of a vision by leaders to connect the whole continent together and stop relying on former colonizers. It is for such reasons that the West grew increasingly cold towards Gaddafi, viewing him as a despicable and contemptible political figure that had to be removed from the face of the earth.
And it also for these reasons that the double standards of the West are brought to light.
Header image credit - Public Radio International