Africell, USTDA Undertake Feasibility Study to Expand Internet Access in Sierra Leone

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By Foday Moriba Conteh

With the sole aim at expanding Africell’s fiber backbone network nationwide and advancing fixed broadband networks in up to 32 cities and towns across the country, Africell Sierra Leone and U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has launched a feasibility study to expand internet access throughout Sierra Leone facilitated by the United States Government through the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). The launching ceremony was held on Monday, May 6, 2024, at the Africell American Corner on Bathurst Street in Freetown.

Addressing the gathering, Ambassador Bryan D. Hunt, the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, emphasized the crucial role of digital connectivity in driving Sierra Leone’s long-term development and economic prosperity.

Ambassador Hunt stressed the necessity of unlocking the potential and innovation in Sierra Leone’s private sector, highlighting the shift towards incentivizing both foreign and domestic investment to address the country’s economic and social development challenges.

Recognizing the fundamental importance of digital connectivity in the 21st century economy, Ambassador Hunt, underscored the significance of reliable and fast internet connections in attracting investment.

He highlighted the launch of a feasibility study facilitated by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, aimed at expanding Africell’s fiber backbone network nationwide and advancing fixed broadband networks in up to 32 cities and towns across Sierra Leone.

The feasibility study, a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors, is projected to benefit over 95,000 individuals, providing enhanced opportunities for education, entrepreneurship, communication, and artistic expression, emphasizing that the initiative will not only connect Sierra Leoneans to the internet but also create opportunities for U.S. companies to invest in the country’s digital infrastructure market.

The Ambassador reiterated the United States’ commitment to fostering quality, secure and inclusive digital connectivity across the African continent, highlighting the Digital Transformation with Africa initiative led by the Biden-Harris Administration.

The Ambassador expressed gratitude to Africell and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for their efforts in accelerating the deployment of reliable and secure digital connectivity in Sierra Leone. He emphasized the pivotal role of partnerships like these in incentivizing and de-risking private sector-led investment, paving the way for a more connected and prosperous future for the people of Sierra Leone.

Africell Sierra Leone Managing Director, Shadi Gerjawi, highlighted the significance of the Grant Agreement signed between USTDA and Africell Sierra Leone Limited, marking a pivotal moment in advancing connectivity and technological infrastructure within the country.

The primary focus of the agreement is twofold: firstly, the construction of a 1,600-kilometer fiber backbone network spanning the nation and secondly, the expansion of fixed broadband networks across Sierra Leone.

Africell Sierra Leone’s ambitious plans include the establishment of a robust fiber backbone ring connecting major cities, which will enhance backhaul capacity for access networks and promote collaboration among mobile network and internet service providers.

Moreover, the grant funds will support the expansion of fixed broadband access networks, including fiber to the home deployments and exploration of fixed wireless solutions, building upon successful pilot projects in Freetown.

Shadi Gerjawi emphasized transparency and adherence to project objectives, highlighting that the allocated funds will be used for a feasibility study conducted by a U.S. firm. Africell Sierra Leone is committed to facilitating communication, supporting the contracted firm and complying with American Government contracting restrictions.

The study’s objectives include assessing economic and technical viability, analyzing consumer demand, topography, demography and existing infrastructure, to provide valuable insights for future telecommunications initiatives.

Additionally, Africell Sierra Leone pledges to promote the use of U.S. technology, goods, and services in achieving project goals, allowing U.S. suppliers to compete in the procurement process and integrating U.S. expertise into the project.

The Managing Director concluded by underscoring the Grant Agreement’s significance in driving socio-economic development and fostering innovation in Sierra Leone. He emphasized collaboration, technology and shared vision as essential components in realizing a more connected and prosperous future for the country.

On her part, the Minister of Communication, Technology and Innovation, Haja Salimatu Bah expressed gratitude to Ambassador Brian Hunt, the CEO of Africell, the entire Africell team and USTDA. She emphasized the significance of the event as a milestone in Sierra Leone’s digital transformation journey, highlighting the continuous investment in the sector.

The Minister underscored the critical importance of internet availability in achieving digital transformation infrastructure. She commended the U.S. Government and USTDA for supporting the feasibility study, recognizing its impact on enhancing connectivity in the country.

She acknowledged the extensive effort involved in driving this initiative, citing the long process leading up to the launch further praising the partnership between the American Government and Africell, emphasizing its role in fostering a longstanding relationship.

Explaining the strategic importance of the feasibility study, the Minister emphasized its role in driving socio-economic development highlighting the Government’s commitment to making tech and infrastructure a priority also stressing the importance of internet connectivity for delivering digital services to citizens.

She underscored the need for private sector participation in the telecommunications sector, highlighting the Government’s investment in critical infrastructure. The Minister pointed out the importance of de-risking investment and encouraged private sector players like Africell to participate.

The Minister highlighted the Government’s goal of ensuring internet access for all Sierra Leoneans, including those in hard-to-reach areas reiterating that mobile and internet services are considered basic human rights, essential for societal growth.

She congratulated Africell and expressed anticipation for the outcomes of the feasibility study saying that collective efforts are needed to ensure that all Sierra Leoneans have access to critical infrastructure, essential for various aspects of life happening online.


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