Yaounde, 01 July, 2020 (ECA) – Member States of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) have everything to gain in respecting the January 2021 deadline to finally put an end to surcharges on mobile roaming within the zone in order to boost the sub-region’s economic recovery efforts in a post-COVID-19 dispensation, posits the Sub-regional Office for Central Africa of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
After nine (09) years of technical work and advocacy on free mobile roaming in Central Africa, in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), ECA officials have welcomed the validation, this year, of the draft Community Regulation relating to roaming and tariffs on mobile electronic communications networks open to the public for the establishment of a CEMAC one network zone.
The validation of said project by CEMAC Ministers of telecommunications responds to the will expressed by CEMAC Heads of State and is reflected in the second operational plan of their Regional Economic Program (PER) 2017-2021, adopted by the Council of Ministers of the Central Africa Economic Union (UEAC) in February 2017 in N'Djamena, namely the establishment of a One Telephone Network zone within the Community.
The vision also stemmed from the Brazzaville Declaration of ECCAS ICT Ministers of November 2016 on the effective implementation of a subregional roaming system in close collaboration with ECCAS, ECA, ITU and the Association of telecommunications regulators of Central Africa – ARTAC.
According to Mr. Giuseppe Renzo D'Aronco, Economic Affairs Officer at ECA’s Sub-regional Office for Central Africa following up this dossier, "this decisive step that the CEMAC zone has just taken, by opting for community roaming, constitutes a tool of borderless communication and a vector of regional integration.”
He says “it is likely to significantly improve the daily life of citizens on the move in the CEMAC area and, consequently, provide an opportunity to strengthen the free movement of people, goods and capital.”
The question of eliminating roaming charges (voice and data) for mobile telephony in the CEMAC zone is all the more topical given the ubiquity of alternative communication tools (WhatsApp, Skype, etc.) and the envisaged drop in communication costs in the zone, argues Mr. D'Aronco
"The fight against COVID-19 resolutely pushes the digitalization of our world in leaps and bounds, and the economies of our sub-region will more than ever need rapid digital transformation with accessible and affordable quality communication tools to the citizens after this pandemic.”
He adds that the drop in costs of mobile telephony services, especially mobile roaming, will play a major role in an economic recovery that will boost productivity and develop various services, to leverage activities of the African continental Free trade Area (AfCFTA). An increase in the volume of intra-African trade, eased by digitalization, he adds, will speed-up the development of the continent.
It should be noted that the implementation of a One Network Area between countries of the East African Community in 2014 limited surcharges on roaming to a maximum of 10 cents of a dollar per minute for outbound and incoming roaming calls, resulting in an exponential increase in mobile traffic and, therefore, in business transactions between the peoples of these countries.
The situation is completely different in Central Africa, especially in the CEMAC zone. Here, the average cost of an outgoing roaming call is XAF 689 per minute, or about 1.33 dollars – a prohibitive rate for ease of doing business in the sub-region.
Some CEMAC countries, notably Gabon and the Congo, have already initiated the end of roaming charges between them through bilateral agreements. For its part, Cameroon was in the process of signing an agreement with Gabon to eliminate their bilateral roaming charges before the advent of the current global health crisis.
In this conjuncture, ECA is encouraging CEMAC member States to ensure i) that this roaming regime knows no postponement and that the experience be extended to the ECCAS countries which are not in the CEMAC zone, in order to boost the global efforts towards the total integration of Central Africa and (ii) a price cap for sub-regional calls and short-term SMS messages be implemented.
Abel Akara Ticha - Communication Officer
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
637, rue 3.069, Quartier du Lac, Yaounde, Cameroon
Tel: +237 222504348