After years of dithering, Tanzania has finally joined the East African Community One Network Area, which promises cheaper calls across the bloc due to harmonised calling rates. This means that charges on roaming voice calls in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania will be eliminated. The benefits include easier and cheaper communication that will promote the ease of doing business in the region.
Pressure on Tanzania to join the network peaked at the June 2019 meeting of the EAC Transport, Communications and Meteorology Sector Council held in Kampala, where Dar es Salaam was given a deadline of March 31 to complete its analysis on the implementation of One Network Area.
But it has emerged that Tanzania made the decision to join the ONA late last year, and Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Stephen Mbundi wrote to the EAC Secretariat expressing interest in the deal. During last week’s private sector meeting held in Kampala, EAC director-general of Customs and Trade Kenneth Bagamuhunda announced that Tanzania had committed to the EAC Secretariat to join the network.
“The adoption of the ONA model by all EAC Partner States is set to reduce the high cost of telecommunications in the region,” Mr Bagamuhunda said.
ONA had been implemented by Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda and later on South Sudan. With Tanzania having now signed up, the focus shifts to Burundi. “It will promote easier communication among the people of East Africa, which will strengthen the integration process as we also ask Burundi to join the ONA,” said EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki.
ONA requires mobile network operators to renegotiate and reduce wholesale tariffs and a waiver of excise taxes and surcharges on incoming voice traffic while establishing wholesale and retail price caps on outbound ONA traffic.
The initial deadline by the EAC Heads of State Summit for the implementation of the framework was 201, but Tanzania and Burundi were hesitant to join in, perhaps because the ONA started under the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Projects initiative, of which they were not part.
“The ONA was a project that was going across different sectors in terms of facilitating trade and development among the Northern Corridor initiative. That is why it started with Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and later South Sudan,” said Irene Kagwa-Sewankambo, Uganda Communications Commission Executive Director.
“The ONA was one of the initiatives identified as key to facilitating trade. At the time under the EAC those discussions had been going on for a while but our counterparts in Tanzania were not seen as coming on board,” Ms Kagwa explained.
Tanzania’s membership to the Southern Africa Development Community was seen as a determinant factor and hence affected the country’s decision at the time. But a wind of change is blowing across Tanzania with the new leadership of President Samia Suluhu. Since she took over after the death of President John Magufuli, she has injected urgency in matters trade and investment, with Dar signing an oil pipeline deal with Uganda, gas and electric power deal with Kenya and pushing for free movement of goods, people and services, including communication.
The EAC partners hope that the ONA will support and facilitate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
“If you go to a country and you realise that by switching on your phone you are going to be charged highly, you are likely to switch it off,” said Ms Kagwa. “But if you are part of ONA, that means that you are less worried about receiving and making calls and therefore an additional revenue that will come from the fact that you will accept to use communication in that period.”
“Rather than have roaming charges restrict ease of communication as people move across the region, the ONA sought to reduce the barriers in that respect,” said Kagwa, who possesses a vast experience in the ICT sector, regulation and implementation in various aspects including internet development and licensing.