East Africa

Djibouti: becoming a digital powerhouse

Djibouti: becoming a digital powerhouse
  • PublishedApril 1, 2020

Djibouti now has 11 undersea cables, making it one of the best-connected countries in Africa and with its data centre, it is well on its way to becoming a regional digital hub.

In January, the Djibouti Africa Regional Express 1 (DARE1) undersea cable, which links the countries on Africa’s east coast, made landfall at Siesta Beach in Djibouti. Maritime operations are underway, and are expected to be completed in March 2020, with DARE1 coming into service in June.

This 5,400km cable will link Djibouti, Mogadishu, Mombasa and Bosaso, offering a throughput of up to 30 TB/sec. In preparation for DARE2, which will link Dar es Salaam and Maputo, DARE1 will also be connected to the global network through a number of cables in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This interconnection project will be operated jointly by a partnership of regional operators including Djibouti Telecom (80%), Somalia’s Somtel and Kenya’s Telkom.

The Islamic Development Bank will cover 60% of its $100m price tag.

“We’re very keen to extend DARE 1 to new regions and connect it with other cables to improve accessibility in Africa and throughout the world,” explained Mohamed Assoweh Bouh, Director-General of Djibouti Telecom. “It offers competitive costs for interconnections and internet traffic between Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya, as well as opportunities for skill development and training. This cable system is a crucial tool for East African development.”   

Per capita, the most connected area in the world

Djibouti expects to play a key role in this development. It already has 11 local and international undersea cables, including Gulf Bridge International (GBI), Transcontinental Europe India Gateway (EIG), EASSy, SEACOM, SEA-ME-WE 3, the regional Aden-Djibouti cable, AAE-1 and SEA-ME-WE 5, making it the most-connected area in the world on a per capita basis.

As the government works to turn digitalisation into a motor of development, Djibouti looks towards a future as a regional internet hub. Djibouti Telecom is looking to play a big part. As the only operator on the national market, the company has taken on the role of being, in the words of its Director General, “the base of operations” for undersea cables designed to connect the country to Europe.

He expects the company’s turnover to rise from $120m in 2018 to $40om in 2025. As part of the company’s strategy, it invested in the Australia West Express cable system in 2017. Following its memorandum of understanding with GoTo Networks, the infrastructure owner, the system has been developed and now connects Perth in Australia to the city of Djibouti, increasing the country’s broadband capacity.

The Djibouti Data Centre

The country’s surplus connectivity allows it to pursue a number of related activities, including data hosting. In 2013, Djibouti became host to the first, and still the only data centre in the Horn of Africa region.

The Djibouti Data Centre, DDC for short, is just a stone’s throw away from Djibouti Telecom’s international fibre optic cable landing station. It is East Africa’s first tier 3 neutral data centre with direct access to all of the main international and regional cable systems linking the European, Middle Eastern, Asian and African markets.

The centre is equipped to client specifications, and already hosts data from the US Army, MTN, China Mobile and Facebook among others.

Meanwhile, a second centre is planned for Obock, 235km north of the capital, which will be for both private companies and public bodies. A memorandum of understanding was signed on 20 March 2019 between renewable energy specialist Weco Weco, telecoms equipment company Telsam and the Djibouti government, represented by Djibouti Telecom and Électricité de Djibouti.

“The digital sector will be a key part of growing our economy, improving quality of life for Djiboutian citizens, and strengthening our position as a logistical and commercial hub in the region,” says Communication Minister Abdi Youssouf Sougueh.

“While once Djibouti was a place for merchants to meet and trade goods, our goal is to make it a place to meet and trade data,” says President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh. 

Written By
Neil Ford

Neil is a journalist, writer, editor and consultant, specialising in international and African affairs.

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