Masiyiwa talks of new fibre optic cable to connect many African ports

Liquid Telecom, the fibre optic and infrastructure subsidiary of global telecoms group Econet Global, has published an international tender for contractors to build a new undersea cable that will link Africa, the Middle East and Europe.


The company planned to build cable from Durban South Africa, all the way along the East African coast, and go direct to the Middle East, before turning to Europe.

Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa said the cable would have many new landing stations in ports that had previously not been connected to undersea cable, such as Kenya’s giant new Lamu Port and Nacala in Mozambique, which are expected to grow spectacularly due to new gas and oil field developments.

The cable would run approximately 10 000km from South Africa to the Middle East, and would be connected to Liquid Telecom’s pan-African terrestrial network, enabling a reliable and affordable international connectivity service to landlocked and coastal countries in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. The project is already fully funded and it is estimated that it will take two years to complete.

Liquid Telecom, founded by Masiyiwa, has grown dramatically over the last few years, after finding a niche market as Africa’s leading operator of fibre optic systems. It has built fibre networks throughout Africa, where it provides backhaul support to all the leading telecoms groups as well as leading multinationals such as banks and mining companies. Liquid Telecom’s terrestrial fibre network is the largest single contiguous network that crosses many borders in Africa.

A sister company of Liquid Telecom, Econet Media, has also announced plans to roll out a pay TV service across Africa under the brand name Kwesé TV. The two projects are linked and will feed on each other to build scale and drive growth.

In a recent and related development Econet Global founder Masiyiwa confirmed that Liquid Telecom would list on the Euronext Stock Exchange in 2016 to access more capital for acquisitions and projects.

The Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa earlier this month announced a new pay television service, Kwesé TV, which will rival DStv and “offer exclusive programming to African markets”.

Posting on his Facebook page, Masiyiwa revealed that his telecommunications companies Econet Wireless and fibre optic giant Liquid Telecom have been working on the project for three years.

“Kwesé” means “everywhere” and “ anywhere” in his mother tongue Shona.

Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s richest man, said the pay TV service would focus mainly on sport and entertainment. It is unclear whether the tycoon is steering clear of political content, which can be a dicey affair in some countries, particularly his native Zimbabwe where media platforms are strictly regulated.

His announcement directed people to the new Kwesé Sports website which has begun beaming sports news, including European football which is very popular with audiences in this part of the world.

Masiyiwa surprised business analysts and his Facebook followers by using social media to reveal such an important investment announcement, something he has never done. His statement admitted as much: “I’m excited to share some information with you about our newest business, one that’s been in the making for three years now. This is the first time I’ve publicly introduced any new venture on Facebook!”

The billionaire, who has a love-hate relationship with Zimbabwean authorities dating back to the time when he had to fight his way through the courts to win a mobile telecoms licence, appeared to fire warning shots at DStv’s virtual monopoly. “What does this mean for Africa? I will tell you! We believe African consumers must have access to premium and exclusive TV programming at a price that is value for money.”

Masiyiwa said his satellite communications business, Liquid Sat, has already built a platform which allows him to deliver what is known as Direct TV to the Home (DTH) in all the countries of Southern Africa.

His fibre optic company, Liquid Fibre, is the largest builder of terrestrial fibre on the continent, and Econet is vastly experienced and has in recent years ventured into the highly lucrative mobile-money business. “These are just a few of the assets we’ll deploy in a unique way, never done before in Africa,” Masiyiwa added.

While it is strategic to own technical assets in this business, the success of Kwesé TV will depend on the platform’s ability to provide excellent programming content. The telecoms magnate says he is confident he has figured out a winning formula.

“Having infrastructure is one thing, but Kwesé TV’s success will depend on our ability to develop new, high-quality and unique programming at an affordable price. You may know of other companies in this market, most of which either provide content that’s far too expensive, or content that’s just so bad it’s not worth paying to see it, even if it’s cheaper,” Masiyiwa said.

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