The World Bank has selected Progressus to head-up the second phase of its ambitious African Regulatory Watch Initiative (RWI).
The African RWI is an interesting and unique project, aiming to tackle some of the more unique challenges faced across the African continent. Despite progress being made in the connectivity field, there are still some very difficult hurdles to overcome to close the digital divide on the continent, as well as place Africa on a level playing field with more developed regions.
The RWI will aim to tackle some of these challenges, such as licensing, spectrum allocation, taxation and tariffs, as well as appropriate regulatory oversight and accountability.
“This is an extremely exciting project,” said Olivier Jacquinot, who heads up RWI at Progressus. “RWI Phase 1 managed to identify some key regulatory levers that pushed forward the development of broadband in some countries. Phase two will deliver an even greater level of analysis – and help keep the African telecoms industry moving forward.”
Despite being managed by the World Bank, the financiers are staying pretty quiet regarding their own drivers and ambitions. That said, it might not be difficult to guess, these are moneymen after all and have some very obvious objectives.
One objective might simply be confidence. Bankers and venture capitalists are always looking for new investments, and the telecommunications industry is proving to be increasingly popular. An initiative which provides an improved and standardised regulatory environment across the continent might well be an important step to providing confidence to invest in the African telecoms and infrastructure industries.
Despite there being great potential for investors on the continent, Africa has several unique challenges. Accessibility, both financial and technological, is a significant one, though an incredibly fragmented and varied regulatory landscape across the continent is an issue.
At AfricaCom in November, MTN CEO Rob Schuter used the acronym CHASE to indicate the major challenges on the continent; Coverage, Handsets, Affordability, Service bundles and Education. Some of these challenges can be addressed through industry initiatives, such as the RWI, though others need much bigger thinking. Making the economics of network deployment or handset accessibility is a significant barrier.
On numerous occasions, more nefarious challenges such as government and regulatory corruption are raised as barriers also. Such rumours will always make investors nervous.
The first phase of the initiative was launched in 2017, and due to the success, the second phase will be launched imminently. 22 regulators have signed up so far, perhaps demonstrating how desperate some of these nations are for external investment; no-one likes being told how to govern or regulate their own sovereign nations after all.
In the second phase, Progressus will introduce the RWI Index. This ranking system will benchmark each of the nations involved in the RWI. The Index will be based on spectrum management, Universal Service Funds management and other Government support measures and regulatory governance.
Africa is a unique continent with some very unique challenges, and this initiative should provide a stable route forward. It isn’t the most revolutionary idea, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel sometimes.