Nearly 4 million people in rural Africa will be connected to telecommunications for the first time thanks to an initiative by Africa Mobile Networks, supported by the EU Bank, to build 1000 new solar-powered mobile phone base stations. 

The roll out of mobile phone coverage in remote rural areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon was announced today at European Development Days in Brussels.

The project is being backed by a EUR 24 million long-term investment from the EIB, the EU bank. Support for this project comes from the Impact Financing Envelope, a special window under the ACP Investment Facility (African Caribbean Pacific) managed by the EIB and intended for initiatives where a high financial risk is rewarded by a higher impact for local populations. The Investment Facility, which is a revolving fund, is funded from the resources of the EU Member States.

The project marks a significant step in improving the financial inclusion of people living in vulnerable and remote communities, with a particular focus on women, health and banking services. More than two thirds of the new mobile phone coverage will be located in North and South Kivu, conflict-torn areas of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where improved communications will increase security for remote and vulnerable villages there.

Speaking from the European Development Days event in Brussels this week, European Investment Bank Vice-President Pim van Ballekom said,

“Mobile phone usage has radically increased across African cities over the last decade. However, more than two thirds of Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable people remain digitally disconnected and excluded from telecom coverage with the economic and social opportunities it provides. This new scheme will expand access to commerce and crucial services that transform daily life in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, including supporting the economic empowerment of women and access to health services online. I am proud that the European Investment Bank is working with Africa Mobile Networks on this challenging and hugely important initiative. It’s an example of where the EU Bank can step in and support a private investor to great effect. It’s also an example of the EIB changing its DNA: an opportunity to show our commitment to development, and to deliver the EU’s external policy goals as the EU Bank, as well as making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. We can do this by unlocking economic opportunities and improving key services across the continent. Providing these services to people who have been cut off by conflict as well as geography is incredibly important.”

Bart Ouvry EU Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo said, “Ensuring access to affordable ,secure broadband and digital infrastructure is a key priority for the European Union both in and beyond its borders - and part of its commitment to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals. Putting the digital into development marks a vitally important step change and we very much welcome this initiative by the EU’s Bank which will have an important impact on some of the most remote villages in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just recently the European Commission launched its Digital for Development Agenda – this project is precisely the kind of investment we want to see more of.’’

Michael Darcy, CEO of Africa Mobile Networks said, “This new loan means building is now starting on more than 1000 new mobile base stations. It will accelerate Africa Mobile Networks’ mission to connect the unconnected in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. And it means the impact we can have on people’s lives will increase substantially. We are delighted to work with the European Investment Bank to reduce the number of people still without access to basic voice and data service communications. Our pilot projects are demonstrating already that this can make a real difference to people’s lives. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 750 of the 1000 towers will be built. Access to mobile data means communities that have been dangerously cut off can now access security information and well as basic services like health and education.”

First-time access to telecommunications provided by the new scheme is also expected to strengthen access to financial services, including money transfers and salary payments. It will help farmers to get more accurate prices for agricultural produce and increase information concerning health and education in rural areas. People will be able to access information about job opportunities, and entrepreneurs will be able to start new businesses as they will be able to organise and manage supply chains by telephone.

Over the last five years the European Investment Bank has provided more than EUR 6 billion for telecommunication investment around the world.

Background information:

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is active in around 130 countries around the world. As a key player in the world of development finance, the EIB provides long-term financing for sound, sustainable investment projects in support of EU policy goals in Europe and beyond. The EIB is the largest multilateral lender and borrower in the world and is owned by the EU’s 28 member states.

The EIB invests in four priority areas in support of growth and job creation: innovation and skills; access to finance; climate action and environment; and strategic infrastructure.

The EIB is the world’s largest financier of climate-related projects. Last year around 27% of all lending went towards climate action. The Bank is committed to raising the proportion of climate investment to 35% for developing countries by 2020, and placing a greater emphasis on helping regions in the frontline of climate change to adapt.

Africa Mobile Network’s mission is to build mobile network base stations serving rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa which have no existing service, providing mobile network operators with a capex-free route to add new subscribers and new, incremental revenues. The vision of AMN is a fully-connected Africa, with no community of any significant size being without basic telecommunications services to deliver social, economic, educational and other benefits to the population.

The European Commission’s Digital4Development strategy is intended to mainstream digital technologies into EU development policy and to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This sees support for the development of digital technologies and services in the context of the EU development policy across four main priority areas:

  • promotion of access to affordable and secure broadband connectivity and to digital infrastructure, including the necessary regulatory reforms;
  • promotion of digital literacy and skills;
  • fostering of digital entrepreneurship and job creation;
  • promotion of use of digital technologies as an enabler for sustainable development.

Useful Links:

Tackling Global Challenges Together

EIB in Africa, Caribbean, Pacific ;

Investment Facility

The EIB at European Development Days