He goes by the name of Ibrahima Ba and he and his strategy are behind 2Africa. We’re talking about one of the world’s largest submarine projects, an ambitious 800 million-dollar investment aiming to connect 23 countries over the next few years, starting from England, circumnavigating Africa, touching the Middle East and finally returning to Europe via Spain.
A digital highway spanning 37,000 miles set in motion by Facebook. The social media platform’s 2016 campaign mapped areas of the Planet with little or no connection to the network, particularly targeting Ghana and Malawi. The monitoring work subsequently focused on the impact potential of submarine cables.
Submarine fibre-optic cables are among the most important components for achieving greater connectivity, but they are not widely known, as Bravishma Narayan, Robert Pepper, Kojo Boakye and Fargani Tambeayuk explain on Facebook Engineering. Yet today, more than ever, they are crucial to creating a global network infrastructure.
Africa will become a digital pillar of the 21st century
Author: Ibrahima Ba, digital innovator
The independent, non-profit research institute RTI International reckons that 2Africa can boost Africa’s Gross Domestic Product by 0.42–0.58% within the first two to three years of the project’s completion.
The project is fully financed by a private consortium consisting of, in addition to Facebook, six telecommunications operators (China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, Telecom Egypt Vodafone) and the WIOCC consortium.
2Africa is thus poised to implement what promises to prove to be one of the largest submarine cable projects in the world. It will link Europe, the Far East (via Saudi Arabia) and 21 ports in 16 countries in Africa. The system is slated to be fully operational in 2024, providing more than the total combined capacity of all submarine cables serving Africa today, with a design capacity of up to 180Tbps on key parts of the system.
“In countries where our cables will arrive”, Ba explains, “service providers will gain in storage capacity in neutral data centres. This will foster further development of the internet ecosystem, easing accessibility and reducing the digital divide for businesses and citizens”.
We all benefit from increased connectivity: companies, institutions, citizens. Digital transformation is a win-win model
Author: Ibrahima Ba, digital innovator
But just who is this shy engineer whom Mark Zuckerberg’s company recruited back in 2016? Kévin Poireault profiled him in Jeune Afrique, pointing out that at the beginning of his career, Ba devoted himself mainly to civil nuclear power. After studying mathematics and computer engineering at the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne in France, Ba joined an energy research facility near Chicago (Argonne National Laboratory) in 1997 as a software engineer.
Ibrahima Ba then moved to Denver, Colorado, to manage acquisitions for Level 3 Communications, now known as Lumen Technologies, which provides the network infrastructure to carriers: “this company”, he recalls, “forms the basis of the digital transformation of the United States”.
Ba then turned his attention towards emerging countries. This is when the real challenge began, the challenge of a lifetime. Mark Zuckerberg is betting heavily on him and he has succeeded in setting up a project with revolutionary potential: linking together Africa using digital inclusion as a catalyst for development and a model for bridging the digital divide. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential African personalities on the continent in the coming decades.
The 2Africa project, explains Ba, “is an example of our innovative partnership model, where everyone benefits from developing infrastructure of scale and shared technological expertise”. When interviewed by Cio Mag, an African media outlet specialising in the digital economy, Ba cited that Africa is home to 1.3 billion people: almost double the population of Europe and with very high population growth rates. “However, connectivity today only reaches 25% of the population”. Just by looking at the gap between population growth and the still very low internet penetration rate, Ba explains, “you can see that the future is very promising for Africa: at Facebook, we believe in the importance of connecting people. It’s part of our mission“. Connection equals power, “but it also equals inclusion”, he concludes.
COVID-19 notwithstanding, the project timetable remains unchanged, with a target date of 2024. Still, the engineer already has the next steps in mind: “bringing 2Africa to landlocked African countries”.