New data centre funded by African Development Bank will cement national and subregional digital sovereignty

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Jolting hammer blows, the sounds of iron bars under a workman’s blowtorch, the odor of fresh cement: at the foot of the three-storey building rising in the Bacongo district of the Congolese capital, a sign tells visitors that a “National Data Centre Construction Project in Brazzaville” is happening here.

Financed by the African Development Bank, the futurist building will soon be the nerve centre for storing and processing the digital data of the Republic of Congo. In addition, it will house the various applications developed or acquired here in the heart of the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest “green lung”.

“Congo will soon be the only country in Central Africa to have its own data centre,” says Michel Ngakala, coordinator of the Central Africa Fibre-Optic Backbone project, which includes Congo. “Ultimately, the videoconferences we run here will no longer go through a server in Europe, America or elsewhere before coming back to us. Everything will happen right here.”

With the project’s funding of €66.55 million (€52.47 million from the African Development Bank and €14.50 million from the government of Congo) 600 kilometres of fibre optic cable on the major interconnecting routes with Cameroon (341 km) and the Central African Republic (281 km) via the Congo River will be laid  and the data centre built. This is a remarkable feat, according to the Bank’s country economist in Congo, particularly considering the sub-river section for the Congo-Central African Republic connection via the Sangha River. Some €13.8 million of the total has been allocated to build and run the data centre.

“As part of the Congo component of the Central Africa Fibre-Optic Backbone Project, we received funding from the African Development Bank to build a data centre, and now we’re constructing a three-storey building that can be extended to include a basement,” explains the coordinator, providing a tour of the various areas of Congo’s future data centre.

The three levels will have server rooms, monitoring and supervision rooms, and meeting and conference rooms, as well as locations for the energy and air-conditioning equipment the centre needs to function correctly, which should be delivered by December 2024, according to Ngakala.

“All the data produced in Congo has to be stored somewhere,” he continued. “At the moment, this data is stored abroad, so we have Congolese domain names that often end in “.fr” or “.com”, whereas Congo’s domain name is “.cg”. From now on, we’ll be able to host all public data in the data centre, as well as that of telecoms operators, banks, insurance companies and other private firms that want to have it hosted here, including back-ups of any primary storage sites they use.

“This project will cement the country’s digital sovereignty, because we cannot claim to be sovereign when our data, even the most sensitive data, is stored outside our territory, in foreign countries, with real risks of misuse, violation or massive leaks.”

Samatar Omar Elmi, Chief ICT Specialist at the African Development Bank and project manager for the Bank, shares his thoughts: “The issue of data location has been gaining momentum across Africa in recent years, especially where sensitive data is concerned. The availability of locally produced data will pave the way for a virtuous circle of local value creation that will benefit the entire digital ecosystem (public, private, etc.) in our countries. These are the initial stages of a digital circular economy that will contribute to the low-carbon development of our continent.”

In addition to boosting digital sovereignty, this project will “help improve the competitiveness of Congo’s economy in terms of factor costs, because communication is a major factor in economic development,” points out Sié Antoine-Marie Tioyé, the Bank’s country economist in Congo.

This is a major contribution to the development of Congo’s digital economy and Ngakala sees the initiative as a way for his country to strengthen its digital security by taking control of its data. “It’s easy to hack into data when it’s outside your territory – with this data centre, it will be easier to control data processing and access within our country,” he vows.

Ngakala offers the example of the Postal and Telecommunications Ministry, which is in the process of implementing a digital identification project for the entire Congolese population. It will generate an astronomical amount of data that will be stored nationally rather than abroad. Other Congolese partners in other segments are positioning themselves in complementary ways to amplify the impact of this project.

Once the work is finished, the data centre will be managed by a delegate (public or private), who will be responsible not only for managing but also for marketing and infrastructure maintenance as well.

The African Development Bank Group is Congo’s leading partner and the country’s top infrastructure financing institution.

In addition to laying the fibre-optic cable and building the data centre, the Bank has funded several road infrastructure projects in Congo. In particular, it has financed corridors and integration projects such as the Ketta-Djoum Road on the Yaoundé-Brazzaville corridor, involving the construction of a 505-kilometre asphalt road between Ketta in Congo and Djoum in Cameroon (189 km in Cameroon, 316 km in Congo) and the initial section of the Ndende-Dolisie road linking Congo and Gabon. The Bank is also providing financial backing for studies on the construction of access roads to the road-rail bridge that is to link the two Congos, separated by the Congo River. It has been providing leadership in marshalling resources.

As of April 2024, the Bank Group’s active portfolio in Congo comprised 11 projects, all in the public sector, for a total commitment of $411.62 million. The sector breakdown is as follows: transport (32.7%), governance (29.8%), farming (21.3%), telecommunications (13.7%), social (2.4%), water and sanitation (0.1%).

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Development Bank Group (AfDB).

African Development Bank Group (AfDB)

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