Construction of the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a 9 900km-long optical submarine cable between Durban and Port Sudan, is expected to begin in mid-December after a group of development banks including the International Finance Corporation (IFC) announced a US$70.7-million investment in the project.

The IFC said in a statement issued on Monday that it would provide long-term financing to the value of $18.2-million, while the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, Germany's development bank KfW and the French development bank AFD would jointly provide the rest.

The total cost is $235-million and the rest of the financing will be provided by a consortium of 25 private telecommunications operators, 21 of which are African and will be the cable's main capacity users.

The consortium earlier signed a turnkey contract with Paris and New York-listed network solutions provider Alcatel-Lucent to lay the fibre-optic cables for EASSy.

"It is a major accomplishment to have finalised the loan financing of this complex project," IFC chief executive Lars Thunell said. "This is a vote of confidence for the continent. The project will transform the African telecommunication landscape and have a direct positive impact on business in East Africa."

EASSy will link Sudan to South Africa via Djibouti, Somalia, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique. It will have landing points in Port Sudan, Djibouti, Mogadishu (Somalia), Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), Toliary (Madagascar), Maputo (Mozambique), and Mtunzini in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.

Botswana, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe will also be linked to the system as terrestrial cables known as the Nepad ICT Broadband Network, which aims to free the continent from its dependence on expensive satellite systems to carry voice and data traffic.

Nepad (the New Partnership for Africa's Development) is the African Union's blueprint for socio-economic development on the continent.

According to the IFC, consumers along the east coast of Africa typically pay between $200 and $300 a month for internet access, which are some of the world's highest and have an adverse economic impact.

"As a result of the EASSy cable, prices for international connectivity will drep by two-thirds at the outset, and the number of subscribers will triple. Because the project gives open access to service providers, prices will fall further as volume and competition increases," the IFC states.