Feature: East Africans enjoy lowest call charges under new initiative

by Bedah Mengo

NAIROBI, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) — This Christmas, Gloria Ombogo’s elder sister who works in the hotel industry in Rwanda did not travel home to Nairobi to celebrate the holiday with them, yet this did not dampen her spirit.

Ombogo and other members of her family spend time with her on phone, talking for hours on end, thanks to low calls rates.

“Myself I talked with her for about 30 minutes, my mother and father too talked to her at length and everyone was happy. In total, we spend close to an hour on phone,” she said Sunday, noting that her sister did not complain of the costs as they have been considerably reduced by the telecoms.

The Ombogo family is one among others across the larger East Africa that encompass Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania, who relish low call charges.

Families are able to call their kin in any of the countries at the lowest rates since mobile phones spread in the region, with the calling charges dropping by up to 60 percent thanks to the “One Network” initiative launched January.

In Kenya, it was ironic that it was cheaper to call Asia and Europe, but expensive to call the neighbouring Uganda or Tanzania.

Telecoms in the East African nation have sweetened the deal for customers. For 9.8 U.S. dollars, one gets 70 minutes with 120 SMSs or up to 130 minutes upon conversion of SMSs to minutes or up to 260 SMSs upon conversion of minutes to SMSs in a bundle offered by one of the companies.

“The low call rates are God sent to us. I used to buy a SIM card whenever I would go to Tanzania or Uganda to escape the high call rates, but this is no longer necessary because the roaming charges are lower,” said Bernard Mwaso, an information technology expert with Edell IT Solution in Nairobi.

Mwaso noted that the low charges reduce the cost of doing business in the region and deepen social integration across the East African Community (EAC).

“Now instead of relying on WhatsApp messages or writing emails, you can call your kin in Uganda, Rwanda or Tanzania without feeling a pinch. It is the best thing to have come to the region.”

The low calling charges have led to increased voice and SMS traffic from East Africa region into Kenya, latest data from the country’s Communication Authority (CA) shows.

In the third quarter this year, incoming voice traffic into Kenya from the EAC region grew to 54.2 million minutes, up from 47.5 million minutes the previous quarter, whereas traffic from non-EAC countries declined from 112.9 minutes to 104.5 million minutes.

“Voice traffic from Kenya to countries in the EAC region grew significantly by 21.1 percent to 41.9 million, up from 34.6 million minutes in the previous quarter,” said CA in the report released last week.

Roaming traffic from Kenya to EAC too surged during the period under review. The One Network Area initiative has also further brought down data costs across the region.

Copyright 2015 Xinhua News Agency

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This article was produced by the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China. Xinhua describes itself as the “information organ of the central government.” Given China’s size and importance, GlobalPost publishes Xinhua’s press feed as a resource for its readers and makes no claims as to journalistic accuracy.

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