Recently China’s President Xi announced that the first overseas military bases for his country started operating in Djibouti, by the Horn of Africa. Djibouti?
Djibouti is a small country in East Africa with less than one million inhabitants but is situated in a highly strategic part of the world, it is next to Mandeb Strait and to the entrance of Suez-Aden canal, hence close to most of the East — West commerce, including oil. However, in today’s internet economy this could be considered a side business; since the most important thing about Djibouti is that it is a node that gathers the majority of submarine cable systems that connect East and West, making this tiny country a critical part of the infrastructure on which we depend our internet.
This, in a way, justifies that almost everyone has strategic interests in this country, with US placing there its largest military base in Africa. A number of other countries, primarily European ones, also maintain military presence in this small place in the world. When a great part of the global internet passes in front of your shores, stability is justified even in a country situated in a Region where tension & conflict is the norm.
Wherever there is a will there is a way and in Djibouti we are able to witness the internet ensuring stability and prosperity in ways that we do not have, commonly, in mind. The geopolitical impact of Telecom Operators, based mainly on decisions regarding the routes of their cables, should not be underestimated.
Submarine cables follow the global demand for bandwidth and connectivity but are also bound by various geographical limitations. In this way, global cable hubs like Hong Kong, Singapore, Egypt, Guam, among other locations, were created. Most, if not all, of these locations are considered as politically and socioeconomically stable and this, in part, is considered as collateral benefit derived by the existence of these submarine cable systems.
The quest to reduce latency and cost in global communications is also driving the demand for new routes and landing points. Additionally, new players are entering the submarine cable arena. These are the Content Providers, who want to further expand their reach, while keeping their costs and dependencies to Telecom Operators to the lower levels possible. A number of new cable projects, like Marea, Jupiter, PLCN, Hawaiki and many more, refer to joint efforts between Telecom Operators and Content Providers aiming to increase capacity, speed and reach.
As more and more people, from emerging economies, join the internet -primarily in the south hemisphere- additional submarine cables will have to be deployed. This will be an amazing opportunity for countries in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia to follow the examples of countries like Djibouti, Angola, Cameroon, Philippines & Brazil and become regional cable hubs. Such investments, in submarine cables, are associated with political & socio economic stability and are expected to introduce new growth opportunities for the local and regional economies.
If data are the new oil, as per the famous Economist’s article, all these submarine cable systems are their carrying pipes; and Nations should want to make sure that their passage is clear and stable. This internet’s collateral benefit could prove to be a very strong ally that ensures stability and prosperity in a number of geographies; on top of the expansion of the connected world.