Cutting call rates in the East African Community member states under the Northern Corridor has been commended for reducing the cost of doing business by leaders and citizens.
The East African Heads of State during the Northern Corridor Integration Projects summit over the weekend applauded the One Network Area Agreement for reducing calling rates across the region, which has led to increase in the volume of voice calls traffic.
In a statement issued at the conclusion of the summit, the Heads of State said the initiative had increased the volume of voice calls and positively impacted on doing business.
“The summit took note of the increased volume of traffic for voice calls following the operationalisation of the One Network Area. They observed that there was a remarkable reduction in calling rates which has positively impacted the cost of doing business in the region as well as fostering closer interaction among the region’s citizens,” the statement read in part.
The agreement by Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, in October last year, to scrap roaming charges in the three partner states to help boost integration of the East African Community received backing after South Sudan became part of it toward the end of last year.
The regional framework which applies to telephone calls within the region saw telecommunication firms in the four nations scrap their roaming charges for subscribers making and receiving calls.
The operationalisation of the agreement was done in phases with Kenya and Rwanda beginning in October last year while Uganda and South Sudan implemented the initiative this year.
Previously, making calls to countries in the region was more expensive than calling Europe, America and Asia. On average the calling cost dropped from $0.28 (Rwf193) per minute to $0.1 (Rwf68) per minute.
The biggest beneficiaries of the initiative were businesses across the region who previously incurred high communication costs while roaming.
James Kariuki a truck driver who regularly shuttles from Mombasa, Kenya to Kigali via Uganda and South Sudan said elimination of roaming charges was a huge relief for him and his colleagues.
“In logistics, there is need to coordinate with the head offices and clients as well as family back home. The one area network has greatly reduced the costs we incur,” Kariuki said.
Businesses especially importers and exporters who need to regularly get in touch with their trade partners across the region said their overall expenditure in business was now on a downward trend.
Moses Rutayisire, a Kigali based wholesaler dealing in household items mostly imported from Kenya and Uganda, said the initiative will help him reach out to his suppliers.
“Due to high calling rates, I had settled for emails which are not as timely as calls,” Rutayisire said.
The estimated 850 Rwandan soldiers who are in South Sudan on a peace keeping mission and Rwandans living in the country are the latest beneficiaries of the agreement.
Silvia Umurerwa, who has a family member serving in United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said in the last few days since local telecommunication companies adjusted their rates, she has been able to communicate more often.
The summit was attended by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Burundi’s Second Vice-President Gervais Rufyikiri, Others included South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.