Telecom and data infrastructure providers in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as their governments, have already done their part.
But Uganda is yet to extend the cables to other hinterland countries.
Terrestrial links ensure cross-border connectivity and help reduce bandwidth prices to end-users.
But Uganda, unlike its neighbours, has very few projects that would connect Mombasa and Dar es Salaam to Southern Sudan, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
The IT community says the situation can best be described as “uncoordinated troop movements.”
This situation will keep bandwidth prices high for a long time and slow down development of the IT sector.
Also, it could affect the New Partnership for Africa’s Development terrestrial project that aims to interconnect Africa and bridge the digital divide.
Already the $106 million National Data Transmission Backbone — which could have boosted the terrestrial backhaul fibre — has many gaps.
The 168km of laid fibre in phase one of the project lies idle in the ground, with some areas vandalised or damaged by road construction.
“We are developing this national backbone to reach the borders with Kenya, Southern Sudan, eastern DR Congo and Rwanda. We shall use the open access rule that states: You should not deny your neighbour access,” said Dr David Turahi, the director of Information Technology at the Ministry of ICT.
But the work done by Chinese company Huawei Technologies in phase one of the project has been termed unsatisfactory.
Now parliament says a financial and technical audit has to be done before the second phase starts.
A number of international initiatives are underway to deliver fibre connections to the East African coast. The Seacom cable landed a month ago while the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy), the East African Marine Cable System (TEAMs) and Infraco/AWCC are on the way.
“Our neighbours have created solid links but we have failed to build even a simple network around the country,” said Badru Ntege, director of One2net.
Despite this, Ministry of ICT officials say Uganda will be a regional ICT hub, a country of choice for business process outsourcing (BPO).
These objectives, however, require highspeed broadband and terrestrial network. All the projects should be complete by 2013.
The private sector, particularly MTN and Uganda Telecom, have laid fibre optic cables from Malaba to Katuna to link to Kenya and Rwanda.
The Uganda government and the private sector are linked through a few cables that run from Malaba to Katuna border, but there is no fibre connection to the north of the country and on to Southern Sudan.
The first phase of the government backbone covers Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja and Bombo. The private sector has built fibre links from border to border to link up with Telkom Kenya cables that run from Malaba to Nairobi to Mombasa as part of the East African Backhaul System.
“We have a solution. The contractor, Huawei, has agreed responsibility and taken up the matter. The company has accepted to repair the damages on the first phase,” said Dr Turahi.
Kenya has many IT initiatives, with several cables running to Uganda from providers such as Telekom Kenya, Kenya Digital Network (Sameer Group), Jamii Telecom, Access Kenya and Wananchi Telecom.
And the Tanzanian National Backbone will soon touch Bukoba from Dar.
In Tanzania, three firms — the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara), the Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) and Songas — own fibre-optic cables.
Linking these three would create an adequate network to serve DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, analysts say.
Uganda has had several missed chances.
For example, when the Kenya government, which has a 20 per cent stake in TEAMs, invited it to invest in the submarine cable, Uganda had more pressing priorities, like the now idle fibre network.
And when the World Bank offered partial assistance for ICT development, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania accepted but Uganda’s Ministry of Finance turned down the offer.