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OPIC commits $4.1m loan to support wireless internet expansion in Kenya

By Emeka Aginam

After an initial grant in 2013 from Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, has committed a $4.1 million loan to support Mawingu Networks, a provider of solar-powered wireless Internet across rural Kenya.

It would be recalled that Mawingu Networks was able to establish its current operating model using an initial grant in 2013 from Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Mawingu had received equity funding from Angel Investor Jim Forster, Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc., and Microsoft Corporation two years after their first phase of support.

Using a network of solar-powered “nomadic” wireless internet stations, Mawingu provides last-mile connectivity access to areas that cannot economically access the internet.

With Mawingu’s initial pilot operations, OPIC’s loan will allow a commercial expansion of a proven model to utilize existing technology of TV White Space (TVWS) connectivity for off-grid internet access.

Speaking on the new development, Elizabeth L. Littlefield, OPIC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “We are excited to announce during this week’s Africa U.S. Business Forum an additional round of OPIC support for a highly-developmental investment in Africa,” adding that, “Mawingu’s technology and ingenuity will make it possible to provide affordable, solar powered wireless internet to communities throughout rural Kenya. It’s extensive reach will connect many of these developing communities to the world wide web for the first time, and we look forward to the growth and unlimited potential that this project will unveil with OPIC financing.”

Also speaking, Amrote Abdella, Regional Director 4Afrika Initiatives, said that, “Ultimately, the expansison will build Africa, said that, “As a partner of the Mawingu project since its inception in 2013, it is exciting to see it reaching the next stage of commercial roll-out. Our studies show that Mawingu’s business model is affordable for consumers even in the least developed areas,” , adding that, “Ultimately, the expansion will build Africa’s knowledge economy by connecting more people to educational and advancement opportunities.”

For Tim Hobbs, Director Mawingu Networks Limited, “Mawingu is proud and honored to be working with the support of OPIC and the American government. We see this as a tremendous opportunity to build upon our successful pilot project, and this funding will help us to accelerate the roll out of our network in rural areas across Kenya and beyond.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that affordable access to the internet is a powerful driver of economic growth and Mawingu is committed to making sure that this opportunity is available to as many Kenyans as possible.”

Similarly, Catherine A. Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, U.S. Department of State, said that, “This partnership is a perfect example of how stakeholders can come together from government and industry to bring those online who might not otherwise be connected.

“The State Department commends OPIC and Microsoft for this important step toward bridging the digital divide and supporting the goals of the Global Connect Initiative to help bring an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020.”

“Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. believes in the untapped potential and persistence of Africans to develop innovative solutions that meet the needs of their communities,” Lauren Kickham, head of Vulcan Inc.’s Impact Investing program, said, adding that, “That’s why he’s supporting Mawingu, whose scalable model holds promise for deep social impact in Kenya and beyond. Our work is focused on finding those local entrepreneurs who can provide African communities sustainable opportunities to develop and grow.”


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