Pan-Africa mobile operator Zain and Ericsson, in an initiative coordinated by the GSM Association, are pooling efforts to save lives and bring development across the Lake Victoria region, by extending the mobile network coverage of the three East African states and launching a safety and security initiative.

The coverage will comprise the area of the lake where 80% of fishing activities take place, allowing communication and SMS exchange to and from phones. This enhancement will fuel economic and social development of the lakeside communities and potentially reduce the number of fishing-related deaths each year.
Ericsson, Zain and the GSMA have worked together to improve safety and security through enhanced mobile coverage. Thanks to the project, the Lake Victoria region now has an additional 21 energy-efficient sites, with three of them solar powered, and a Rescue Coordination Centre has been established. Local stakeholders supporting the project include the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) and its local representative the National Lake Rescue Institute (NLRI).
Lake Victoria is the second largest lake in the world with nearly 200 000 fishermen, 35-million people living along its shores and a fishing fleet of more than 70 000 boats. This armada of boats, powered by paddling or small engines, is operated with poor safety and security due mainly to a lack of available communication systems. Weather conditions can change suddenly and strong winds can occur without much warning, boats are often overloaded, most of the people can’t swim and buoyancy or life saving equipment is not easily available.
As a result many lives are lost due to drowning in the lake (estimated 5 000 deaths per year). It is expected that this intervention will go a long way towards improving conditions on the lake.
“Zain is committed to improving the lives of the people in the communities where ever we operate. This is what our brand promise of a wonderful world is all about. The initiative will greatly benefit the communities around Lake Victoria and will substantially improve both the social and economic development in the region; It will offer a foundation for sustainable development in the surrounding communities,” says Chris Gabriel, CEO of Zain Africa.
“Mobile communications play an important role in helping communities to develop sustainably,” says Lars Lindén, president of Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa. “Building out the mobile networks in this region is a key business interest for Ericsson, but it will also play a vital role in delivering increased safety and security, as well as improved economic viability and livelihoods.  Working in partnership has enabled us to achieve what no one of us could have done alone, and if we can reduce, by even one death, of the more than 5 000 each year, it will be worth the investment.”
Gabriel Solomon, senior vice-president of the GSM Association, adds: “As the East African community gets connected to undersea cables for the first time, the communities of Lake Victoria can now access a mobile safety net. It is now incumbent upon the governments of East Africa to leverage this network by partnering with the private sector and delivering a rainbow of new services.”
The initial Phase of the Lake Victoria Project entailed a feasibility study looking at how the rescue initiative would be undertaken in a commercially sustainable way. Phase II targets the implementation of an operational Search and Rescue facility with a framework to provide the necessary tools to provide valuable services. The GSM network enables voice and data communication on and around Lake Victoria.
Zain has developed value-added services that will enable fishermen on the lake to, through SMS and voice calls, find critical information such as fish and commodity prices and receive weather and safety alerts. The expanded network will also make it possible to collect data on daily catch from the more than 1 400 beach management units in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The new network will provide crucial information to enable a vast number of vital services, such as search and rescue, fleet movement and tracking. Ericsson’s Mobile Position System will enable emergency authorities to locate the mobile signal of those in distress on the Lake and send the details to the Rescue Coordination Centre, which will be operated by NLRI.