(Bloomberg) -- Cina Lawson, Togo’s minister of digital economy and transformation, is seeking an investor to help build internet services in the West African nation and help slash costs.

The Harvard University graduate expects the project, which will use Togo’s power-line infrastructure to lay fiber cable, to cost about 350 million euros ($431 million). The government will borrow about 250 million euros from multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, while the investor would provide the balance, the minister said. 

Togo is working on a law to lure startups, and expects cheaper and wider internet access to improve the path to education and pull millions out of poverty. The nation of about 8.5 million people is poised to get high internet speeds by 2025 after the Equiano subsea internet cable, part of Google’s $1 billion program to build digital capacity in Africa, landed on its shores. 

“We want to make sure that we continue to invest in fiber in the country so that the capacity goes everywhere,” Lawson said at the Bloomberg Invest: Focus on Africa conference in London. “We’re looking for financing. We want to put two-thirds of the money and have the private sector put one third.”

“It’s about making sure that the risk in investing in Togo is low enough to attract the right kind of investor,” she said.

The project will expand connectivity in a country that has among the highest mobile-data costs on the continent at $8.64 per gigabyte, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, a global coalition of governments, companies and civil society that advocates for better internet access. 

Togo may this year issue a tender seeking investors to build the internet network. Once ready, it will help cut digital costs by as much as 75%, said Lawson, who grew up in Paris and was invited to join the government in 2009. 

Lawson recorded an early success leading the creation of a digital system for delivering monthly payments to about a quarter of Togo’s adult population during the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole system, which used artificial intelligence algorithms to determine beneficiaries, was created within two weeks to rush the payment to people where average income is below $2 a day. 

“We want to be able to share this with other African countries because a lot of them reached out to us saying they want to be able to do the same thing,” she said. “Some of our countries don’t have biometric ID and you want to make sure that when you pay people, you’re paying real individuals.”

Togo is close to finalizing a program modeled on India’s biometric database known as Aadhar, she said. People who are assigned an ID would also be given SIM cards and a mobile-money account so every national with an ID would also be financially included.

“Africa needs the best of technology in order to grow,” Lawson said. “We are willing to be the test bed for new approaches.” 

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