Editorial: NUANCE starts its 4th year with a bang

New times. A new look for NUANCE!  Volume 4 Issue 1 is a long way from the Volume 1 Issue 1 syndrome that affects many publications in our region!  NUANCE enters its 4th year with an optimism borne out by several factors, the most significant being the signing of AfricaConnect as outlined below. We apologise sincerely to those of our readers who were overwhelmed by the exuberance of the responses when the long awaited news was released, and assure them that the NUANCE list is now one- way. And we warmly thank all those who took time to send their best wishes and encouragement. Another small step into the future is that UbuntuNet Alliance is now using social media and is on Twitter as a start.  Please follow us on Twitter!

EC signs 14.5M Euro contract for AfricaConnect project

The research and education community in sub Saharan Africa is set to benefit from high speed regional connectivity following the ceremony on the occasion of the signature of the AfricaConnect project on 11th May 2011 at the IST-Africa Conference & Exhibition in Gaborone Botswana. The Euro 14.75M contract, signed by Mr Denis Salord for the European Commission’s EuropeAid Cooperation Office was handed over to Ms Cathrin Stöver of DANTE and Dr Francis Tusubira of UbuntuNet Alliance by Dr Kostas Glinos, Head of Unit, GÉANT and e-Infrastructures at the European Commission – DG Information Society and Media, in the presence of Dr Ahmed Hamdy, Deputy Director of Human Resources, Science and Technology of the African Union Commission and in front of conference delegates.

Contributors to the project are the European Commission and African Partners. The European Commission will provide 80% of the project budget while African partners will contribute the remaining 20%. Cathrin Stöver, International Relations Manager of DANTE, the not-for-profit organisation which is coordinating the project, said that she was happy with the signing of the contract and stated that African partners had already made their contributions for the first year. “This is the first time that DANTE has received partners’ contributions in international collaborations before the project starts,” said Cathrin.

Speaking after receiving the contract, Ms Cathrin Stöver and Dr Francis Tusubira thanked the European Commission for the project which they said would enable African researchers to participate effectively in global research collaborations. Dr Tusubira also thanked the 5 founding Directors of the UbuntuNet Alliance who went to Brussels in March 2006 to seek support for the regional network.

The initiative will dramatically accelerate the development of the Information Society in Africa, providing advanced data communications infrastructure and enabling African researchers to collaborate more easily in advanced international research projects. AfricaConnect will establish a high-capacity Internet network for research and education in Southern and Eastern Africa to provide the region with a gateway to global research collaboration.  The objective of this is to overcome the current limitations of international research collaboration within sub-Saharan Africa and towards Europe, and to foster research and education collaboration and advancement within and between these regions.

The launch of the 4-year AfricaConnect project is a concrete success of the implementation of the EU-Africa 8th Partnership on “Science, Information Society and Space”. The initiative is funded in the framework of the “ACP Connect” programme of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

As well as DANTE which is coordinating AfricaConnect, partners include the UbuntuNet Alliance covering Eastern and Southern Africa: WACREN covering Western and Central Africa; the Association of African Universities; existing National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in Africa (DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia); and several European NRENs (Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK).

About DANTE

DANTE is a non-profit organisation, coordinator of large-scale projects co-funded by the European Commission, and working in partnership with European National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) to plan, build and operate advanced networks for research and education. Established in 1993, DANTE has been fundamental to the success of pan-European research and education networking. DANTE has built and operates GÉANT, which provides the data communications infrastructure essential to the success of many research projects in Europe. DANTE is involved in worldwide initiatives to interconnect countries in the other regions to one another and to GÉANT. DANTE currently manages projects focussed on the Mediterranean, Asia-Pacific and central Asia regions through the EUMEDCONNECT, TEIN and CAREN projects respectively. For more information, visit www.dante.net.

About the UbuntuNet Alliance

UbuntuNet Alliance is, at both the conceptual and implementation levels, a commitment and movement by member NRENs to unlocking Africa’s intellectual potential by ensuring that African Researchers and Educators achieve equity with the rest of the world in terms of ease and cost of access to the global information Infrastructure as well as opportunities for research collaboration . The UbuntuNet Alliance was established in 2005 and registered in 2006 as a not-for-profit regional association of NRENs in Eastern and Southern Africa and currently has 13 members.

Seen from Afar – Africa Connect

Back in 2005, at the huge WSIS summit held in Tunis, a seed of hope was planted.  The photo above shows Americo Muchanga, Victor Kyalo, Albert Nsengiyumva, Duncan Martin and Margaret Ngwira, who were – involved in NREN building in the Eastern and Southern African region – when they met each other for the first time at WSIS.  This coming together was with the support of  SARUA (Ben McGarry), IDRC (Heloise Emdon and Steve Song) and KTH (Professor Bjorn Pehrson and Anders Comstedt).  The five, however, had been in communication  prior to the  meeting  and  had even prepared a  first draft of the Articles of Association  of the to-be UbuntuNet Alliance, which they discussed during the meeting.

There at WSIS, many opportunities presented themselves. The possibilities offered by prospects of open access models for the EASSy submarine cable rolling out were high on the agenda. But equally significant was meeting Carmen Mena-Abela of the EU’s Directorate Information Society.  At that point, Carmen told of the coming of the AfricaConnect project somewhere perhaps three years down the line.  Now, 5 years later, this promise has borne fruit and a busy period lies ahead for the Alliance, working with DANTE to make the promise a reality and see the transformative power of  this network and connectivity on the lives of professors, students and researchers.

Looking back through time at the photo above, there is a case for much joy. Americo is now Dr Muchanga and the Communications Regulator in Mozambique; Victor is now Deputy CEO / Programmes Manager at the Kenya ICT Board with responsibility for infrastructure projects; Albert, has just became Minister of Infrastructure;  Duncan remains with TENET and a continuing Board Member of the Alliance; and Margaret is at the Lilongwe Secretariat. But wherever they are, they all rejoice to see the beginning of the implementation of AfricaConnect and happily entrust Cathrin Stöver of DANTE and Tusu and his team in the Alliance to spearhead the implementation.

From Albert to the Honourable Minister

The first weeks in May brought two waves of good news for UbuntuNet Alliance.  Of course there was the deep satisfaction of signing AfricaConnect. But this was closely followed by the news that Albert Nsengiyumva, who served for 6 years on the Board of UbuntuNet Alliance, had been appointed to the post of Minister of Infrastructure for Rwanda.

Albert who started as ICT Director for Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and went on to found RwEdNet, the Rwanda NREN, then became Director General of Rwanda Workforce Development Authority.   He was in early May appointed as Minister of Infrastructure.

Albert is a founder of UbuntuNet Alliance and served as Vice Chair and has taken great interest in its development. In his email sent to the Alliance community, Albert said, “This is to express my gratitude for your congratulatory messages that have come from all over… I will definitely keep my contact with UbuntuNet Alliance so please keep me informed on any new development and challenges..”.We wish Honourable Albert all the best in his new portfolio and assure him of our support

Photo provided by The Rwanda Focus

Building regional higher education capacity through academic mobility in SADC

More than thirty vice-chancellors and senior university leaders from SADC universities met at the University of Pretoria on 5 – 6 May 2011 to assess the potential for building the capacity of the higher education sector in the SADC region through promoting academic mobility. Our own Professor Zimani Kadzamira, Chairperson of UbuntuNet Alliance co-facilitated the workshop.

Presentations made at the conference were based on the latest available statistics, trends and key features of student and staff mobility by international and regional experts representing organizations including the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

The statistics presented confirmed that student mobility continues to grow and has increased tremendously since 1980 to 2009. The majority of these students study in South Africa. Examples of such Students are those from Sub-Saharan Africa and students from Central Asia. The increase in student mobility in SADC takes place despite continued expansion and access to higher education in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, it is noteworthy that about half of these mobile students in the SADC region remain in the region by studying in another country in the region.

Concerns of commercialisation and competitiveness drive the development agenda in other regions of the world. Moreover, the focus in many regions is on expanding higher education provision to capture increasing share of the educational services market following its liberalisation in the wake of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Increasingly novel institutional models and a multiplication of commercial arrangements are emerging as part of this process of delivering cross-border education and include the establishment of branch campuses, forging partnerships through franchising and partnerships or buying foreign institutions.

Universities in the region have employed a range of measures to promote academic mobility with a view to accelerating staff development and supporting postgraduate education in particular. These strategies include innovative staff exchange initiatives, twinning or co-badging of programmes, co-supervision, sandwich programmes and joint degrees. In addition, options for strengthening staff capacity in terms of both absolute numbers and mentoring young academics were discussed. Delegates agreed to work together in order for this to be a success though the need for mobilising government support was acknowledged as critical in this endeavor.

Information collected from http://www.sarua.org/?q=event/building-regional-higher-education-capacit…

 African researchers urged to participate in climate research

Climate change is a world concern and so research in the discipline is of paramount importance for our living tomorrow. Today e-Infrastructures are seen to have transformed the way science and research is conducted. The Conference on the role of e-Infrastructures on Climate Change Research which was held at the Adbus Salaam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) on 16-20th May 2011 closed with the question: how can we enable the participation of developing countries in climate research? The question was raised by Dr F. Giorgi, Head of ICTP-Earth Systems Physics Section.

The conference looked at how computer science brings answers to the needs of climate in terms of increasing data and computing resources. Presentations showcased how scientists are using advanced high performance computing (HPC) and grid applications to understand climate and downscale climate change impacts at local level. The general observation was that were is little contribution from developing countries.

As research and academic networks are rolling out in Africa, and the prospects of the just commenced AfricaConnect project, – which will build the regional network in sub Sahara Africa – focus is turning to applications that will run on the network to impact the society. Scientists/researchers with special interests need to start getting together into communities. One such community is one focused on climate change research. Thanks to ICTP and the UNDP Africa Adaptation Programme funded by the Japanese government which are working in some African countries to build capacity in climate research. Tiwonge Msulira Banda of UbuntuNet Alliance who attended within the framework of the CHAIN project made a presentation on E-infrastructure applications in sub Sahara Africa. Following the conference, a training workshop was held on building servers for climate data. Participants were drawn from developing countries.

The conference was organized by INFN and  EU FP7 projects: CHAIN, EU-IndiaGrid, and EUMEDGRID-Support.

Presentations are available here: http://cdsagenda5.ictp.trieste.it/full_display.php?email=0&ida=a10141

New super telescope project in the pipeline
A super telescope project worth $2.3 billion is being planned. The project called Square Kilometre Array (SKA) with a capacity of 3000 radio  antennas spread across a thousand square kilometers – all linked by optical fibre – will be the largest and most sophisticated radio telescope ever built and  will be producing  huge amounts of data.

The planned telescope will help scientists to see the first stars as they begin to shine, and also help astronomers to study mysterious forces like dark matter and dark energy. It will be able to probe the edges of the universe and answer fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology.  This includes the nature of dark energy and dark matter:  It will be a powerful time machine that will enable scientists to go back in time to explore the origins of the first galaxies, stars and planets.  SKA will also help to detect life in the universe and will present many new opportunities for discovery.

Professor Bryan Gaensler from the University of Sydney, says “the SKA will look deeper into the cosmos than anything that’s been built before and each of the 3000 dishes will be collecting data continuously and when combined, the SKA will produce nine million signals at once and this will be adequate to fill five thousand 160-gigabyte mp3 players every minute.”

The two potential sites for the project are New Zealand and Southern Africa as selected by the International SKA Steering Committee in 2006.  The final selection will be made in 2012 based on radio quietness, ionospheric and tropospheric characteristics and infrastructure development costs.

Southern Africa’s research and education community would benefit  if South Africa hosts the world’s most powerful radio telescope. Hosting the SKA in the region would boost the development of high level skills and cutting edge technology infrastructure in Africa, and would also attract expertise and collaborative projects to the continent. South Africa has already offered a competitive and affordable solution for constructing, operating and maintenance of the SKA though the project has not yet taken its shape South Africa’s partner countries in its bid to host the SKA are Mozambique, Zambia, Mauritius,  Madagascar, Ghana, Kenya, Botswana and Namibia.

The project is expected to have a life span of at least 50 years and will be built in a radio-quiet location for uninterrupted observations and will be exploiting new antenna technology, signal transport, processing and computing

Construction of the first elements of the SKA is expected to start in 2016, with completion of the array by 2024.

http://www.skatelescope.org/

Join the debate: Educational Technology

You are invited to provide input into an important study on the actual and potential use of ICTs in education in Africa. The World Bank Group and the African Development Bank, with the support of the African Union, are producing a new report on how information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to change fundamental business models in key sectors for Africa.

There will be a series of discussions:

  • Digital Learning Resources – looking at the experience and challenges for development of open educational resources that are responsive to development needs. This discussion starts May 16, 2011.
  • Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) – with an emphasis on the opportunities and challenges for mobile data collection and dissemination. This discussion starts May 30, 2011
  • National Research and Education Networks (NREN) – looking at the development of NRENs and how these can reach out to all levels of education. This discussion starts June 13, 2011
  • Affordable Technologies – with an emphasis on the opportunities and challenges for use of mobile devices and smart phones for access to learning materials and collaboration platforms. This discussion starts June 27, 2011
  • Teacher Professional Development – looking at the contextualization and implementation of a teacher competency framework for ICT in education. This discussion starts July 11, 2011

To join the debate visit https://edutechdebate.org/

 

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