UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 Conference, best networking event

UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 closed on Friday, 25th November 2011 at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya after two days of exciting presentations and discussions around the theme: Access for Success. The conference brought together delegates from Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America, including education and ICT policy makers; regulators; representatives of Research and Education Networks; and faculty, researchers and graduate students.

Representing the Kenyan Minister of Education who was the Guest of Honour at the opening, Dr Salome Gichura, said, “I am glad that this conference will give each of the participating African countries together with their research and education communities an opportunity to share their experiences and develop strategies for integrating ICT in university education in order to improve access and quality of education.”

Noting that the Alliance has 13 member NRENs so far, and that they will all be interconnected through the AfricaConnect project, she observed that this will allow researchers in different research areas like Medicine or Agriculture, to collaborate to solve African problems.

Speaking during the conference, Dr Francis Tusubira, the CEO of the Alliance said that he was overwhelmed by the conference attendance. Tusu  urged the NRENs present at the event to work together for the mutual benefit of their NRENs and the Alliance as a whole. He continuedby saying, “Your participation, ideas, interaction, action, and mutual support are not taken for granted: this is what builds up the Alliance.”

The conference covered the thematic areas of Access, Content, Africa-Connect, NREN issues and e-applications. In addition there were stimulating panel discussions, The number of paper submissions rises from year to year and some promising papers had to be turned down.

Presentations are available for download at http://www.ubuntunet.net/uc2011_programme

UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 was proudly hosted by KENET, the NREN of Kenya. The contributions and support of the sponsors were outstanding.  Proceedings and report of the conference will be published early next year. The 2011 conference is the 4th UbuntuNet Alliance Annual Conference. Last year it was held in Johannesburg and was hosted by TENET, the South African NREN.

Photo: Professor Zimani Kadzamira poses with Professor Tiemoman Kone, President of WACREN – a real networking opportunity

NREN CEOs excited about AfricaConnect

Chief Executive Officers of NRENs in the UbuntuNet Alliance community are looking forward to AfricaConnect with excitement. This was captured by random interviews conducted in Nairobi, Kenya by Rose Chisowa, a Communications Intern with the Alliance, after two days of discussions related to AfricaConnect.  The NREN CEOs expressed hope in the project which will build UbuntuNet, the regional academic network and connect researchers, lecturers and students across the region. One of the crucial areas of discussion was resource mobilization for the NREN contribution, facilitated by Dr Duncan Martin, TENET CEO.According to Dr Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman, CEO of SudREN, “the AfricaConnect project will enable users at research centres and universities across the region to participate in joint projects with their peers in the world.”

Wilfred Kuria, CEO of Xnet, the Namibian NREN adds, “I am happy with AfricaConnect project and I believe that this project will help NRENs to collaborate in research projects around the world and above all, allow them to connect to each, to the UbuntuNet and share research information easily.”

Led by Cathrin Stover, International Relations Manager at DANTE, the NREN CEOs and CTOs sat together with representatives from European NRENs to get down to more specific planning for the implementation of the project.  Marco Sioli of the EU DevCo was also present. WACREN, the West African counterpart of UbuntuNet Alliance was represented by Professor Tiemoman Kone, the Board President and Omo Oaiya, Chairperson of the WACREN Technical Committee.

These deliberations were part of the pre conference cluster of activities of the UbuntuNet-Connect2011 event ably hosted by the Kenyan NREN Kenet.

The AfricaConnect project aims to establish a high-capacity regional data network for research and education in Southern and Eastern Africa and to improve the volume and reliability of connectivity to the global research and education community. The project is expected to last four years.

KENET awarded best ICT projects implementer

Kenya Education Network (KENET), one of the founding NRENs of the UbuntuNet Alliance, is this year’s winner of the prestigious CIO 100 Annual Awards. The CIO East Africa CIO 100 Annual Awards recognise institutions that deploy ICT in an innovative manner while bringing out business value at the same time.

The award was issued at a special gala and dinner ceremony hosted by CIO East Africa at the Safari Park Hotel in Kenya. The NREN received the award for their project that seeks to provide Internet connectivity to educational institutions. KENET through several partners has invested more than Ksh. 10 million on the project and is already getting returns on investment in less than three years. KENET has six Internet points of presence (POPs) connecting over 61 learning institutions in Kenya. The NREN also has a solution that allows members from one institution to roam on Internet networks of other institutions at no fee.

To add to that Josphat Karanja, the Head of Infrastructure and Project Manager for the KTCIP contracts was also declared the Top CIO (Chief Information Officer) in East Africa at the event. Professor Meoli Kashorda the CEO of KENET said that, on behalf of the NREN, he was extremely happy for him and further that Karanja has a strong spirit of service and an amazing attention to detail – just what is required to implement large and complex engineering and ICT projects. Josphat has been with KENET for the past three years and holds a BS in Electrical Engineering (JKUAT) and an MS in IT from Strathmore University.

A number of firms were also recognised and awarded at the CIO 100 awards for their innovative use of ICT.

Read more: http://www.cio.co.ke/view-all-main-stories/4561-kenet-eat-out-and-nakuma…

Photo: Josphat Karanja,  was declared top CIO in East Africa .

Advanced e-Infrastructures come to Nairobi

 The picture shows the CHAIN Project Management Board taking a moment’s break to model their CHAIN caps in the lush grounds of Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, on 22 November, during what was a hectic series of meetings, workshop and conference.  CHAIN (Coordination & Harmonisation of Advanced -Infrastructures) is the third EU FP7 project that UbuntuNet Alliance has participated in.  It aims to coordinate and leverage the efforts made to extend European e-Infrastructure operational and organizational principles to a number of world regions.  One of the tasks of the Alliance is the organization of workshops.  It was therefore a delight to work with Professor Meoli Kashorda and the KENET team to integrate the CHAIN workshop into the UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 preconference programme and particularly to provide a follow-on to the KENET ICT Directors’ Forum.

CHAIN consortium members came from South America, the Middle East, Europe and India and participated fully in all events and some also crammed in opportunities to see some of the world class natural beauties of Kenya.

The PreConference Workshop, entitled Research Applications and E-Infrastructures was attended by over 130 people and was extremely interactive.  A graded series of presentations were offered on the National Grid Initiative, the African context, lessons from CLARA South America. The final presentation was by Professor Dibungi Kalenda, who is a Board member of UbuntuNet Alliance and CEO of Eb@le, the DRC NREN presented on NAPRECA and the quest for grid computing in DRC. Professor Kalenda has had a consistent interest in grid applications since participating in the first UbuntuNet-Connect in Malawi in 2008 where Professor Roberto Barbera offered grid training within the framework of the EELA project.  The final item on the workshop programme was a lively e-applications tutorial by Professor Barbera.
All presentations can be found at http://www.ubuntunet.net/uc2011_programme  and http://agenda.ct.infn.it/conferenceDisplay.py?confId=632

NRENs in the WACREN region increase by two

November has been an exciting month for WACREN, seeing its potential membership expand by two in one month with the coming online of the Niger and Cote D’Ivoire NRENs.  Dr Boubakar Barry of AAU REN Unit and Professor Tiemoman Kone, the WACREN Board President have communicated this good news.

From Accra, Dr Boubakar Barry e-mailed that the consultation workshop on the implementation of the Niger NREN began Tuesday, November 15, 2011, under the patronage of HE Mamadou Diallo Youba, Minister of Secondary and Higher Education and Scientific Research. Before the opening address by the Minister, Dr Boubakar Barry, Coordinator at the AAU REN Unit, contextualised the process of implementation of the Niger REN and the overall process of the formation of national entities in West Africa and Central Africa within the framework of WACREN.

The workshop was attended by the Rectors and Vice-presidents of the four public universities and the Vice-chancellor of the International University. The meeting gathered more than 50 participants from institutions of higher education and research in Niger. Participants discussed several issues related to establishing the Nigerien NREN. They also adopted the draft of the Statutes of NREN and appointed a Task Force of five people to prepare the Constitutive General Assembly. The Task Force was tasked with ensuring that the General Assembly is held on Saturday, December 17, 2011. The workshop welcomed the active contribution of Dr Boubakar Barry of African Association of University AAU (RENU) and the Representative of MaliREN, Tidiani Togola. The Government of Niger and all participants expressed their gratitude to AAU for these ongoing efforts to the establishment of RNEN and WACREN.

Hard on the heels of this news came a message from Professor Tiemoman Kone, the WACREN Board President, of the establishment of RITER, the NREN of Cote d’Ivoire.  In collaboration with the Association of African Universities, a workshop was held in Abidjan under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and co-chaired Minister of Posts and ICT. In attendance were all partners in education and research.  The result was the creation of the Ivorian Telecommunication Network for Education and Research (RITER). The workshop also identified the strategic directions of RITER and made recommendations to the Ivorian Government.

This strengthens the footprint of WACREN bringing the number of NRENs to 6: Cote d’Ivoire, RITER(2011); Niger, RNEN (2011); Mali, MaliREN (2011); Senegal, SenRER (2011); and Ghana, GARNET (2010). UbuntuNet Alliance congratulates WACREN for this achievement.

Source: personal communications and WACREN website http://www.wacren.net/

TERNET to improve Communication

In a bid to improve communications within and outside its community, UbuntuNet Alliance is engaging NRENs to find out how they manage communications within their respective countries. Rose Chisowa of UbuntuNet Alliance had an interview with Magreth Mushi, the Deputy Executive Secretary of TERNET, who revealed, that TERNET recognizes the role of communication in the success of the NREN and that they plan to improve communication within their community.

TERNET has 47 members and about 300 potential members. Of the 47 members, 20 are active and frequently participate in NREN activities. The NREN has a Network Operating Centre hosted at COSTECH and an STM-1 that terminates at the UbuntuNet’s Routing Hub in London. Five institutions are connected to the NOC while other 7 are at various stages of getting connected. As activity increases at TERNET, it is becoming vital for them to effectively communicate in order to have many active members.

“Academic staff are more aware of the NREN and its activities than students and management. As such we are planning to run awareness trainings with the universities,” said Mushi.
TERNET relies on emails as tool of disseminating information to its community, when there are activities or information to communicate.

Government through the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training is helping the NREN to become popular especially among the students. Mushi said that the Ministry is paying for the STM-1 on behalf of the institutions.

University of Zimbabwe Library disability tools for the visually impaired users

By Yeukai Chimuka, University of Zimbabwe Library

Promoting software to assist visually impaired students to access library and learning resources presents an exciting opportunity to increase access.  November 2010 the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Library submitted a successful  proposal to Electronic Information For Libraries (EIFL). The aim of the proposal was to implement access tools for people with visual impairment. The access tools have been deployed in the University Library and are proving to be successful.. After installation, visually impaired students were introduced to the access tools as they came to the Library. The most popular tool was the virtual magnifying glass as most of the users have challenges using the computer screen. The students who had benefited informed their visually impaired peers and they also came to the library for training and have the software downloaded on their laptops or on the PCs that they were using in the Library.

After the overwhelming response, the team trained the rest of the User Service Library staff to enable them to assist as needed. The Library staff were excited about the project and happily assumed this role. The coordinator and a Technical Advisor of the U.Z. Disability Resource Centre (DRC), Mr. Chinyoka, who is also visually impaired and is a graduate of the University became a Champion for the project.  He assisted in marketing the project to his colleagues. The team entered into partnership with the DRC and made the project part of orientation for the new students in August 2011. The department also agreed to have FOSS (Free and Open Source)  tools installed onto all the computers in the lab and to train the users from the lab as well as training the users frequenting the lab.

The DRC also helped the team to identify other organisations which may need these access tools and the team is planning to take the tools to these organisations and offer training to the people responsible in the organisations.. Currently the University of Zimbabwe has 20 students with visual impairment and most of the time they use their computer laboratory at the DRC and this is where the Library has put five data sticks for their use. They do appreciate these access tools as they no longer feel segregated from the sighted students.

The outcomes were overwhelming as the University Administration took the project to the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in May 2011 and there, many showed interest. After the ZITF exhibition the Ministry of Public Affairs took the project to Tanzania at the United Nations & Africa Public Service Day in June 2011. The project has been recommended for a UN award and also an article was written by the team which was published in the University of Zimbabwe Intellect Magazine which was launched at the graduation ceremony held on 8 October 2011. With the assistance of EIFL the University of Zimbabwe is planning to take these tools to other organisations within Zimbabwe and, resources permitting, beyond our borders.

Photo: Students using the tools in the DRC lab October 2011

EIFL and UNESCO trains Libraries on Free and Open Source Software

Although several years removed from her career as an academic librarian, Mrs Margaret Ngwira of the UbuntuNet Alliance Secretariat is still asked on occasion to rejoin colleagues to give input.  On this occasion she was asked by the Director of EIFL, Rima Kupryte to give an overview on connectivity and various REN issues at the EIFL and UNESCO event in Dar es Salaam on Free and Open Source in Libraries.  Of course, content networks are core to UbuntuNet Alliance – the “Water and Pipes” analogy. It was therefore with pleasure that she accepted the invitation. This event brought together Library Directors and FOSS Technical Librarians to explore Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) solutions for libraries. Fourteen countries across Africa participated in what was an intensive hands-on seminar.

Given that access to the FOSS resources depends on a functioning network, Mrs Ngwira was given two opportunities to make presentations and her theme was: The NREN and the Library Consortium: Partners and friends or Competitors?  Of course the answer is that they must be partners and friends and that each holds responsibility to be aware of what the other is doing and to mutually support these efforts.  An example of a burning issue that must be tackled together is Identity Management.  TERENA’s participation at the event was in part linked with this.

FOSS library tools provide affordable alternatives to high-priced commercial software, and enable libraries to develop modern digital systems, without incurring large licensing costs. The seminar built participants’ confidence and technical capacity to implement FOSS in their libraries. It was also an opportunity to learn how to advocate for FOSS deployment.
UNESCO Malawi and UNESCO Kenya jointly submitted the funding request and their support was most appreciated.
Photo: Intense concentration in Dar es Salaam (Photo: Margaret Ngwira)

Some information drawn with permission from http://www.eifl.net/news/eifl-foss-regional-seminar-explores-tools-lib

UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 in photos

Professor Dibungi Kalenda presenting during the CHAIN  Research applications and e-Infrastructures Workshop

Brainstorming on conference proceeding at  dinner

 

Participants listening to the presentations at the Conference

Dr Bitange Ndemo, PS in the Ministry of Information and Communications of the Republic of Kenya

From left: Christiaan Kuun, Kevin Chege and Roderick Mooi sharing ideas

 

Participants enjoying the event

Professor Abdelrahim O. Mohammed and Tarig Yassin Ahmed

Rose Chisowa and Beatrice Ng’ambi, relaxing over gala dinner

Participants joyfully contented with the conference proceedings

 

Conference participants posing for a group photo


Sharing ideas  during teabreak.

Bonny Khunga and Wilfred Kuria evaluating the conference proceedings during teabreak

 

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