The story of the life of Dr. Iman Abuelmaaly Abdelrahman, the Vice Chairperson of UbuntuNet Alliance, is one that should ooze tones of inspiration to many a young African woman wanting to break-through the continent’s research and education networking field that seems to be dominated by men.
On 29 March this year, the Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Khartoum in Sudan was one of the 10 Arab women from different countries to receive the prestigious “Distinguished Arab Woman Engineer Award, a recognition handed out by the Federation of Arab Engineers to outstanding Arab women engineers.
In June 2015, Dr. Abdelrahman came top of 32 Sudanese women engineers to receive the 2015 Sudanese Distinguished Arab Woman Engineer and qualified for her latest award that epitomises a decorated career that has seen her serve in different portfolios as an engineer, a researcher, librarian, academician and a promoter of rights of fellow women.
Dr. Abdelrahman attributes her determination and passion to make a difference as a woman to her mother Aziza Mekki, a prominent Sudanese feminist who led the Sudanese Women Union, a grouping founded in 1952 to fight for women equality in Sudan.
‘I come from a family that has a history of supporting women. My mother’s role as one of the ten leaders of the Sudanese Women’s Union was critical in the promotion of women rights in Sudan. Among other achievements this union managed to fight for equal salaries for men and women holding similar qualifications in Sudan. As for my father, he was very supportive of my mother in her leadership role and he made sure that he gave my mother what she needed to succeed.” Says Dr. Abdelrahman.
Born in 1959 in Omdurman-the largest city in Sudan- in a family of four children- a dentist and three engineers- Iman Abdelrahman spent 23 years in Egypt where her family moved to join her father, Abuelmaaly Abdelrahman who had joined the Arab League in Egypt in 1960.
In 1982, Iman Abdelhraman fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming an engineer when she graduated from Cairo University with a BSc in Telecommunication and Electriconics Engineering but she immediately returned to Sudan where she worked for 11 years as an Operational and Maintenance Engineer for the then Sudan Telecommunication Public Corporation (STPC) before it became part of the Sudan Telecommunications Company (Sudatel).
“I liked working with the tools, doing the troubleshooting and rectifying faults but I had decided to upgrade my education and with the support of my husband whom I have three children with, I received my Master’s Degree in Digital Signal Processing in 1993 and my PhD in 1998, both from the University of Khartoum which I eventually joined in 1999 as an Assistant Professor, ’’ she adds.
The joining of the academia was the start of great things to come for Dr. Abdelrahman. The pivotal point of her journey to recognition as a renowned engineer, academician, researcher and librarian- rolled into one- came in 2002 when she was invited by Sudatel Company to give a presentation on implementing a national digital library in Sudan during a workshop that came under the auspicies of the Sudanese Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
“I don’t know why I was chosen but when they invited me, I did my research and made a powerful presentation which made me popular and I instantly became a famous ICT woman in Sudan. That was the beginning of great things to come.”
Following the fame that came with this “groundbreaking” presentation, Dr. Abdelrahman was appointed a member of the Computer Science Studies Committee in Sudan and from 2002 to 2004 she led at least 18 female Sudanese students at the annual International Institute of Women in Engineering held at the French for Engineers Programme (EPF) in Paris, France and attended by 100 students from around the world.
In 2005 she was appointed to lead the Sudanese Virtual Engineering Library project, a one-year initiative funded by UNESCO and EPF with collaboration from the University of Khartoum. Her biggest project however, the Sudanese Research and Education Network (SudREN), was yet to come.
Her journey to SudREN, she recalls, started In 2004 when Prof. Sami Sharief, the then ICT Director of the University of Khartoum together with five Vice chancellors from Sudanese Universities submitted a project proposal to the Ministry of Higher Education to provide information to public universities through Internet connectivity.
When the Sudanese government accepted to fund the initiative, then called the Sudanese Universities Information Network (SUIN), the project’s proponents nominated Dr. Abdelrahman to head the project and she did from 2006 to 2009 before the Ministry handed SUIN, which joined UbuntuNet Alliance in 2007, to the Association of Sudanese Universities (ASU).
Under ASU, SUIN became an independent legal entity and became to be known as the Sudanese Research and Education Network (SudREN) in 2010. Dr. Abdelrahman was appointed first CEO of the network, a position she held for four years until 2014 when she resgined to pursue her research project to be promoted to Professor at the University of Khartoum where she now heads the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Looking back over her illustrious career, Dr. Abdelrahman says given a second chance in life, she would choose the path she took again as it has given her what she has always wanted in life. She also pays homage to her family especially her husband whom she says has been very supportive of her in her career.
“I thank my husband and my three children for the support they have given me over the years. I am also grateful to see my three children- all of them engineers- accomplish their dreams.”
A word to women who aspire to trek down a path similar to the one she has taken?
“I advise women to work hard. They can achieve everything they want in their lives but they must make sure they do not put barriers between work and family. They should manage their time well by pursuing their dreams while taking care of their families.” She says with a glowing smile that seldomly leaves her face.