African National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) have appealed to the African Union Commission (AUC) to help in lobbying  African governments to recognize the NRENs as enablers of technology and providers of Internet connectivity and other research and education tools for education and research institutions in their countries.  

UbuntuNet Alliance Vice Chairperson, Dr. Julianne Sansa-Otim made the appeal to Dr. Moctar Yedaly, Head of Information Society Division at the African Union Commission on Wednesday, 18th November 2020 during the opening of the 14th Annual conference of UbuntuNet Alliance, UbuntuNet Connect 2020.

The conference which is being held under the theme “Positioning Research and Education During Crises” is being held virtually and will run until Friday, 20th November 2020.

Speaking on behalf of Chairperson, Prof. Stephan Simukanga, Dr. Sansa-Otim said African NRENs are struggling to effectively operate in their respective countries as most of them do not enjoy support from their governments.

“One of our main challenges is that National Research and Education Networks are struggling to gain recognition from governments in their respective countries. Some governments and their line ministries look at National Research and Education Networks as Internet Service Providers bent at making profits. This has resulted in little or no government support to NRENs making it difficult for the NRENs to execute their obligations. We hereby appeal to organization like the African Union Commission to help us in lobbying  governments to work with National Research and Education Networks in their countries,” said Dr. Sansa-Otim.

The Vice Chairperson also appealed to the Union to recognize and support initiatives by NRENs aimed at addressing challenges brought about by crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As our community deliberates on the Covid-19 crisis during this meeting, we would like to appeal to the AU to help in recognizing and  providing funding for formulation and implementation of strategies that can sustain teaching and learning during crises of this nature,” she added.

In his response, Dr. Yedaly, who was the guest of honor during the opening session, said the research and education community had raised genuine concerns that will be looked into critically by the African Union.

Dr, Yedaly  emphasized that the Union is pleased with the works of Regional and National Research and Education Networks in promoting research and education and that the Union is committed to provide support. He also thanked the European Union for the support it is rendering to the African Research and Education Networks.

“The African Union is pleased with the works of the three African Regional Research and Education Networks especially with the AfricaConnect project. The works of these networks have helped reduce the digital divide in Africa and that is in line with the objectives and goals of the African Union Commission,” said Dr. Yedaly.

Speaking before the Vice Chairperson, UbuntuNet Alliance CEO, Dr. Matthews Mtumbuka hailed the Research and Education Community in Africa for standing firm and leading in providing solutions to the education community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As members of the research and Education community we have been one of the busiest players as we have not only been hit with the effects of Covid-19, but we are also being seen as providers of solutions to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. However, we are extremely proud of the works that we as UbuntuNet Alliance in collaboration with our NREN Members and partners have undertaken during this period to live up to or match these expectations even though we met a couple of challenges.”

He cited initiatives from NRENs in Somalia, Zambia, South Africa, Uganda and Kenya as examples of the community’s resilience towards promoting research and education during the pandemic.

The opening session also included a talk from Duncan Greaves, on the impact of Covid-19 on African NRENs. The session also included a panel discussion on the conference theme.

Representatives from the global Research and Education Community including GEANT, WACREN, ASREN, Association of African Universities, National Start-Up Resource Center (NSRC) and NORDUnet attended the opening session.

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