Eastern and Southern African NRENs Represented in the Science Summit at the United Nations General Assembly 77

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Prof. Madara Ogot, the CEO of UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and Education Networking was part of a panel discussion at the Science Summit at UNGA77. The Panel set out to discuss the Digital infrastructure to enable Science and Cooperation in Africa. Throughout the panel discussion Prof. Ogot was able to shine a light on the challenges that are faced by NRENs in the UbuntuNet Alliance region and the possible solutions that can be put in place. Among other things, he also put across several points on how the NRENs in Eastern and Southern Africa are contributing to the achievement of the UN SDGs. This story outlines the details of the panel discussion.

This year, the science summit has been organized around the 77th United Nations General Assembly (SSUNGA77) taking place 13-30 September 2022. The central theme of the UNGA77 Science Summit is inclusiveness: A range of discussions are exploring how scientific excellence can be pursued based on inclusiveness at the global level. More about the conference is outlined on the official webpage here.

A panel comprising of the CEOs from the three RRENs of Africa, WACREN, ASREN and UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and Education Networking was put together to discuss digital infrastructure to enable science corporation in Africa. The panel was chaired by Nicky Wako of G√ČANT and also included Angelica Sartori Conte from the EU, Phoebe Odour from AfriGEO and Islam Abou El-Magd from the National Authority for Remote Sensing.

Speaking on the challenges facing NRENs and hindering of establishment of new NRENs, Prof. Ogot pointed out the bottleneck that exists in the internet connectivity supply chain at the point where NRENs supply to universities. He remarked that NRENs are unable to provide demanded connectivity to universities because the university Infrastructure is running at capacity and is outdated. This is important because capacity that RRENs have cannot reach the university students or staff even though it is available. Additionally, at the NREN level, the cost of providing connectivity is becoming more expensive because the NRENs continue to ride on dark fiber provided by private sector telecommunication providers who are essentially their competitors. At the RREN level, we must turn our focus to what can be done for research and education by riding on the network. There is need for additional services beyond connectivity in order to differentiate ourselves from a typical ICP.

Open science continues to be a driving force in modern science. During the discussion, Prof. Ogot praised the good job that has been done throughout the community in getting open access of research documents to the commendable level it is now. However, he noted that the challenge lies in how to share and store research data in the manner that renders is usable by other researchers. This is due to the fact that data is specific to research and may not fit every single study. Therefore, there is a need for tools that can help govern data usage by researchers, tools of which are currently few.

Efforts to aid researchers to carry out their research with limited barriers as possible were mentioned as a means of enabling the research and education community of Africa to contribute to the achievement of the UN SDGs. Platforms, such as Utafiti Africa, that enable researchers to easily identify research grant opportunities in their discipline and country; and video on demand platforms that are currently in their development stages were both discussed as good enablers of research that also collaboration in this regard.

In conclusion, Prof. Ogot emphasized that the research and education community is at a significant crossroads regarding research and education at which we must turn our attention to building upon connectivity and use it as a significant catalyst for the community we serve. In addition to this, we need to start building meaningful partnerships. He sighted the work and partnership that UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and Education Networking has created with IUCEA in order to carry out capacity building trainings in Eastern Africa. Such partnerships will facilitate a larger impact and difference in the community.

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