NUANCE – October 2008

Breaking News…Science and Technology Parks for sub-Saharan Africa

IEEAF and GEO have just signed an MoU with USAID in which they agree ” … to form an alliance to facilitate investment in world-class regional telecommunications exchanges, data facilities, and science and technology parks in sub-Saharan Africa.”

African REN developments reported at Internet2 meeting

Three African REN activists attended and presented a session at the recent Fall 2008 Internet2 Member Meeting that was held from 13 – 17 October 2008 in New Orleans, LA. They are Boubakar Barry, who heads up the AAU’s REN Unit; Duncan Martin, CEO of TENET and F F (Tusu) Tusubira, Ag CEO of the UbuntuNet Alliance. The session surveyed REN progress in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past three years and was chaired by Heather Boyles, Internet2’s Director of International Relations. The three also met with Douglas van Houweling, President and CEO of Internet2.

Other highlights of the Internet2 Meeting included a presentation on how Tulane University coped with Hurricane Katrina by the University’s President, Scott Cowen; and live interviews of leading scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, using 1.5 Gb/s uncompressed high definition video conferencing links configured within the Internet2 and Géant networks.

For information, Internet2 ( is a not-for-profit, advanced networking consortium comprising more than 200 U.S. universities in cooperation with 70 leading corporations, 45 government agencies, laboratories and other institutions of higher learning as well as over 50 international partner organizations. The map below displays Internet2’s backbone network.

Click here to download the Internet2 network map.

Highlights of the revised Strategic Plan

As reported in the last issue, UbuntuNet Alliance held a strategic planning workshop hosted by the Tanzania Research and Education Network, TERNET, in Dar es Salaam. In the revised plan that will soon be formally publicised, the societal vision of UbuntuNet is “Vibrant African research and education institutions, networking effectively in the global knowledge society”. The Alliance has accordingly set itself the mission of “Securing affordable high speed international connectivity and efficient ICT access and usage for African NRENs” as their contribution to the societal vision.

We see our core activities captured in the Memorandum of Association as still defining the broad direction:

  • To develop and provide high speed and affordable interconnectivity among the NRENs, and with the rest of the world
  • To develop and share the knowledge and skills of ICT practitioners in the NRENs
  • To provide related auxiliary services to the NRENs

The key objectives as formulated in the first (Zomba) Strategic Plan were however reviewed to the following that will apply to the period 2009 – 2013:

  • Strengthened development and capacity building for NRENs
  • Improved speed and affordability of connectivity for Africa
  • Strengthened institutional sustainability
  • Improved policy and regulatory environment that enables REN activities
  • Increased interconnections within Africa and globally
  • Strengthened support for content and research networks

In recognition of the very dynamic environment (technology, policy and regulation, regional groupings, implementation of fibre projects), the revised Strategic Plan is a rolling plan that will be reviewed at least once every two years so as to maintain the relevance of UbuntuNet to its clients.

The concept below illustrates the UbuntuNet Alliance Vision of the regional UbuntuNet Alliance network:

KENET (Kenya) hosts East Cluster Countries in Intensive Design Workshop

By Dr Iman A M AbdelRahman, CEO, SUIN

The UbuntuNet East Cluster Network Design Workshop, hosted by the Kenya Education Network (KENET), was held at the Nairobi Hilton, Kenya, on 5th – 8th October 2008. The workshop brought together technical personnel from the UbuntuNet East Cluster, with participants from DRC, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malawi. The objective was to use a real design exercise addressing the NREN network backbone and operations in each of the countries as a platform for capacity building. The workshop achieved the triple objectives of developing NREN network designs; building capacity; and creating a human network among the CEOs and technical experts of participating NRENs (also extending to expertise from the USA).

The participants discussed cross-border, interface, operational and management issues around the growth of the cluster. They also addressed national policy and regulatory barriers to cross-border connectivity and the challenge of landlocked countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, and Malawi. The objective of this is to find solutions for the connectivity for all UbuntuNet countries in the East Cluster to Europe (where UbuntuNet has a router), Asia and the Far East, and North America. The event was conducted mainly through working groups focusing on each specific country, and then taking advantage (during plenary sessions) of the assembled expertise to critique and help in the improvement of each other’s national network plans.

The workshop, funded by USAID Washington and jointly organised by UbuntuNet Alliance and IEEAF, was supported by expert guidance from the University of Washington (which has also been supporting Uganda in their detailed design), the University of Maryland, and the IEEAF (which secured the capacity donation on SEACOM and internal fiber for Uganda).

The opening of the workshop started with the quotation from Mahatma Ghandi “Be the change you want to see in the world”. That quotation meant a lot to the technical people who face the challenge of developing their NRENs. The closing speech used the quotation “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”, because at the end of the workshop every one believed that the future belongs to Africa because of the beautiful dreams the UbuntuNet people believe in.

Africa is Huge!

Nothing captures the challenge of implementing continent-wide research and education networking in Africa like this map (copyright as cited on the map). This is why partners in Africa have recognised the importance of working as multiple initiatives, having national and then regional (eg UbuntuNet Alliance) networks that follow common architecture and interface standards that will, over time, allow the emergence of a true African-wide research and education network.

UbuntuNet’s routing hub in London is operational

Since February 2008 UbuntuNet’s routing hub in London has been exchanging route announcements and traffic with Géant (the European Regional REN) and with two Internet transit providers. CISCO Systems donated the router to the Alliance. UbuntuNet’s rack containing the router and other equipment is hosted free of charge by DANTE, the non-profit company that operates Géant on behalf of the European Commission. Importantly, Géant connects UbuntuNet not only to the NRENs of Europe, but also to other major RENs all over the World.

So what’s the point of UbuntuNet’s locating this router in Europe? By far the majority of African university campuses depend on VSAT connectivity. UbuntuNet’s London router is closer to these campuses, in networking terms, than any Internet site in Africa. And by establishing a routing connection to UbuntuNet’s London router, these campuses can connect to Géant and hence to the other RENs of the World. Currently both KENET and TENET are doing this, and other member NRENs are preparing to do so.

Changes at the Lilongwe Secretariat

By Margaret Ngwira

Three years ago, when the Alliance was still at an embryonic stage and homeless, as one of the Founding Directors of the Alliance, I approached my College Principal Mrs Diana Jere of Kamuzu College of Nursing as to whether the Alliance could be hosted within our University for a three month period. At that stage no funding proposals had been written and it was not exactly clear why a Nursing Faculty should give a home to such an entity. Mrs Jere however gave us both permission and support and the three months gradually extended so that now, it is for almost three years that the Alliance Secretariat has been hosted by the College. Mrs Jere has been a signatory on our major Grants such as IDRC and EU GLOBAL and has kept a close interest in the documentation and the development of the Alliance.

The Alliance has grown from an embryo to a more mature organisation and is ready for more autonomy. The University of Malawi will still manage of the finances of the Alliance but the Alliance is gradually working towards more independence.. At the end of October, the Secretariat occupied its own rented premises about a kilometer from the College.

Coincidentally, the relocation of the Secretariat is at the time of the completion of the term of office of the KCN Principal, Mrs Jere. I wish, on behalf of the Board and membership, to express my heartfelt thanks to Mrs Diana Jere for her support for the Alliance, her availability and profound grasp of project documents and wish her all the best in the next stage if her career.

All Roads lead to Lilongwe this November

The week 10th-14th November 2008 will see NREN pioneers, ICT practitioners, policy makers, researchers, faculty and students from Africa and other parts of the world headed to Lilongwe, Malawi – the Warm Heart of Africa. The UbuntuNet annual conference, UbuntuNet Connect 2008, will be held on the 11th of November, preceded on the 10th by the UbuntuNet Alliance Development Partners forum. UbuntuNet-Connect 2008, hosted by the Malawi Research and Education Network, MAREN, will focus on emerging fibre infrastructure opportunities and will bring together practitioners and stakeholders to address current challenges, share lessons, and plan for the continuing growth of research and education networks in Africa. MAREN will also host the Development Partners Forum that will bring together representatives from Development Partners that share the same vision with UbuntuNet Alliance. At the Forum, the Alliance will present its Master Plan. For further details, visit

These two events will be followed by the 6th International Conference on Open Access hosted by the ICT Association of Malawi (ICTAM). The theme for this year’s conference is “Open Access to ICT for Social Economic Development”. The conference programme includes parallel sessions on Grid Computing Tut

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