NUANCE – April 2012

Council of Members Cluster of Events in Lilongwe declared a Success

By Margaret Ngwira

The sudden death of Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika a few days prior to the scheduled 6th Council of Members Cluster Meetings in the country’s Capital City of Lilongwe cast some doubts on the scheduling.  Four meetings were scheduled: Special Meeting of Members to Consider the Draft Constitution of the Alliance; the 6th Council of Members Meeting; the 24th Management Board Meeting; and MAREN Workshop. However, as a smooth and peaceful transition of power was evidently taking place, the meetings went ahead as planned except for the MAREN Workshop.  Representatives of 10 member NRENs arrived in Lilongwe for the Meetings.

The Special Meeting of Members unanimously approved the Draft Constitution of the Alliance and subsequent registration in Malawi. This follows a decision made in 2007 to register the Alliance in Malawi. Readers will remember that initially the Alliance was registered in Amsterdam as, at that point in early 2006; its African home was not yet decided upon.

Registration of the Alliance in Malawi required revision of the Articles of Association to align them with the laws of Malawi.The new constitution has dropped the concept of Representative Members as the members of the Alliance representing their NRENs, now the NRENs themselves are recognised as Members.

After a long and busy day, delegates were hosted to a cocktail by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi, Dr Emmanuel Fabiano.

With the cancellation of the MAREN Workshop, an opportunity presented itself  for the remaining delegates to travel down the Great East African Rift valley to visit the beautiful Lake Malawi and enjoy lunch overlooking the huge lake and listen to the call of the fisheagles. This also presented an opportunity for real networking about developments and challenges for the respective NRENs.

The late President has now been laid to rest in the presence of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of many of the UbuntuNet Alliance member countries. In true African family tradition, they brought gifts such as maize and cattle to support the mourners, reflecting on a higher scale, the family nature of our larger community.  

Good start Xnet

By Rose Chisowa

While Xnet, the NREN of Namibia is the most recent NREN to join the UbuntuNet Alliance community, it has nevertheless been around since 2004. The NREN was established as a partnership between the incumbent fixed-line telecommunications provider (Telecom Namibia) and a local NGO (SchoolNet Namibia). During 2004 to 2007 Xnet’s sole beneficiary was SchoolNet Namibia. In 2007, Xnet expanded its operations to include all educational institutions.

According to Wilfred Kuria, the CEO of Xnet, since its acceptance into the UbuntuNet Alliance, their mandate has been expanded to include research institutions. Also the NREN is capable of providing services to all its member institutions through their project partner, Telecom Namibia. Telecom Namibia manages and maintains the links between institutions and offers the same Service Level Agreements to Xnet as they do to other commercial customers.

The NREN has also changed its model slightly in order to accommodate new beneficiaries. “The present status has also forced us to re-work our current connectivity solutions as these institutions will require more bandwidth and maintenance/service from Xnet. This is what we are currently busy with” narrated Kuria.

The good news is that Xnet will also host the national e-Learning Centre servers and provide educational institutions free access to e-content. The majority of the content is sourced from outside Namibia; however, the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) is busy localising some of the content. The intention is to eventually have relevant localised content available to beneficiaries through the Xnet network – schools, Vocational Training Centers (VTC), National and Community Libraries etc.

The major challenge facing Xnet is that of expertise and staffing. Since the institution is in its primary stages there are very few internetworking experts in Namibia willing to work with the NREN for little money. Xnet has been fortunate enough to receive assistance in this area from the Polytechnic of Namibia, the University of Namibia and the International University of Management.

All Aboard for AfricaConnect

 By Tusu

I am personally excited by the growth in capacity and capability of the UbuntuNet Alliance, starting as an infant barely five years ago, nursed African style by multiple parents (Margaret Ngwira, who being the only lady has to be assumed to be the mother; and fathers Duncan Martin, Americo Muchanga, Albert Nsengiyumva, Victor Kyalo).  OK, I was not a father, but a loving uncle from the time of inception, later charged with the responsibility of bringing up the infant.  I guess they must have seen that I loved this child! There were other midwives, uncles and aunties from around the world, people like Steve Song, Bjorn Pehrson, Carmen Mena-Abela, Heloise Emdon… A long list, really.  If UbuntuNet Alliance does not mature into a responsible adult, it will not be for want of community care, love, and support.

Our data network, UbuntuNet, has also been growing to match the needs of this gregarious child – at least in one respect: the external segment that is based in Europe.

However, there is still acute embarrassment that where it should matter most – the regional segment within Africa, there is, err, still nothing.  It will therefore be understood that we are quite excited about AfricaConnect!  So, what is this AfricaConnect?  I must go back five years to fill you in.

During December 2007, the Africa-EU Summit in Lisbon agreed the 8thAfrica – EU Strategic Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space and the process to shortlist flagship projects and the agreed funding mechanisms commenced.  The EU Information Society priority is focused on bridging the digital divide and enhancing the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as key enablers for poverty reduction, growth, and socio-economic development. The expected outcomes include a more sustainable, accessible, affordable and effective African ICT infrastructure; enhanced use of ICT applications in order to achieve Millennium Development Goal objectives, notably in the health and education sector; progress towards inclusive and equitable knowledge-based societies; and common African-EU positions and approaches in international and regional ICT.  The political and policy level continental role in this initiative is led by the African Union Commission.  I like this chain of sentences: it makes me sound well-informed and polished in political and development phraseology!  You must admit: even if you do not understand it, it does sound good.

The point is that one of the five flagship projects agreed was the AfricaConnect Project.  If you want to know about the other four, I am sure you know where to search.  This project is supporting the development of regional research and education networks in Sub-Saharan Africa and their interconnection with the European GÉANT2 network.  In other words, it is addressing, among other things, that embarrassing gap (really the base) in UbuntuNet.  AfricaConnect will last four years (one down and counting) and has a total budget of €14.8 million, of which the EC will contribute 80% and African partners 20%.  Our good friend DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) who manages and operates GÉANT is the Project Manager.  And to us, the efficient, thorough and energetic Cathrin Stöver is the face of DANTE.  Some have compared her to Charlie’s Angels packed into one person!  

 So why the use of: All Aboard?

The design and procurement phase is almost complete – the connectivity procurement is almost concluded with the bidders all decked in their best for our final selection.  Being worldly wise, we do not stop at appearance: we use body scanners and things like that to see what they really are on the inside.  The equipment tender, covering routers and suchlike for the points of presence to be established in each country, is also out.  We all looking to the end of 2012 when that embarrassing gap has been addressed to an extent that permits us to hold our heads high and take a good byte, so to speak, at the global research and education networking opportunities.  Life is good!
So, you are wondering, where is the catch? Well, you might recall the little matter of 20% of €14.8 million to be raised by us as the Alliance.  I like leaving off the zeroes, because the 20% does not look so scaring.  Anyway the point is that each participating NREN has to come up with €280,000 (only four zeroes, not six) to get on board.  To put this in clearer terminology, call it the boarding pass.  No boarding pass, no boarding.

So NRENs: All Aboard!  Get your boarding passes before AfricaConnect takes off!
(See for more on AfricaConnect; for more on DANTE; and for more on UbuntuNet Alliance). 

KENET’s $200,000 Google Infrastructure Grant

The 2012 Easter season started with high spirits for the KENET community as the NREN received a grant of US$200,000 from Google to help in infrastructure expansion.

In his email to the UbuntuNet Alliance Community just after receiving the grant, the CEO of KENET, Professor Meoli Kashorda could not hide his excitement as he said that Google last year also donated 15 new high-end servers worth about $60,000 which KENET is currently using to provide free shared services such as DNS, e-learning portals, and open-source software downloads in their data centre.“

Google has been very supportive of KENET’s agenda to improve access to broadband Internet for the Kenyan higher education community,” said Professor Kashorda.

The grant will be used to provide last mile connections to four member institutions and also to improve campus wireless networks at three University campuses.

Speaking on behalf of MoRENet Ludmila Maguni, the CEO, said that this is good news indeed and she congratulated KENET for the grant. “We have inspiring footsteps to follow,” said Maguni.

Professor Kashorda thanked the Google Africa team based in Nairobi – Kenya, Accra – Ghana and Cape Town – South Africa for supporting KENET in infrastructure expansion.

It has always been a norm for the UbuntuNet Alliance community to rejoice and compliment on achievement when a member NREN has done something good; So, congratulations to KENET, and thanks to Google for the grant.

Thanks Professor Kone for the WACREN contribution

By Rose Chisowa

UbuntuNet Alliance introduced a French version of NUANCE in April 2011 to benefit the francophone community and this version receives an increasing number of hits every month. Have you ever wondered who is behind the French NUANCE?  Our good colleague Cheruzgo Nyirongo from Malawi has been responsible for the translation since its inception.  However, since November 2011, work on French NUANCE has been a partnership in that Professor Tiemoman Kone, Board President of the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN), offered to proofread.

Professor Kone voluntarily started proofreading the newsletter starting with the November 2011 issue as in his own words “a contribution by WACREN to UbuntuNet Alliance.”

To this effect, UbuntuNet Alliance and the NUANCE Team would like to thank Professor Tiemoman Konemost warmly for the commendable job he is doing NUANCE is the monthly e-newsletter for UbuntuNet Alliance, established in May 2008

Munich in the Spring for European Grid Infrastructure

By Margaret Ngwira

While attending the CHAIN Project Management Board Meeting in Garching, Germany in late March 2012, I had the privilege of participating in the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) Community Forum held at the Technical University of Munich, 27-30 March 2012.  Coming from lush Malawi to the landscape of bare trees with budsjust breaking, seen from the super- efficient German train, was a nostaligic experience!

What splendid facilities these students enjoy!  And parties of schoolchildren and even nursery school children coming on field trips for early exposure to the excitement of science especially in the small museum devoted mainly to geometric shapes and puzzles – very hands-on.  The photo shows a multi storey slide for the students and their professors to shoot down when they have thought too much!

Of course the meat was opportunity to learn of the many applications using grid computing and from the key global figures there. We have invited a series of articles on the applications by EGI presenters for NUANCE and this will start next month. The series will be preceded by an introduction to available virtual research communities (VCRs) by Prof Rafael Garcia, a member of the CHAIN project consortium.

The CHAIN website has a very useful portal to assist researchers in selecting application that you might need Be it bioinformatics; climate change research; computational chemistry; and pharmacological research: this is the place to start and find your VRC (perhaps the 21st century equivalent of what was known as “The Invisible College“).

As UbuntuNet Alliance member NRENs are working to set up and give legal identity to their National Grid Initiatives (NGI), this is just the right time for the research community to link up with their NRENs, identify collaborative partners and become immersed in ground breaking research with a deeply African flavour!

Professor Monique Petitdidier: A friend of African Science

Professor Petitdidier was present at the EGI Community Forum in Garching, Germany from 27th – 30th March, 2012.  She is a friend of some of our NRENs. Professor Petitdidier visited Eb@le in DRC last year and facilitated their desktop grid training and she is also well known to a member of the Board of the Alliance, Dr Boubakar Barry of the Association of African Universities.  She will submit an article to NUANCE on her Virtual Research Community on Atmospheric Sciences.

According to the European Geosciences Union, Professor Petitdidier was last year awarded the 2011 Ian McHarg Medal for her work in support of African scientists and her recognition of the importance of outreach and ‘science citizenship.’ Further details are available here

The tribute states: “Monique Petitdidier’s contribution in support of African scientists has been threefold: (1) to help African scientists by providing them knowledge, information and/or contact for collaboration; (2) to make the scientific community at large aware of the internet conditions in Africa and to ask them for support to improve the cyber-infrastructure and (3) to make African scientists aware of their role to improve their working conditions and to develop scientific teams. Professor Petitdidier has actively worked to make African communities wealthier, safer and more sustainable through full participation in the information revolution.

Caribbean Connects to the Rest of the World’s Research & Education Community

The Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN), a regional organisation established by the heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in the month of April implemented a high capacity broadband research and education network called C@ribNET. This network connects all CARICOM countries and is connected to the world’s research and education community, through AMPATH to North America, through GÉANT to Europe and RedCLARA to Latin America. The network was financed by a contribution of ten million euros by the European Union.

Mr. Ken Sylvester, CEO of CKLN, made the announcement at the Internet 2 Meeting in Arlington Virginia. He told network partners from around the world, “For too long, international research and education maps and language have excluded the Caribbean, as we had no network or way of connecting. That is now a thing of the past and I urge you to rapidly update your maps and language to include the Caribbean with C@ribNET!”

With C@ribNET now in place, the CEO said, “the governments, the research and the teaching and learning institutions of the region can address the growth needs of our economies by expeditiously grasping new opportunities, increasing the competitiveness of the region within the emerging global economy, and, very importantly, enhancing regional integration and functional cooperation.”

Through C@ribNET, communities of interest are being organised to implement priority applications such as a regional digital library, a shared student information system for tertiary institutions, together with other applications supporting issues such as climate change, disaster management, crime and security, tele-health, culture among others.

Mr. Sylvester thanked the European Union for their contribution in providing the funding, and expressed his gratitude to the many partners and colleagues from the other international networks that provided invaluable guidance and assistance, to enable C@ribNET to become a reality and join the global mesh.

UbuntuNet and WACREN at Spring 2012 Internet2 Member Meeting

UbuntuNet Alliance was represented at the recently held Spring 2012 Internet2 Member meeting by KENET CEO and UA Board Member Meoli Kashorda and Board Member Boubakar Barry. Professor Kashorda made two presentations at the Emerging NRENs Special Interest Group, one about KENET and the other about UbuntuNet Alliance (see while Dr Boubakar Barry,  who also represented AAU, made a presentation at the International Updates and Strategies session on the growth of NRENs in Africa. “This was my first Internet2 Member meeting and it was good to know that the US Internet2 community has a keen interest in the growth of NRENs in Africa” said Prof. Kashorda.

WACREN was represented by Dr. Ousmane Moussa-Tessa Executive Secretary of NigerREN and a Board Member of WACREN.He made a presentation on the growth of NRENs in Western and Central  African countries at Emerging NRENs session.

Both Dr. Moussa-Tessa and Professor Kashorda were sponsored by Network Resource Startup Center (NSRC)at the University of Oregon that works with NRENs and Universities in Africa on Internet Development. Dale Smith of NSRC also made a presentation at the Emerging NRENs sessions explaining the grow and strengthen broadband campus networks in African Universities as critical for expansion of African NRENs.

The Spring 2012 Internet2 Members meeting attracted over 800 participants and focused on the advanced 100G backbone infrastructures as well as the Internet2 Net plus applications and services to be offered to connected universities. It was held in Arlington, Virginia. See for details of the sessions and the presentations made.

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