NUANCE – February 2009

AU Secretary General Visits UbuntuNet Secretariat

Prof Zimani Kadzamira, Chairperson of UbuntuNet and Prof Goolam Mohamedbai, Secretary General of the AAU at the SecretariatThe relationship between UbuntuNet Alliance and the Association of African Universities continues to rise as the two organizations work together: the AAU gives continental level policy leadership to research and education networking in Africa, and is also responsible for the process through which the Chairperson of the Alliance is identified.  This relationship led to a recent visit of the Secretary General of the AAU, Professor Goolam Mohamebdhai in the company of the Chairperson of the Alliance, Professor Zimani Kadzamira, to the UbuntuNet Alliance Secretariat in Lilongwe. The AAU Secretary General was at this time attending a NUFU Conference. In the photo, the Chairperson of the Alliance, Prof Zimani Kadzamira poses with Professor Goolam Mohammedbhai at the Secretariat.

The visit presented an opportunity for the Secretary General to gain an in depth understanding of the role of the Alliance in African research and education networking and also the constitutional role of the AAU in the appointment of the Chairperson.

Board approves key foundation Documents

The Board approved various landmark documents at its 12th meeting held in Johannesburg, 19th February 2009. The public documents are already posted on the UbuntuNet website.

The first document is the UbuntuNet Dar es Salaam Strategic Plan whose highlights have been carried in an earlier issue of NUANCE. The second Foundation document is the Policy and Master plan. This, apart from laying out the overall policy framework to guide implementation and operations, lays out the organizational structure, the business model, as well as the infrastructure vision and projects. It breaks our major undertaking into the following distinctive projects:

The Virtual REN Project: This project is aimed at connecting NRENs (or their nominated members) that use VSAT for international access to the UbuntuNet Router in London.  The project will address, in the short-term, the challenge of establishing connectivity of NRENs to the international research and education community through the UbuntuNet Router in London.  It will, in the medium term, continue enabling those NRENs that do not have access to international fiber backbone to get to the London UbuntuNet POP.

The Regional Backbone Project: This is aimed at ensuring regional connectivity so that local traffic within the sub-region is kept local; cross-border connections are transparent and cost-neutral to the NREN community; all landlocked countries have access to the international (i.e, external to Africa) fiber landing points; and charges to NRENs are independent of geographic location (i.e, no distance-dependent charges to NRENs).

The International Connectivity Project is aimed at securing connectivity to the international research and education community through fiber at prices comparable to Northern America, Europe, and the Pacific countries so as to remove the bandwidth limitation to the international competitiveness of Africa-based researchers and academics.

The Network Operations Center Project:  The objective of Network Operations Center (NOC) Project is to ensure that service level agreements are fulfilled through proactive monitoring and resolution of any network glitches that can militate against this.  This includes remote layer 3 management and layer 2 monitoring, in each case triggering corrective action through the NOC itself or through NRENs and other outsourced service providers.  The NOC will also provide the Help Desk function that may be outsourced.

The fifth project, the African-Indian Ocean Wave (AI-wave) is aimed at implementing a sea-based regional backbone following the Indian Ocean along the African coast.  The current regional protocols permit land-locked countries access to the cable landing points.  This creates opportunity for making the cable landing stations points of interconnection, permitting the routing of the regional backbone traffic along an ocean based path without the policy and regulatory challenges of cross-border operations.

The Master Plan also addresses gender issues, risks and mitigation, and monitoring and evaluation. The highlights of these will be given in the next issues of NUANCE.

Other key documents approved are the Finance Manual and the Human Resource Manual.

SEACOM Cable laying reaches Mombasa

SEACOM progress, a screen capture of the SEACOM websiteExpectations are rising among many enthusiasts as the long-awaited fibre bandwidth is coming within reach in a few months along the East African coast.

According to a press statement issued by SEACOM on 4th February, the first portions of deepwater cable were resting on the seabed of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea on the date of the release. Cable laying started from the edge of the South African waters to Mozambique and is also proceeding in the Red Sea from Egypt towards the coast of Yemen. A third ship started with the remainder of SEACOM’s deepwater cable from India towards Africa, where these three cable segments will be joined.

The East African Business Week reported that the cable reached Mombasa at the beginning of March, marking a whole onset of a new era in the telecommunication industry. SEACOM is expected to be in full operational by July 2009 and is expected to reduce the cost of bandwidth tremendously.

For more details go to and…

AAU DATAD and MALICO Malawi – more guests for the Secretariat

How much wealth of African research has been locked in PhD and MSc theses? For decades, theses produced on other continents were accessible through what was University Microfilms but few theses submitted to African Universities were listed. However, things are rapidly improving. Many UbuntuNet member countries are inputting their ETD (electronic theses and dissertations) into the AAU DATAD system. Dr Pascal Hoba, who represented AAU at the UbuntuNet Development Partners Forum, coordinates DATAD which has been in existence since the late 1990s.

Recognizing the huge advances in digitization and access technologies, DATAD is evolving from a centralized database of abstracts to a decentralized means of providing access to the full text of the theses, using international metadata standards. In February, Dr Hoba paid a visit to MALICO, the Malawi Library Consortium which works closely with MAREN, to arrange the donation of a server and scanner to assist in inputting into DATAD. While the equipment is in the custody of MALICO, it resides with the University of Malawi Libraries, who will input the theses for both national universities into DATAD.

Dr Hoba and the MALICO team paid a courtesy call on the Alliance Secretariat in Lilongwe. They realize that without adequate infrastructure and bandwidth, even if the theses are digitally accessible in theory, in reality they are not!

Opening Access to Knowledge in Southern African Universities

By Denise NicholsonMany of the restrictions on access to knowledge in Africa, but particularly in the Southern Africa Region, revolve around restrictive copyright practices and regulations, a lack of access to Internet-based technologies, out-dated paradigms for knowledge collection and dissemination, and the lack of creative and effective government supported enabling environments within higher education to match the vision of African leaders for knowledge and innovation in Africa in the 21st century.

The report offers a series of recommendations to address these challenges, both at a policy level and with regard to research and dissemination (e.g. an ‘open knowledge platform’ for the region). These are of sufficient magnitude that a paradigm shift is required in thinking, knowledge generation and dissemination. Sufficient critical and concerted action will be necessary in order to produce a series of ‘break throughs.

Download the full report: Opening Access to Knowledge in Southern African Universities (570 KB)

MAREN participates in ICTP training on Wireless ICT Low Cost Solutions in Developing Countries

Participants at the ICTP trainingMalawi Research and Educational Network continues to benefit from training programs in wireless offered by the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy. This year three member of MAREN, Anthony Muyepa and Augustine Mtambalika from College of Medicine and Harry Chavinda from Kamuzu College of Nursing, MLW were sponsored to participate in a three week training program at ICTP-ITU School on Wireless ICT Low Cost Solutions in Developing Countries. The workshop run from 16 February – 6 March 2009. Their improved skills will make a great contribution to building MAREN.

Similar training activities on digital radio have been carried out at ICTP since 1996, and some 1800 participants from all the continents have attended. As a result of the training, a series of concrete ICT projects have been initiated, developed and successfully completed in developing countries including Malawi. In August 2008, the first long distance wireless link was installed connecting College of Medicine to Mangochi and the research and education institutions in Zomba. The link is envisaged to provide cost-effective connectivity both among the Malawi tertiary education and research institutions between Blantyre, Zomba and Mangochi, increase sharing of knowledge and electronic content including digital information and collaborate in research.

The ICTP training program focuses on innovative solutions in design and implementation of 2.4 and 5 GHz low-cost wireless local area networks and long-distance links for data and audio interconnectivity. The training is both theoretical and practical, a significant amount of time is devoted to hands-on sessions on configuration, installation, management and monitoring of wireless networks.

By participating in this years training program, MAREN hopes to build capacity that would contribute to advancing scientific development in academic and research institutions within Malawi. Most importantly capacity is supporting the long distant link to Mangochi.

Contacts established with Angola and Mauritius

The footprint of the Alliance is set to expand!  Contact has been established within the last few weeks with the academic communities of Angola and Mauritius with a view to establishing NRENs there. The Alliance is grateful to Dr Jameson Mbale for establishing the link with Angola and Mr Anders Comstedt for the contact with Mauritius.  Implementation is now in the hands of the Alliance CEO, Eng Dr Tusubira!

Capacity Building at the Secretariat

Since its inception, the Alliance has organised several capacity building activities at the engineering and NREN level.  Now, opportunities have been extended to the Secretariat. Tiwonge Banda, who has been project officer since the inception of the Alliance participated in a short course at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) focusing on management for young executives during the first week of March. He returned inspired and full of new ideas.

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