The Alliance Bids Farewell to its Long Serving Chairman

At a colourful event during the closing plenary of the UbuntuNet Connect Conference 2023 in Kampala, Uganda, the Alliance bid farewell to its long-serving Chairman, Prof Stephen Simukanga. Below is the speech prepared by the Acting Chairperson, Dr Julianne Sansa-Otim, given during the occasion.

“Ladies and gentlemen.

Today, we bid farewell to Professor Stephen Simukanga, who, back in September 2017, accepted a call to serve as Chairperson of UbuntuNet Alliance for a 3-year term. He went on to serve another 3-year term until September 2023 and has now stepped down as per the statutes of the Alliance to give way to new leadership and ideas.

As we bid farewell to Professor Simukanga, I would like us all to reflect on the 6 years of his chairmanship and celebrate the achievements that the Alliance has made. I know that some of you already bear testimony to these. Indeed, those who were present at the 16th Annual General Meeting of Members in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the beginning of May 2023, had the opportunity to celebrate some of the achievements.

Professor Simukanga came to the helm of UbuntuNet Alliance already familiar with the business of research and education networking in general, having served as Chairperson of ZAMREN; having represented ZAMREN at UbuntuNet Alliance AGMs; and most importantly, having served a 2-year term as Board Member of the Alliance between 2013 and 2015.

  • While the number of NREN Members has largely remained the same between 2017 and now, given that we lost 1 NREN (Xnet of Namibia) and gained 1 NREN (BotsREN of Botswana), the community has become more cohesive than it was before. NRENs are steadily maturing and bringing more value to universities and research centres at home.
  • The reach of the UbuntuNet Network has expanded from 8 countries back in 2017 to 13 today. The network reached Botswana a few weeks ago, and will reach Ethiopia probably before the end of the year.
  • Capacity on the core of the UbuntuNet Network has over the 6 years grown from 622Mbps to 20Gbps now. The original vision of the Alliance in 2006 was to have universities move from the kilobits per second to gigabits per second. Since most of you come from universities, you can bear with me that some of your institutions are on gigabit links.
  • The price that NRENs pay for connectivity has fallen from about US$50/Mbps in 2017 to an average of about US$15 now. With the completion of the backbone upgrades, prices will keep dropping in the years to come as NRENs increase their capacity uptake.
  • Back then the Alliance did not keep data about users, but today the network serves about 3.5 million users from over connected 1000 institutions across Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • In 2017, the Alliance’s main service was connectivity. Professor Simukanga has always insisted that the Alliance must have services beyond connectivity. Today, beyond connectivity, the Alliance provides Utafiti Africa Research opportunities service, identity services, security services, and persistent identifier (DOI) services. Soon, the next big thing for the Alliance is coming – i.e. the UbuntuNet Cloud.
  • As the organisation is growing, so are its needs and ambitions. Prof Simukanga presided over the revision of the Constitution of the Alliance in 2019 leading to its approval at the AGM in 2020.
  • Prof Simukanga has presided over 3 strategic planning cycles, which have led to what the Alliance is today. The current Strategic Plan will take the Alliance through to 2027.
  • During his time, the Alliance has been managed by 3 full time CEOs and 2 acting CEOs and yet he has remained a constant figure providing guidance and wisdom as an experienced elder.
  • When he came, the Alliance had 7 staff members, but now this number has grown to 10 full time employees, each working towards the mission of the organisation. A new staff establishment of 21 staff members to efficiently implement the current Strategic Plan has recently been approved by the Board.
  • He has provided excellent leadership to the Board of Trustees and the AGM, presiding over 29 Board Meetings and 6 AGMs, 6 UbuntuNet-Connect conferences. Sometimes, this meant making some of the tough decisions that every leader has to make.
  • Your memories are still fresh about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected education around the world. Perhaps what you may not know is the extent to which the university closures affected entities that survive on the functioning of such institutions. For the Alliance, university closures meant that NRENs lost their revenues and with that, the Alliance’s revenues dried up. During that time Prof Simukanga steered the organisation through a contingency plan that just like a miracle worked out. NRENs still owe the Alliance significant amounts of money because of the pandemic and the Alliance in turn still owes its suppliers good amounts of money, but one thing we celebrate over is that the organisation survived the pandemic under the leadership of Professor Simukanga and is working towards being more resilient.

With all these achievements, I am sure that you all agree that the history of the Alliance will not be complete without mentioning the name of Professor Simukanga, the 3rd Chairperson of UbuntuNet Alliance. As he steps down to concentrate on his role at the Higher Education Council of Zambia, join me in wishing him well. We know that he will continue to be our great advocate for research and education networking.

Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking Professor Simukanga for his service. Thank you for your service, Sir.”

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