Volume 4: Issue 11: March 2012

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UbuntuNet Alliance after 6 years – in the words of a Veteran

On 31st March 2006, registration documents for UbuntuNet Alliance were submitted in the Trade Registrar of Chambers of Commerce in Amsterdam. Now the Alliance is 6 years old. Margaret Ngwira was there when UbuntuNet Alliance was established in 2005:  a Librarian by profession, she served in different positions before being appointed as the Special Projects Coordinator at the Alliance. She is always at the heart of action, and is typified by her impatience and persistence in getting the Alliance, sometimes quite aggressively so!  She is a true Veteran of the Alliance.  Read more in this exclusive interview she had with Rose Chisowa at the UbuntuNet Alliance Secretariat office in Lilongwe Malawi.

Would you please introduce yourself and tell us more about your career?
My career was in academic librarianship mainly in the field of agricultural but latterly in health information in universities on three continents and four countries – I have watched the technologies come on line and obsolesce over many years and know the importance of keeping on the forefront of technology developments but never losing sight of the users of the technologies.

So from a librarian background, how did you find yourself involved in UbuntuNet Alliance?
With the wonderful e-content becoming available with the new millennium, our region was falling further behind as although we had access contractually almost at the equivalent of the great northern hemisphere universities, in reality, connectivity or lack of it formed an impermeable barrier to access.  My first solution was through the MALICO VSATs project and then I was invited to be part of the team working to launch the new regional research and education network for eastern and southern Africa which was a couple of months later named UbuntuNet Alliance.

How can you describe UbuntuNet Alliance then and now that it has clocked 6?
Of course in the beginning there was only a need and a challenge – no funds, no home, no legal identity. But five founding Directors who brought a width of perspective and drive: Dr Duncan Martin, still the CEO of TENET; Victor Kyalo, then CEO of KENET and now with Kenya ICT Board; Albert Nsengiyumva, then CEO of RwEdNet, now Rwandan Minister of Infrastructural Development; and Dr Americo Muchanga, then of MoRENet and now the Regulator of Mozambique. The photo shows the founding Directors at WSIS in Tunis in 2005 with other key supporters – Prof Bjorn Pehrson and Anders Comstedt of Sweden, Ben McGarry of SARUA and there but not in the picture but very much in the formative stages of the Alliance were Heloise Emdon and Steve Song of IDRC and Carmen Mena-Abela of the EU. Then, as now, there was a terrific team of people with the single-mindedness that this challenge of giving our students and researchers parity with their global counterparts would be addressed.  Now UbuntuNet Alliance has a home, opportunities for generating the required funding, a legal identity and 13 member NRENs covering a huge area from the north to south of the continent.  We have a good measure of global recognition and have been able to partner with confidence with development partners and research teams.

Where do you see UbuntuNet Alliance in the next few years to come?
The implementation of the AfricaConnect project and with this the creation of the regional UbuntuNet backbone and the cross border links should at last build the collaborative community of researchers and students working seamlessly with global, regional and local partners and designing an exciting future that I cannot possibly see!

You were there in Brussels in March 2006 when the UbuntuNet Alliance Board made an appeal to the European Commission for support to develop the regional network, what was it like to wait until AfricaConnect was signed in 2011?
I think the five founding directors who were in Brussels along with the IDRC and KTH friends in 2006 were full of both anticipation and trepidation.  We were not thinking of such a long wait.  But nevertheless to build the necessary organization and trust would never have been a task to be accomplished overnight.  The apparent delay has given time for membership expansion and the development of the solid set of procedures manuals for the Alliance, and the track record of clean audits, all overseen by our highly visible CEO, Tusu.  The saying “Everything comes to those who wait” is being fulfilled!

Now that AfricaConnect is rolling out the UbuntuNet network, as the Special Projects Coordinator, what do you intend to do to stimulate development of communities of users of the network?
My strategy, as almost everyone who is connected with the Alliance knows and probably sometimes groans at, is just to keep on trying with persistence until it works!  I will continue contacting the potential communities and soliciting their ideas of which should be the early birds.  We need to find out how to ensure the uptake of the technologies so that our wider society benefits. Without this uptake, our advanced network will not deliver the societal change we anticipate.

What do you think African NRENs should focus on as they develop?
The NRENs have good examples to follow on our continent and further afield.  A glance at KENET is a good starting point.   Tusu gives the Pipes and Water analogy for our networks – the technology, the pipes are absolutely essential. But without the water- the applications, there is no purpose.  The NREN CEOs have a challenge to keep the team spirit and to ensure that both the pipes are working beautifully and reaching every new community and equally that streams of fresh water in the forms of applications flow through them to the precise destination required – and also that the business model is in place where the value is recognized and institutions meet their financial obligations in a cheerful and timely manner!  This involves also a focus on communications and dissemination strategies and on ongoing capacity building programmes.

Malawi welcomes Eduroam

By Rose Chisowa
Excitement continues to grow in the research and education community in the UbuntuNet region as the AfricaConnect project rolls on. Services and applications to run on the regional network are being discussed. This time eduroam, is on the spotlight in Malawi and is expected to create a new world of possibilities. It is true that technology can be used to obtain good things and Though Malawi is in the developing stages as far as technology is concerned, MAREN does not want to be left behind in trying new things out.

Malawi will become the third country in East and southern Africa to roll out eduroam to the research and education community after Kenya and South Africa. The other two are South Africa and Kenya, which are at various stages of rolling out the technology. Eduroam (education roaming) allows students, researchers and staff from participating institutions to obtain Internet connectivity not only within their home campuses, but also when visiting other participating institutions by simply turning their laptops on. It is a secure, world-wide roaming access service developed by TERENA for the international research and education community.

Charlie Maere, the IT Director at Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN), a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said that the decision to implement eduroam under the framework of MAREN was reached after realizing that faculty and students from multi-campus institutions needed a better way of accessing the Internet and education resources, and also to carter for international visitors. Following the decision, KCN will soon activate its public IP addresses allocated by AfriNIC through MAREN. Recently, KCN has been working jointly on ICT infrastructure projects because the two colleges have second campuses in the vicinity of the other college in Blantyre and Lilongwe.

MAREN has a fibre loop in Blantyre which connects College of Medicine (COM), the Malawi Polytechnic and KCN Blantyre Campus. The main campus of KCN in Lilongwe (about 350km away) is connected to the Blantyre Cluster using optical fibre owned by Malawi Telecommunications Limited. Faculty and students of both KCN and the College of Medicine move between Blantyre and Lilongwe often. 

Eduroam is very vital for researchers and students around the world, who, belonging to one institution, need just their single username and password to be authenticated and get access to the WiFi of any academic and research institution globally.

“Basically we want to deploy eduroam services across all member research and academic institutions of MAREN. It will make Malawi proud if we are sited on the eduroam map as one of the eduroam accessible areas,” says Maere. Communication has been initiated with colleagues at TERENA for the technical specifications of deploying eduroam.
KCN and COM are going to lead the initiative on behalf of MAREN. Currently the institution has the physical infrastructure ready and the technical guide that will help in setting up the technology. The service will start in with these colleges and expand to other colleges in the next phase. 

KENET in collaboration with DFN, the German NREN has set up the eduroam service in Kenya. This will benefit thousands of university staff and students as they roam with their laptops without the hurdle of having to get guest accounts at different campuses. South Africa is doing the same.
Having started in Europe, eduroam has gained momentum throughout the research and education community worldwide. Currently there are two regional eduroam confederations, in Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
For more information about eduroam, visit www.eduroam.org.

NRENs can learn from GÉANT

By Rose Chisowa

As the UbuntuNet network moves nearer implementation through the AfricaConnect project, and as African NRENs are working on operationalising their national networks, they can learn from GÉANT, the pan-European Research and Education Network. Planned and operated by DANTE, GÉANT has over 50,000km of network infrastructure, operating at speeds of up to 40Gbps. Together with Europe’s NRENs, it connects over 40 million users in over 8,000 institutions across 40 countries. This interconnectivity enables research communities across Europe to collaborate with each other and with peers across the world on major research activities – sharing large data sets quickly and reliably to accelerate research. This has put GÉANT on the world map as a great innovation.

Because of its high speed networking connectivity, GÉANT is facilitating a number of socio-economic research activities in communities across Europe, and the world at large. The vast network has empowered global virtual communities in areas as diverse as High-Energy Physics; Bio-Medical Sciences; Health; Radio Astronomy; Earth Observation and Early Warning; and Arts and Culture. Some of these communities are offering life saving activities.  As highlighted in a video documentary produced by DANTE about the EUMEDCONNECT project, epilepsy specialists in Tunisia and France were able to collaborate on the diagnosis and treatment of Tunisian patients. This collaboration was made possible through the high capacity research networks GÉANT and EUMEDCONNECT, and the NRENs in France and Tunisia.Further details here. http://www.geant.net/Media_Centre/Media_Library/Pages/GlobalCaseStudies....

At the launch of the Latin American ALICE network a video documentary was produced of how patients in the Amazon forest are able to get good quality healthcare when their doctors seek second opinions from Europe over advanced networks. Further details here http://alice.dante.net/server/show/nav.928.

In Europe, while trying to improve quality of life for sufferers from Alzheimer’s disease clinicians are using advanced networks and grid computing technology to enable earlier diagnosis and faster treatment for patients in a project called DECIDE - Diagnostic Enhancement of Confidence by an International Distributed Environment. The higher speed network allows clinicians to quickly upload, analyse and compare medical imaging data, enabling informed diagnoses. Further details here: http://www.geant.net/Media_Centre/Media_Library/Media%20Library/G%C3%89A...

As AfricaConnect rolls out the regional network in East and Southern Africa, attention is focusing on applications that will transform research and add value to life. Similar initiatives as those facilitated by GÉANT and other regional RENs could be applied in many parts of Africa.  High speed interconnecting networks provided by NRENs to hospitals, for example in Malawi, could enable doctors to collaborate, sharing information and resources quickly and easily to improve diagnosis and patient care.

In many parts of Africa, the turn up number of patients in public hospitals surpasses the capacity of doctors. Also, most qualified doctors are concentrated in urban areas, leaving the vast of rural areas with very few and lowly qualified medical staff. This sometimes leads to patients waiting a long time for treatment - or worse being left unattended for long periods or dying due to an insufficient number of well qualified doctors being available. If doctors were provided with the infrastructure to collaborate and consult with each other effectively, and remote clinics provided with platforms to make e-consultations possible, the situation could improve tremendously.

Such possibilities were demonstrated at the 2nd ERINA4Africa Workshop in Malawi in October 2010 where gastric surgeons from Malawi, Rwanda and Sweden collaborated over a High Definition TV connection in a Lighthouse demonstration of the potential of the NREN in improving healthcare.

Great innovative things are possible over advanced academic networks and GÉANT with its many interconnections with regional networks demonstrates this. It is a platform where geographically dispersed researchers at the forefront of their fields collaborate and work on joint projects, sharing discipline specific databases and portals. Without high-speed research networks, many research projects would simply be unable to exist.

Researchers in Africa are encouraged to establish special interest communities to engage in innovative joint projects.   

AfREN to hold Meetings in Gambia

The Africa Research and Education Networking (AfREN) and Africa Asia Forum community (AAF) will be holding one day meeting on 13 May 2012. The meeting will discuss issues of interest to the NREN community such as coordination on activities in the region, advocacy, bandwidth consortia and regional RENs. AfREN is organized by the Association of African Universities’ REN Unit.  This year, UbuntuNet Alliance will be represented by Dr Duncan Martin, CEO of TENET and long term Director of the Alliance.  The meeting will also create opportunity for the Alliance, WACREN and ASREN to discuss specific matters of continental interest.

The AfREN meeting is one of a series of other meetings organised by the African Network Operators' Group (AfNOG) and African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC) which will take place from 6 to 18 May, 2012 in Serekunda, The Gambia. Every year, hundreds of Network Engineers from across the IT industry in the Africa Continent world attend the Annual AfNOG Event. While AfNOG fuels the rapid growth of Internet in Africa with trained technical capacity, our content has been determined by the needs of the community.

The meeting series aims to offer advanced training to people who are in the process of developing and enhancing an internet-connected network with regional and in international connectivity. The workshop welcomes all Network engineers in the Africa region who wish to acquire the necessary skill in IT. As in previous years, UbuntuNet Alliance has offered partial scholarships for staff of member NRENs  to participate in AfNOG training workshop.
Read more: http://www.afnog.org/

Conference on broadband as a platform for Video in Africa in Zambia

The Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITI) announces its first conference on the topic of Broadband as a Platform for Video in Africa, on May 22nd and 23rd, 2012 in Lusaka, Zambia. CITI is a research center, based at Columbia University in New York, focusing on strategy, management, and policy issue in telecommunications, computing, and electronic mass media.

This conference examines the role and prospects of broadband in Africa as a video platform - the strategies and building blocks for deployment and advancement. According to the World Bank, the growth of international internet connectivity in Africa has outpaced the global average by nearly 2 to 1.The conference will discuss a new challenge in Sub Saharan Africa: the deployment and financing of next-generation broadband networks capable of video applications.
Columbia University is joined by corporate sponsors AT&T and Liquid Telecom, and academic partners such as Gordon Institute of Business Science, Research ICT Africa/ University of Cape Town. The Keynote Speaker is Brahima Sanou, Director, ITU Telecommunications Development Bureau.

More information can be found at: http://www.citi.columbia.edu/Africa/
To view the Program: http://www.citi.columbia.edu/Africa/agenda.html
To register: https://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/citi/events/africareg

Africa-wide ‘Women and Young Professionals in Science Launches Competition

The CTA/ FARA/IFS/ ANAFE/ RUFORUM consortium, in collaboration with AGRA and NPCA, is pleased to announce the launch of its 2012-2013 Africa-wide women and young professionals in science competitions. With a population of approximately 1.03 billion in 2011, and a growth rate of 24 million per annum, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050.

The continent needs to increase agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner as well as find endogenous solutions to respond to the challenges.  Africa’s investment in science and innovation remains low; and only one African university is listed among the top 500 in the world.  Women are under-represented in all areas of policy, education and research and many of Africa’s youthful population do not see a future in agriculture or science.

The continent faces a knowledge and skills gap as ageing scientists and academicians retire.  The Africa-wide competitions will evaluate, recognize and reward the contributions of women and young professionals who are involved in: pioneering and innovative research; communicating their research results and technological developments; and advocating for policy change as well as influencing policy processes through their research. They will also raise awareness of the need for valuing and sustaining the engagement of women and young professionals and facilitating their contribution to Africa’s socio-economic transformation. 

Closing date for receiving abstract for the completion is on the 14th of May 2012.
Please click on the links below for more information

  • click here to download the women in science competition full announcement
  • click here to download the concept note science competition

Source: http://www.ruforum.org/

Extreme Citizen Science

For the majority of citizen scientists, contributing to projects is seen as a worthwhile and rewarding pastime, but a recent development called ‘extreme’ citizen science has the potential to make it even more participatory, open, and collaborative, empowering communities to identify, and eventually solve, their own local problems.

In the month of  April 2011, University College London (UCL) established an international centre for ‘Extreme Citizen Science’ (ExCiteS) with a central aim of driving citizen science to the next level, encouraging wider participation, and providing a set of tools that can be used by any user, regardless of their scientific knowledge and level of literacy.

The multi-disciplinary ExCiteS group has been collaborating with a number of communities across the globe. ‘Extreme’ in this context means extremely collaborative science, which is where a community identifies and defines their own problems, and collectively finds a solution (via data collection and analysis) using adaptable scientific tools and methods.

ExcCiteS co-founder Muki Haklay, a Senior Lecturer of Geographic Information Science at the Department of Geomatic Engineering made remarks. at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in February this year, and he explained that extreme citizen science is about enabling any community around the globe to start a citizen science project that will help them deal with issues that concern them. “It’s about trying to bring in citizen science and practical science to any community, regardless of their literacy. The tools will be available in many more places for people to solve problems at different levels.”

One of the most ingenious projects, developed by ExCiteS co-director and UCL social anthropologist, Jerome Lewis, is supporting conservation efforts in both the Congo and South Cameroon by helping local forest communities to better represent themselves to outsiders. Jerome has helped the local communities describe their issues and specific problems via simple and easily translatable tools such as maps and icons, and to record data using hand-held devices (for example, GPS instruments). So far, forest-based villagers have been able to isolate, prioritize, and map out sacred resources thereby mediating conservation efforts so forestry companies can avoid destroying their local resources.

In this photo: Forest-based villagers have been able to isolate, prioritize and map out sacred resources. Image courtesy Muki Hakley.

Source: http://www.isgtw.org/feature/extreme-citizen-science

Call for Articles

NUANCE is a monthly e-newsletter published by UbuntuNet Alliance. Key content  is news from, about, or of interest to National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in Africa. We request and invite you to submit an item before the 20th of each month capturing:

  • News and developments from your NREN and news items of interest to NRENs
  • Content networks: how researchers and academics are using the REN infrastructure to enhance effectiveness and efficiency their work and to promote national and international collaboration
  • Hot tips about something you have done successfully (organisational or technical)
  • A photo that tells a story
  • Looking into the future, especially with regards to fibre infrastructure

Submissions should be sent to info@ubuntunet.net