VOLUME. 8, ISSUE 12: April 2016

In this Issue
Upcoming Events

Submit an abstract for UbuntuNet-Connect 2016 

Authors, researchers and ICT practitioners from the global Research and Education (R&E) networking community have an opportunity to present their unpublished work to at least 150 participants expected to attend UbuntuNet–Connect 2016, UbuntuNet Alliance’s ninth annual conference of R&E networking to held in Uganda and hosted by RENU, the National Research and Education Network of Uganda.

UbuntuNet-Connect 2016 will be held on 3-4 November 2016 under the theme: “Optimizing the Impact of NRENS on Africa’s Research.”

Authors are now being invited to submit abstracts of unpublished work that would lead to papers publishable in the conference’s proceedings.

Abstracts of not more than 500 words revolving around the chosen theme or on any interesting topic relevant to R&E networking should be submitted online not later than 31 August 2016. Prospective authors are required to create an account before submitting their abstract. 

A full Call for Papers is available on the UbuntuNet Alliance website and a Call for Sponsorship for the conference will be made available soon. All querries regarding the conference should be sent to uc2016@ubuntunet.net.

UbuntuNet-Connect has been held for the past eight years and is considered one of Africa’s premier networking conferences. Presentations, reports and proceedings of previous conferences are available online

Marching towards a federated UbuntuNet Alliance membership region     

NREN Members of UbuntuNet Alliance yet to introduce and implement an Identity Federation for their communities received a major boost in April 2016 when the Alliance presented them with an opportunity to start thinking towards the implementation of such services through the provision of a Federated Applications (FedApps) training workshop to system administrators from the UbuntuNet Alliance membership region. 

With assistance from the Middleware for Collaborative Applications and Global VIrtual communities (MAGIC) project, the Alliance pooled together 22 system administrators from its Member NRENs and took them through a 3-day hands-on FedApps training workshop held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania whwre the Alliance its 10thAnnual General Meeting of Members on 29 April 2016.

Apart from training the system adminitsrators on how to deploy Federated Identity management systems, the trainees were also introduced to the concepts of wireless roaming (eduroam) and the managemnet of certificates for Signing and Encryption of sensible data.

UbuntuNet Alliance Special Projects Coordinator Chris Rohrer teamed up with South Africa National Research and Education Network (SANReN) Senior Engineer Siju Mammen to deliver the course content to the trainees most of whom were drawn from NRENs that are yet to create federations.

Speaking to NUANCE after the workshop, Mammen was convinced that the trainees had grasped the technical skills that were imparted to them.

“Given the knowledge that the trainees have gained, it is expected that they will now be able to deploy a federation in their home countries as well as sell the idea of a federation to the institutions they service. Of course setting up the technical aspects of a federation is only the first step in getting a useful service up and running. Over and above the Federation specific training, eduroam was also covered and the trainees showed a lot of interest in it. There were requests from a number of the trainees for follow-up training events that would cover eduroam, DevOps, cloud services and certification services among others.”

The FedApps training workshop is part of the capacity building programme that UbuntuNet Alliance offers to NREN members with assistance from various projects and organizations.

Since 2012 UbuntuNet Alliance has partnered with the Network startup Resource Center (NSRC) and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to offer Train the Trainers workshops to campus engineers who have gone on to implement similar trainings in their home NRENs, reaching out to over 1000 engineers in the process.

The Government and the NREN: Reviewing the relationship and its impact on NREN performance    

The agenda of the National Workshop for the Tanzania Education and Research Network (TERNET) the NREN of Tanzania, held on 27 April 2016 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania risked becoming stagnant halfway through the workshop after delegates spent more time than intended, trying to understand the relationship that exists between TERNET and the Higher Education and Research institutions Network (HERIN), a government initiative that is being managed by the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and is connecting the country’s public higher learning Institutions to the Internet.

This came after Dr. Jim Yonaz, Director of Knowledge Management at COSTECH and manager of the HERIN Project, had just made his presentation on HERIN, informing participants that the project has so far connected 27 public universities and research institutions, a task many of the participants were convinced was supposed to be carried out by TERNET, an independent entity which was registered as a Trust in April 2008. Dr Yonaz acknowledged that providing Internet services to a large number of other instutitions did not really fit within COSTECH's mission. 

Dr. Yonaz and TERNET CEO Dr. Amos Nungu clarified that while TERNET and COSTECH are working together, the HERIN is a government funded COSTECH project while TERNET is an independent organisation.

The emergence of this topic at the workshop once again put under the microscope, the relationship that exists between African NRENs and the governments of the countries they operate in and the impact of this relationship on the performance of an NREN.

While some NRENs like TERNET exist independently of the government and enjoy full autonomy, others are set up as government entities, operating under a designated ministry and thrive on government subventions often derived from World Bank grants. In a down-the- middle scenario, an NREN operates as a government entity but is given independence to run its day-to-day affairs and be self-sustaining.

From the discussion that transpired during the "Building Successful NRENs in Africa" seminar on the following day, it was apparent that participants and NREN business gurus were divided on whether an African NREN needs to be part of the government or exist outside the government machinery to be successful.

While some participants were of the view that an NREN operating withing the government set up stands a chance of benefiting from government subventions, others rooted for total NREN autonomy saying bureaucratic tendencies and red tape within the government derail the progress of an NREN, citing cases where supposedly simple and straight forward issues, like purchasing equipment or  replacing a retired CEO of an NREN takes ages in the name of following complex regulations and procedures, thereby bringing important operations of the NREN to a standstill.

Some observers however gave examples of successful NRENs in Europe that are operating within the government set up, but they were quick to underline the fact that these NRENs have been successful because have they manage their day-to-day operations without a strong hand from government dictating events. Questions were raised however on whether some African governments have the will and resources to fully support NRENs that are structured as projects within one of their ministries.

But just when one would be tempted to believe the above raised points would make independent NRENs more viable, it turned out the story is also not all rosy for some independent NRENs.

While they might be spared from the government red tape, some independent NRENs face serious funding problems as they are in some cases wrongly regarded as commercial entities inillegible for government funding.

In some countries, governments have struck deals with commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide Internet connectivity to major public universities and research institutions, effectively shutting out NRENs from providing this role. In such a case, it can be argued that government has actually become a detractor to the NREN. 

From the discussion, it was clear each scenario has own merits and demerits and that there is a need for stakeholders to explore best practices that can enable NRENs to thrive regardless of their relationships with the government.

But for now, the seminar agreed, it is important to encourage independent NRENs to lobby their governments to recognise and allow them work together with government entities or projects that are aiming at providing bandwidth to universities and research institutions.

In the exemplary case of TERNET and COSTECH for example, a healthy relationship between the two should allow COSTECH to deploy last mile connections to public institutions but allow TERNET to operate the HERIN network and provide Internet services to the institutions.

In this scenario, TERNET, and not COSTECH would be the entity that invoices the universities and research institutions for the Internet services delivered via the Government-funded HERIN network, a development that would ensure that TERNET generates its own revenue and boosts its financial health. A win-win situation for both the government and the NREN.

RENU, ZAMREN foster collaboration through an engineer training workshop

In a bid to strengthen the spirit of collaboration and sharing among NRENs in the UbuntuNet Alliance membership region, the Research and Education Network of Uganda (RENU) extended an invitation to the Zambia Research and Education Network (ZAMREN) to nominate and send a network engineer from its community to help facilitate a Scalable Campus Network Design training workshop which RENU organised and held in Uganda from 4-8 April 2016.

Realising the importance of the good gesture shown by RENU, ZAMREN sent network engineer Emmanuel Mukwesa to be part of the instructor team for the four-day training workshop that targeted at least 25 network engineers from the RENU community.

The training was followed by a Direct Engineering Assistance (DEA) exercise that sought to redesign the campus network at the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU)-Mbale campus from 11-14 April 2016.

In the aftermath of the training and the DEA, RENU Chief Technical Officer Nicholas Mbonimpa is impressed with the arrangement between the two NRENs saying the exchange of personnel is good for building technical competence between RENU and ZAMREN.

“We believe there's a lot that we can learn from each other within the region. RENU has sent two facilitators to ZAMREN workshops since November 2015 and this time, ZAMREN sent us a facilitator for our workshop. Through this arrangement, one immediately notices the difference in the way capacity building is done in both countries so we learn from the way the Zambians conduct their capacity building programmes and we believe they too could pick a leaf or two from the way we administer our workshops.”

Mbonimpa also believes such an arrangement can help NRENs build a community of experts within the region, a development  he believes can offset operational and maintenance costs that NRENs incur when seeking networking expertise from outside the region.

The CTO expressed gratitude to ZAMREN and to Mukwesa for accepting to attend the workshop and revealed the two NRENs are now looking at integrating different services that can be used by the two NRENs that are both connected by the UbuntuNet backbone.

On his part, Mukwesa hailed RENU for inviting ZAMREN and allowing him to be one of the facilitators to the workshop while ZAMREN Chief Technical Officer Stein Mkandawire commended the relationship that exists between the two NRENs saying it is important for the progress of both NRENs.

According to Mbonimpa, the "Scalable Campus Network Design" focused on underlying features of data networks at layers 1,2, and 3 of the OSI model and also on best practice guidelines of designing campus networks that scale easily.

This NREN exchange programme in capacity building is facilitated through a fund granted to UbuntuNet Alliance by NSRC. With this fund, the Alliance pays for the costs of bringing a trainer from one NREN to support training activities in another NREN.

Dr. Iman Abuelmaaly Abdelrahman: A shining light of women in Research and Education Networking   

The story of the life of Dr. Iman Abuelmaaly Abdelrahman, the Vice Chairperson of UbuntuNet Alliance, is one that should ooze tones of inspiration to many a young African woman wanting to break-through the continent’s research and education networking field that seems to be dominated by men.

On 29 March this year, the Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Khartoum in Sudan was one of the 10 Arab women from different countries to receive the prestigious “Distinguished Arab Woman Engineer Award, a recognition handed out by the Federation of Arab Engineers to outstanding Arab women engineers. 

In June 2015, Dr. Abdelrahman came top of 32 Sudanese women engineers to receive the 2015 Sudanese Distinguished Arab Woman Engineer and qualified for her latest award that epitomises a decorated career that has seen her serve in different portfolios as an engineer, a researcher, librarian, academician and a promoter of rights of fellow women.

Dr. Abdelrahman attributes her determination and passion to make a difference as a woman to her mother Aziza Mekki, a prominent Sudanese feminist who led the Sudanese Women Union, a grouping founded in 1952 to fight for women equality in Sudan. 

‘I come from a family that has a history of supporting women. My mother’s role as one of the ten leaders of the Sudanese Women’s Union was critical in the promotion of women rights in Sudan. Among other achievements this union managed to fight for equal salaries for men and women holding similar qualifications in Sudan. As for my father, he was very supportive of my mother in her leadership role and he made sure that he gave my mother what she needed to succeed.” Says Dr. Abdelrahman.

Born in 1959 in Omdurman-the largest city in Sudan- in a family of four children- a dentist and three engineers- Iman Abdelrahman spent 23 years in Egypt where her family moved to join her father, Abuelmaaly Abdelrahman who had joined the Arab League in Egypt in 1960.

In 1982, Iman Abdelhraman fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming an engineer when she graduated from Cairo University with a BSc in Telecommunication and Electriconics Engineering but she immediately returned to Sudan where she worked for 11 years as an Operational and Maintenance Engineer for the then Sudan Telecommunication Public Corporation (STPC) before it became part of the Sudan Telecommunications Company (Sudatel).

“I liked working with the tools, doing the troubleshooting and rectifying faults but I had decided to upgrade my education and with the support of my husband whom I have three children with, I received my Master’s Degree in Digital Signal Processing in 1993 and my PhD in 1998, both from the University of Khartoum which I eventually joined in 1999 as an Assistant Professor, ’’ she adds.

The joining of the academia was the start of great things to come for Dr. Abdelrahman. The pivotal point of her journey to recognition as a renowned engineer, academician, researcher and librarian- rolled into one- came in 2002 when she was invited by Sudatel Company to give a presentation on implementing a national digital library in Sudan during a workshop that came under the auspicies of the Sudanese Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

“I don’t know why I was chosen but when they invited me, I did my research and made a powerful presentation which made me popular and I instantly became a famous ICT woman in Sudan. That was the beginning of great things to come.” 

Following the fame that came with this "groundbreaking" presentation, Dr. Abdelrahman was appointed a member of the Computer Science Studies Committee in Sudan and from 2002 to 2004 she led at least 18 female Sudanese students at the annual International Institute of Women in Engineering held at the French for Engineers Programme (EPF) in Paris, France and attended by 100 students from around the world.

In 2005 she was appointed to lead the Sudanese Virtual Engineering Library project, a one-year initiative funded by UNESCO and EPF with collaboration from the University of Khartoum. Her biggest project however, the Sudanese Research and Education Network (SudREN), was yet to come.

Her journey to SudREN, she recalls, started In 2004 when Prof. Sami Sharief, the then ICT Director of the University of Khartoum together with five Vice chancellors from Sudanese Universities submitted a project proposal to the Ministry of Higher Education to provide information to public universities through Internet connectivity.

When the Sudanese government accepted to fund the initiative, then called the Sudanese Universities Information Network (SUIN), the project’s proponents nominated Dr. Abdelrahman to head the project and she did from 2006 to 2009 before the Ministry handed SUIN, which joined UbuntuNet Alliance in 2007, to the Association of Sudanese Universities (ASU).

Under ASU, SUIN became an independent legal entity and became to be known as the Sudanese Research and Education Network (SudREN) in 2010. Dr. Abdelrahman was appointed first CEO of the network, a position she held for four years until 2014 when she resgined to pursue her research project to be promoted to Professor at the University of Khartoum where she now heads the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Looking back over her illustrious career, Dr. Abdelrahman says given a second chance in life, she would choose the path she took again as it has given her what she has always wanted in life. She also pays homage to her family especially her husband whom she says has been very supportive of her in her career.

“I thank my husband and my three children for the support they have given me over the years. I am also grateful to see my three children- all of them engineers- accomplish their dreams.”

A word to women who aspire to trek down a path similar to the one she has taken?

“I advise women to work hard. They can achieve everything they want in their lives but they must make sure they do not put barriers between work and family. They should manage their time well by pursuing their dreams while taking care of their families.” She says with a glowing smile that seldomly leaves her face. 

NUANCE celebrates eighth anniversary: New dedicated columns in the pipeline

During the month of June every year, UbuntuNet Alliance celebrates the anniversary of the Newsletter of UbuntuNet Alliance: Networks, Collaboration, Education (NUANCE), a monthly e-newsletter that carries latest Research and Education networking updates from within the Alliance region and the rest of the global R&E networking community.

June 2016 marks 8 years of existence of the publication whose first edition was published on the UbuntuNet website in June 2008. 

Since that period, at least 110 more editions of the newsletter have been uploaded on the UbuntuNet Alliance website and sent to a special mailing list that now contains over 3000 subscribers. 

To celebrate this landmark, the NUANCE editorial team will be introducing two special columns in subsequent editions, starting from July this year to add to the great reading experience the journal has provided you with since it was introduced.

Our NREN members will now have a chance raise their profiles to their prospective members and to the outer world through a new column that will be dedicated to improving the visibility of our NREN Members. Through this column, readers will have a chance to familiarize with the background, current status, network topology and success stories of a featured NREN. 

If you are an expert on a crossing cutting or emerging ICT field like cloud services, eduroam or Identity Federation-just to mention a few- and would like to share with our community what your area of specialisation is all about and how it is relevant to Research and Education networking, then that chance seems to have come sooner as invited and willing experts in different fields will be given another special column to write on a specific field in each edition of NUANCE.

To celebrate the 8th anniversary of the newsletter, we dug down the NUANCE archive and decided to give you a feel of the first edition.

We hope you will find it interesting and we thank you for being one of the subscribers to the NUANCE mailing list.

Giant rats helping control TB in Mozambique, Tanzania*

 A technology that relies on trained African giant pouched rats — named HeroRATS — to sniff out tuberculosis (TB) and diagnose the disease faster than conventional diagnostic methods is helping save lives in Mozambique and Tanzania.

Mozambique and Tanzania are among 22 high-burden nations suffering from TB, with 58,270 and 63,151 new cases of the disease detected, respectively in 2014, says the WHO.

The rat technology is being used by Belgian non-governmental organisation, APOPO, for speedy and cost-effective testing of TB in the two countries’ prisons, allowing patients to receive prompt treatments.

According to APOPO information sent to SciDev.Net last month (23 March), the project is benefitting from a two-year US$80,000 funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded in 2015.

Charlie Richter, US director of APOPO, says the pilot project is aiding a diagnostic accuracy study of the technology in high risk populations, such as prisons, adding rigorous scientific evidence towards WHO endorsement.

“The HeroRats are presented with a row of ten suspect TB sputum samples. When the HeroRAT detects TB, it hovers over the sample for three to five seconds,” Richter says. “All rat-indicated positive samples are then confirmed by LED microscopy or Xpert MTB/RIF, the WHO recommended technology for identifying suspected cases of TB.”

A single HeroRAT can check about 100 sputum samples in just 20 minutes, compared to conventional methods of microscopy, which would take a laboratory technician two days or more and still miss many of the true positives, Richter says. Early studies show that the rats are able to correctly identify 70 per cent of TB cases and 81 per cent of those with the disease.

It takes about nine months to fully train a TB detection rat, but once trained they can screen thousands of sputum samples every month. “We have trained 59 TB detection rats in our training and research centre in Morogoro, Tanzania, nine were then transported to Maputo, Mozambique,” adds Richter. “Of these, 30 are still active in Tanzania and 8 in Maputo. The others are either retired or died from natural causes.”

The project has screened over 300,000 TB samples, resulting in a 45 per cent increase in TB detection at partner clinics.

Richter tells SciDev.Net that without HeroRATs, the clinics would have incorrectly diagnosed 50 per cent of symptomatic TB positive patients as TB negative.

In the future, APOPO plans to test the rats’ abilities to detect other diseases such as cancer. APOPO hopes to roll out its TB programme in at least six countries by 2020 in Africa and Asia –Bangladesh, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India and Kenya, but cites funding and establishing partnerships as challenges.

*This article first appeared on scidev.net. Read the original version

Call for Articles

NUANCE is the 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