VOLUME. 9, ISSUE 12: April 2017

In this issue 
Calendar of events

UbuntuNet Alliance has new composition of members of the Board of Trustees, Prof Hellicy Nga’mbi appointed Acting Chairperson

At its 11th Annual General Meeting of Members (AGM) held on 21st April 2017 in Livingstone, Zambia, Members of UbuntuNet Alliance elected a new Board of Trustees of the Alliance for a two year term.

Representatives of Member NRENs at the AGM constituted the new Board of Trustees by electing candidates whose nominations were submitted earlier by NREN Members following the empending expiry of term of office for the Board of Trustees constituted at the 9th Annual General Meeting of Members held on 27th March 2015 in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Professor Idris Rai, the Vice Chancellor of the State University of Zanzibar; Timothy Waema, Professor of Information Systems at the University of Nairobi; Eng. Isaac Kasana, CEO of Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) and Juma Shabani, Professor of Theoretical and Mathematical Physics at the University of Burundi are the new entrants on the Board.

They join Professor Hellicy Ng'ambi, Vice Chancellor of Mulungushi University in Zambia; Professor Raft Razafindrakoto, ICT Director at the University of Antananarivo and Professor Dibungi Kalenda, Congolese National Research and Education Network (Eb@le) CEO, who returned their seats on the Board having also served in the previous board. 

Following the composition of the new Board of Trustees, Professor Hellicy Ng'ambi was unanimously appointed Deputy Chairperson of the Alliance. By virtue of this position, she effectively became the Acting Chairperson of the Alliance pending the announcement of a new Chairperson by the Association of African Universities (AAU) which is constitutionally mandated to run this process.

The post of Chairperson of the Alliance fell vacant after Professor John Ssebuwufu's 3 year term of office finished on 31st October 2016.

Welcoming the new Board of Trustees, UbuntuNet Alliance CEO, Dr. Pascal Hoba said:

"UbuntuNet Alliance is looking forward to work with the new composition of the Board of Trustees. All the Trustees all well qualified and bring with them vast experience in the field of research and education networking which is very critical for the growth and sustainability of the Alliance. I would like to congratulate those that have managed to return their seats on the Board. Their prior knowledge of the Alliance will blend well with the fresh ideas of the new entrants. I would also like to sincere thank the outgoing members for their contributions and efforts in ensuring that the Alliance remains successful during their term. We surely are going to miss their frequent contributions but since we remain a family we know that they will always be available for us should we at any point require their guidance and expertise."   

Outgoing members of the previous Board of Trustees include former Vice Chairperson and Acting Chairperson Dr. Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman; Mr. Duncan Greaves,TENET CEO and Professor Meoli Kashorda, KENET CEO.

UbuntuNet-Connect 2017 goes to Ethiopia

UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and Education Networking is pleased to announce that UbuntuNet-Connect 2017, the tenth edition of its series of annual networking conferences will be held on 2-3 November 2017 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and will be hosted by the Ethiopian Education and Research Network, EthERNet.

The conference will be held under the theme: 'Enabling Intra-African Collaboration in Research and Education."

UbuntuNet Alliance CEO Dr. Pascal Hoba first made the announcement at the end of the  11th UbuntuNet Alliance Annual General Meeting of Members held in Livingstone, Zambia on 21st April 2017.

Dr. Hoba said EthERNet emerged a successful bidder this year after showing great interest to host the conference last year before the Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) was chosen to host the conference.

"The Alliance is impressed by the progress that Ethiopia and EthERNet are making in relation to research and education networking in the country. Even though EthERNet is yet to connect to the UbuntuNet network there are several encouraging signs that the NREN will be connected under the AfricaConnect2 project which we are currently implementing. Bringing the conference to Ethiopia will spearhead this process as this will enhance the visibility of the NREN to relevant partners and stakeholders in the country," says Dr. Hoba.

Dr. Hoba also said holding the conference in Addis Ababa, which is the headquarters of the African Union gives the Alliance a chance to engage the continental body on issues related to research and education networking. 

EthERNet CEO, Zalalem Assefa says the NREN is honored to be chosen as host of the conference this year and promised to work together with the Alliance to ensure that the conference is a success.

UbuntuNet Alliance beefs up technical team with new network engineer

UbuntuNet Alliance is pleased to introduce to its community the new networking engineer Wilson Wasswa, who started working for the Alliance from 1st April 2017 and is based in Kampala, Uganda.

Wasswa says he is excited to have joined the Alliance which he believes presents an excellent opportunity for him to deploy his professional skills.

“UbuntuNet Alliance is an internet carrier with Points of Presence (PoP)s spread out across Eastern and Southern Africa. Maintaining an excellent network performance and superb user experience in such diverse environment certainly comes with continued learning and skills development,” he said.

He added that he is also motivated by the challenge of being part of a team that ensures that hundreds of students and researchers connected to the UbuntuNet network are able to access the internet at all time.

“It is no longer news that Information all over the world has been digitised and is now accessible on the internet. Access to affordable connectivity accelerates research, education and economic and social development. Being part of the technical team for the Alliance entails that I will be part of the team responsible for making sure that our end users are able to access the internet whenever they need to, that is an exciting challenge for me,” he added.

Wasswa holds a BSc. in Telecommunications Engineering and has previously worked with MTN Uganda Limited and ZTE Uganda as an IP Network Engineer.

A Ugandan citizen, he enjoys travelling, meeting and making friends and reading.   

“My dream is to see one education network for Africa.” Emotional farewell for Dr. Iman Abdelrahman

At the end of the 11th UbuntuNet Alliance Annual General Meeting of Members on 21st April 2017 in Livingstone, Zambia, participants offered a standing ovation to one of the most outstanding individuals of the Alliance; Dr. Iman Abdelrahman. This was after UbuntuNet Alliance CEO, Dr. Pascal Hoba had officially announced that the former Vice Chairperson and Acting Chairperson of the Alliance had decided to take a break from being part of the Board of Trustees of the regional network  after serving in it for eight years.

For everyone that belongs to the UbuntuNet Alliance family, it came as a natural impulse to pay homage to the founding CEO of the Sudanese Research and Education Network (SudREN) who first joined the Board of Trustees in 2009 and served as Deputy Chairperson to the then Chairperson Professor Zimani Kadzamira.  To celebrate her achievements NUANCE caught up with Dr. Iman Abdelrahman who shared insights into her 8 year association with the Alliance: Excerpts:

NUANCE: Would you share with us the experience you have had working with and for UbuntuNet Alliance?

Dr. Abdelrahman: Serving UbuntuNet Alliance is like serving our beloved content Africa.  I joined the Alliance community as CEO of SudREN in 2007.  From that time till 2013, the Alliance has been my school where I’ve learned a lot and I got all required knowledge to understand “what an NREN is”.  I also appreciate the learning by example lessons I received from Dr. F F Tusubira, the former CEO of the Alliance who gave me a list of useful management tips such as perfection, self trust and enthusiasm.  It has also been a great pleasure to work with Margaret Ngwira the former staff and co-founder of the Alliance. That lovely and powerful lady is my role model from whom I learned to love the Alliance.  Meeting and collaborating with the NREN CEOs and the Alliance’s partners from other regions in the world was the biggest gift I got from the Alliance.

In 2009, I joined the Board of the Alliance as a Trustee, and I was chosen to be Deputy Chair and Chair of the Executive Committee.  So, my role changed, as I started to focus more on the Alliance’s development and how to support it to be a vibrant Research and Education Network.  I enjoyed working with two Chairs, Prof. Zimani D Kadzamira and Prof John Ssebuwufu.  Each of those two former African Vice-Chancellors had something special in leading the Alliance successfully.  Since 2015, It has been interesting to work closely with Dr. Pascal Hoba, the current CEO of the Alliance and his wonderful staff, Joe, Tiwonge, Beatrice, Chris and Hastings. I definitely learned a lot from them. 

NUANCE: What are your most memorable moments and achievements with the Alliance?

Dr. Abdelrahman: I can’t forget the side conversations with Dr. Duncan Martin, the former CEO of TENET who used to voluntary give his experience to any NREN’s CEO.  After any of the Alliance’s meetings, I used to return back to my country with a package of guidelines for building a successful NREN in Sudan.  Meetings of Africa-Connect project were the most memorable moments and achievements. I can’t forget Ms. Cathrin Stover, and her excellent way of giving information on the project and her superb way of presenting her concluding report.  She is an amazing European woman with a big African heart.

Working with the Alliance, is like putting my touches on a beautiful painting in collaboration with talented artists: the Chair, the Secretariat, Board members, NREN CEOs and partners. Holding a color palate and selecting the colors was sometimes my role as Chair of the Executive Committee, and in other times my role was watching and only giving advice to other artists who were holding the palette and the brushes.  Because of the beauty of that painting, I enjoyed every minute in any role I played in the Alliance.  Those roles I’ve had never imagined to take in my life.

NUANCE: What you would like UbuntuNet Alliance to achieve in the next coming years?

Dr. Abdelrahman: I dream of a membership map of the Alliance with no country colored in light blue which indicates lack of membership.  I dream of a successful Africa-Connect 2 project which could be reflected on the connectivity map that covers all countries in Africa with all redundant links.  My biggest dream is having one REN for Africa including all regions, east, west, north and south.  I dream of one map for Africa’s REN supported by one website which is presented in different languages to reflect the beautiful diversity of our big content.  I dream of ONE Africa to be our home.

NUANCE: Your farewell message to the UbuntuNet Alliance family?

Dr. Abdelrahman: As African researchers and educators, we all appreciate the support we receive from the  European Commission, GEANT and all our partners around the world to be connected to the global REN.  I would like to congratulate the Trustees that were elected at the recent AGM to serve the Alliance for the next two years. We expect great achievements from them! And, I would like to thank all former Trustees for their commitment to the Alliance over the years. THANK YOU for taking the time to govern the Alliance appropriately.  My thanks go to my colleagues with whom I served with in the last Executive Committee, Prof. Meoli Kashorda and Mr. Duncan Greaves.  THANK YOU for bringing your experience to the table. I would like to thank the wonderful Secretariat for always providing us with the well prepared and qualitative documents that facilitated our work as Trustees.  Special thanks go to Dr. Pascal Hoba.  I appreciate that he worked hard and used all of his knowledge to move the Alliance forward. THANK YOU for supporting me to lead the Alliance as Deputy Chair and as Acting Chair.  Having been member of UbuntuNet Alliance family is my great pleasure and honor. I wish all the success and progress for UbuntuNet Alliance family. 

Are African NRENs facing the threat of extinction? NREN Managers discuss 

During the UbuntuNet Alliance organised NREN CEOs Indaba held in Livingstone, Zambia the question: ‘Are African NRENs at a risk of becoming extinct just like Dinosaurs?” attracted a long and interesting discussion.   

The question was posed to NREN managers and representatives by Professor Madara Ogot,  when he was making a presentation on sustainability and business health of NRENs.

Prof. Ogot acknowledged that despite their very nature of providing high speed internet connectivity solely for research and education networking, NRENs have found themselves in a highly competitive market environment where commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have become fierce competitors who are trying to woo customers that are ideally supposed to be taking services exclusively from their NRENs.

The threat, warned Prof. Ogot, is that should NRENs continue to sit in their comfort zone and fail to reposition themselves amidst this cut- throat competition, they might become irrelevant to their customers and eventually ‘become extinct.’

The University of Nairobi professor therefore challenged NREN managers to make an honest assessment on the position of their respective NRENs on the market as well as reflect on whether they still have a value proposition that makes them viable entities in the minds of their customers for the foreseeable future.

Encouragingly, while acknowledging the highly competitive nature of the industry, the NREN managers expressed confidence that NRENs have a lot to offer to their customers and will therefore continue to be relevant to their member institutions if they continue to be innovative.

“While it is true that ISPs are trying to offer our customers lower prices to connect with them, NRENs should not be very concerned because apart from those lower prices which NRENs are also offering, the ISPs are not interested in offering the customer customised additional services that facilitate research and education networking. If NRENs are innovative enough  and are identifying and providing these additional services, commercial ISP will not be able to woo customers based solely on prices, so the most important thing is to continue to be innovative to remain relevant,” said Dr. Lourino Chemane, CEO of MoRENet.

Making his contribution Eng. Isaac Kasana, CEO of RENU said apart from pricing issues, NRENs need to sensitise their communities on the ethos and core values of belonging to an NREN. He said this would cement the spirit of collaboration and instill loyalty in institutions thereby making their NRENs more vibrant.

Going back to his presentation, Professor Ogot then challenged the NREN managers to come up with comprehensive business plans and models that would enable them realize surpluses to keep them sustainable.

The Livingstone Indaba was the their for NREN managers following the Dar es Salaam workshop held in April 2016. The workshops are sponsored by the AfricaConnect2 project.  

“Research and Education institutions in Burundi struggling for high speed internet connection”

Lack of funding amidst a deep economic meltdown in Burundi has left the country’s research and education institutions struggling to afford high speed and affordable internet connectivity.

Burundi Education Research Network (BERNET) CEO, Professor Gregoire Njejimana told NUANCE on the sidelines of the 11th UbuntuNet Alliance Annual General Meeting of Members in Livingstone, Zambia that despite the progress the NREN is making since its formation in 2014, lack of funds to enable the NREN connect to the UbuntuNet regional backbone is preventing member institutions from reaping the fruits of being on a research and education network.

“Thanks to the coming in of optic fiber in Burundi, BERNET managed to connect 15 member institutions but the capacity that the institutions are getting is not enough to enable them to carry out research and other collaboration activities. Most of the institutions are getting a maximum of 3Mbps which is not enough for them considering the number of users at the institutions’” said Professor Njejimana.

According to Professor Njejimana, BERNET is connecting the institutions through a local  agreement with the Burundi Backbone System (BBS) Company which offered the institutions a discounted fee but the professor said institutions are hardly able to afford this price considering they are also struggling to collect fees from students whose parents and guardians are also heavily affected by the economic and political situation in the country.  

He added that the NREN saw the opportunity to connect to the UbuntuNet regional network under the AfricaConnect2 project as a lasting solution to the problem but said the NREN is finding it hard to raise the €280, 000.00 participation fee.

“The offer of AfricaConnect2 is an excellent one for us but with the crisis that our country is in, we are facing problems to raise the participation fee. We are however trying to lobby for some assistance from development partners and some of them  have promised to assist us with part of the money for this initiative.”

Despite these challenges, Professor Njejimana is optimistic that with time the NREN will be able to reach its goals.

“Last year the government of Burundi officially accredited BERNET as an Internet provider and we have been connecting some government institutions, we are talking to development partners for funding and we continue to be part of UbuntuNet Alliance. These initiatives are motivating us and we have clear ideas of where we want to be. Our interaction with UbuntuNet Alliance has opened our eyes and we are able to see what our colleagues in countries such as Kenya and Uganda are doing and we are sure that in the next few years, we will be where they currently are,” he said.          

TERNET CTO, Damas Makweba speaks on the NREN’s progress in facilitating research and education networking in Tanzania

National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) within the UbuntuNet Alliance region continue to evolve at different paces. While some NRENs are progressing at a faster rate, others are progressing slowly. NUANCE caught up with Damas Makweba, the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for the Tanzania Education and Research Network (TERNET) to find out the state of connectivity  for research and education institutions in the country; Excerpts:   

NUANCE: How can you currently describe the state of connectivity in research and education institutions in Tanzania?

DM: The connectivity in research and education institutions in Tanzania has grown significantly due to the commissioning of the National ICT backbone. The government has played a huge role through its initiative to build research and education MPLS network. Number of institutions connected by TERNET has increased from 10 to 30 and internet bandwidth utilisation has also grown from 155Mbps to 450Mbps.

NUANCE:  As TERNET, what are some of the successes you have achieved since becoming operational?

DM: The connection of 4 STM1 has given to TERNET an opportunity to extend its services to its members. The initial STM1 was already exhausted. Total capacity has grown to 1Gbps. As stated the number of institutions connected have grown from 10 to 30, we are building capacity of member institutions, we have trained ICT technical staff of more than 8 institutions and  have improved institutions campus network through Direct Engineering Assistant (DEA). We have also been building capacity of graduates who become Interns and undergo through our programs including training for 6 up to 12 months.

NUANCE: As CTO, what do you think are some of the services that TERNET needs to be offering to its member institutions that are currently not being offered?

DM: There are many services we can offer our member institutions that we are currently not offering. These services include eduroam, mail hosting and filtering, web hosting, Video conferencing, VPN services, e-Library and repository and e-learning platform.

NUANCE: How has the UbuntuNet Alliance been of benefit to TERNET?

DM: UbuntuNet Alliance has been beneficial in TERNET visibility, things like the featured articles they write about us and information they present on their web pages. UbuntuNet  Alliance is also a platform for networking and sharing experience among members; therefore, we have been learning from other members. We have also benefited from capacity building to improve our technical staff. Exposure visits and networking with other NRENs and RENs, sponsor on attending CEOs and CTOs meeting and training on running NRENs have been very valuable.

NUANCE: As CTO of TERNET, what is your vision of the NREN?

DM: I am focusing on enhancing human resources, improving the governance and management, also helping member institutions with their infrastructure and services, local content for members and improving finance sustainability. Find strategic areas that will make partnership with the government be improved and stable.

NUANCE: What are the main challenges facing your operations as TERNET?

DM: Main challenges include ownership of infrastructure.  The infrastructure does not belong to TERNET. The National ICT backbone is a project which targeted some institutions and so it became difficult for other institutions not in the project to connect to our network operations center (NOC). The other challenge is the instability of our NOC due to absence of powerful power backup and upstream redundancy link in case of failure.  

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