VOLUME. 9, ISSUE 9: January 2017

In this issue 
Calendar of events

Using the NREN to Address Brain Drain in Recovering Nations: the Case of SomaliREN

By Abdillahi Bihi Hussein, CEO, SomaliREN

Brain drain refers to the mass emigration of educated and very skilled people that leave their countries of origin to live and work in other countries that may have real or perceived better living conditions. Prolonged conflicts, tough economic conditions and environments that are not conducive to development have driven qualified academics and professionals abroad, mostly to the West.

In the case of Somalia, mass brain drain started in the early 80’s when doctors, engineers and scientists from the country started migrating to the Gulf States, and later to Europe and North America. The two decades of conflict and fragile stability added to this problem and the mass exodus continued.

But despite the fact the situation has now improved and the nation is slowly attaining stability, the impact of brain drain continues to linger, most evidently in the research and academic sector. Qualified academic and research staff has been and still is very scarce for certain disciplines of study including applied sciences, engineering and medical sciences. In the private sector, a large number of institutions are depending on foreign expertise, contracted for a short term, to complete a project and maintain equipment; while the country continues to deal with high cases of unemployment among natives.

This situation, if not tackled by developing and enforcing proper higher education and research development policies, will continue to inhibit innovation and creativity, elements that are the key to job creation.

In the last two decades, higher education and research institutions in Somalia have been considered agents of change; and indeed, they have delivered despite the fact that the sector has been unregulated until very recently.

But as agents of change these institutions need to have the resources and the capacity to deliver. The quality and effectiveness of the system that forges these change agents need to be given a careful thought, and guided by national-level policies that address the nation’s needs and the demands of the recovery process the country is going through.

Two main factors that influence the quality and the effectiveness of the university are the curriculum and the availability of qualified professors and researchers. While the first one can be adapted from the more developed universities and customized to local needs, access to qualified academic human resources can be a challenge especially considering the high cost of recruiting and maintaining quality professors.

Since the late 1990s, some of the leading universities that have been started by community organizations in more stable parts of the country have attracted academic staff from not only the diaspora but also from the expat communities. These professors often spend a semester or a year teaching at the university. This has helped to not only bring academic expertise and qualified lecturers to the universities, but also bridge the institution to its academic peers abroad. At these institutions, the impact of the knowledge transfer was evident and promised a brighter future for the students and the communities around the university.

The contribution of the Somali diaspora to the academic and research institutions especially in the form of academic and research expertise (teaching, supervising research, etc.) is virtually non-existent now. Most contributions from Somalis living and working abroad are focused on small business startups and family support through remittances. While all these stimulate the economy and contribute significantly to society, contributions to the academic and research institutions would have had the biggest social and economic impact and would help address brain drain.

All hope is not lost though as the country now seeks to overcome the problem of braid drain through SomaliREN, the Somali Research and Education Network (NREN).

NRENs around the world are well-equipped to tackle the brain drain, and may even reverse it. In the early days of NREN formation, the priority was bringing down the cost of connectivity through demand aggregation and leveraging the combined purchasing power.

While many NRENs are still at this level of ‘maturity’, learning from the experiences of more developed NRENs has taught them the importance of thinking forward and beyond the connectivity. Debate on the evolving role of the NREN has led to thinking about the function and mission of the new research and education networks, NREN 2.0 which focuses on using the network infrastructure and connectivity to innovate, develop new solutions to existing problems, and transform thinking about moving ‘packets’ to moving ideas.

This new way of thinking about the NREN’s roles and mission will require from us to think of the ‘alternative network’ – the human network that will produce, share, consume and multiply the ideas shared across the e-infrastructures our NRENs operate. These are the change-makers that will eventually collaborate globally to solve both local and global problems. These are the communities that will help the NRENs serve their constituencies – their universities, societies, nations – and help them fight brain drain in their communities.

SomaliREN’s efforts to stay significant and serve its current membership while it awaits to operationalise its network has forced the NREN to explore the challenges that are currently facing the country’s higher education and research institutions. As a result, the NREN has planned and engaged in several initiatives that address the scarcity of qualified professors and researchers in the engineering, sciences, and technology and health sciences disciplines. One of the most important of these initiatives is REConnexion – the research and education connection – which is currently focusing on the launch of a research and education job portal.

REConnexion is envisaged to connect the Somali higher education and research institutions and qualified professors and researchers in the diaspora and even expatriates interested in working with these institutions. In addition to this obvious effort at tackling brain drain, this initiative addresses one of the three key strategic pillars of SomaliREN (Connectivity, Community and Content). More specifically, REConnexion responds to the NRENs communities of practice development goal that aims at providing demonstrable use cases for the NREN’s e-infrastructures.

The research and education-focused job portal presents an opportunity for the diaspora and expat professors and researchers to contribute to the recovery of the nation by supporting the ‘factories of change’ – the universities and the research institutions. What is more interesting is that their contributions and engagements with the institutions will mostly be in the form of online collaboration, and lecture delivery via videoconferencing – both of which are NREN-enabled services. These services create opportunities for professors that are already engaged in teaching and/or doing research in universities in more developed countries.

SomaliREN’s role will not only be limited to the deployment and operation of the portal, but also includes facilitating the delivery of the lectures, and providing additional collaboration platforms such as Wikis and e-Learning Management Systems. In terms of implementation, the project will initially depend on cloud-hosted videoconferencing platforms and the connectivity that is already available at the institutions which has improved lately. Once the network is operational by mid-2017, the NREN will have a better opportunity to host these services locally and bring down the operational cost.

MAREN, SomaliREN hold breath as connection to the UbuntuNet Network draws closer

Excitement continues to build for the Research and Education Network (NREN) s of Malawi and Somalia as the countdown to the two NRENs connection to the UbuntuNet Network edges closer.

The Malawi Research and Education Network (MAREN) and its counterpart, Somali Research and Education Network (SomaliREN) are expected to be the among the first new NRENs to be connected to the high speed research and education data network, UbuntuNet  by the end of the first half of the year 2017 under the European-Commission co-funded AfricaConnect2 Project.
SomaliREN’s imminent connectivity comes after the NREN paid its €280,000 Advance Payment in November last year under the wider Somali ICT sector support programme being financed by various development partners including the World Bank which is facilitating the NREN’s connection to the academic network while MAREN will also be connected after fulfilling some requirements under the project.

In February this year, hopes for MAREN’s connection to the UbuntuNet network rose highly when part of the equipment for the installation of a Point of Presence ( PoP) in the country arrived at the UbuntuNet Alliance Secretariat in Lilongwe, Malawi. The PoP is expected to be installed in Blantyre with the NREN expected to order a minimum of an STM 4.

SomaliREN CEO Abdullahi Bihi Hussein says his NREN is now laying the groundwork for in readiness for the landing of the link in Mogadishu. 

“The SomaliREN board met on January 6, 2017 where the board agreed on the location of the data center that will host the main PoP. As of now the NREN is ready to start the distribution of the STM1 in Mogadishu zone - the first segment of the envisaged NREN network,” said Hussein.

Apart from MAREN and SomaliREN, other NRENs that are expected to be connected under AfricaConnect2 include Madagascar, Sudan and RwedNet.

UbuntuNet Alliance to elect new Chairperson, Board of Trustees

A dawn of new top management leadership is on the horizon for the UbuntuNet Alliance which has now launched a hunt for a new Chairperson and new members of Board of Trustees following the impending end of term of offices for incumbent Chairperson and members of the Board of Trustees.

UbuntuNet Alliance announced the appointment of current Chairperson Prof. John Ssebuwufu on 1st November 2013 and the following the end of the three year term for the former  Makerere  University Vice Chancellor, the Alliance has, ii partnership with the Association of African Universities,  commenced the process for the search of  Prof. Ssebuwufu’s successor.

As NREN members will be sending their nominated candidates for the post of the Chairperson, they will also be sending names of their nominated candidates for members of the Board of Trustees as the Alliance looks to elect new Trustees at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting of Members (AGM) scheduled to take place on Friday, 21st April 2017 in Livingstone, Zambia.

The Alliance Board of Trustees consists of nine people of whom, two- the Chairperson and the CEO, are ex-officio members. The AGM appoints seven members of the Board while the Chairperson is appointed through a process overseen by the Association of African University (AAU).

Currently the members of the Board of Trustees, elected at the 9th Annual General Meeting of Members held in Lilongwe, Malawi on 27th March 2015 are; Prof. John Ssebuwufu (Chairperson), Dr. Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman (Vice Chairperson), Prof. Hellicy Ngambi (Chairperson of the ZAMREN Board) Duncan Greaves (CEO, TENET), Prof. Meoli Kashorda, (CEO, KENET), Prof. Dibungi Kalenda (CEO, Eb@le), Josephine Nyiranzeyimana of RwEdNet and Prof, Raft Razafindrakoto of the National Research and Education Network of Madagascar, iRENALA.

Each of the Trustees is eligible to be elected for another term of office.    

Angola pledges to register NREN

Good and encouraging news is emerging from Luanda, Angola, where the government and officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology have expressed great interest to start laying foundations for the establishment of an Angolan National Research and Education Network.

At a recent meeting titled “The impact of science, technology and innovation in the growth and diversification of the economy,” held on 31st January and 1st February 2017, the Ministry of Science and Education invited UbuntuNet Alliance CEO Dr. Pascal Hoba and MoRENet CEO Prof. Lourino Chemane to talk about UbuntuNet Alliance .

Making his presentation at the meeting, Dr. Hoba introduced UbuntuNet Alliance to the delagates and stressed to government as well as university officials the importance of universities and research institutions getting their internet capacity from a Research and Education Network like the UbuntuNet Alliance.
MoRENet CEO Prof. Lourino Chemane also presented the MoRENet bussiness model which got officials from the ministry of Science and Technology inspired to step up their efforts of establishing an NREN.

Speaking after the conference Dr. Hoba said officials from the ministry were impressed with the work of UbuntuNet Alliance in connecting and providing value added services to research and education institutions saying the officials from the ministry have pledged to facilitate the established of an NREN and apply for membership of UbuntuNet Alliance   by June this year.  

“The meeting was highly important because it gave us a chance to explain the role and impact of the NREN on universities and research institutions. We explained to delagates that apart from providing ,  the benefits of  associated with while Prof. Lourinho presented to the Angolan government officials how the Mozambaican Research and Education Network is reducing the cost of bandwidth for universities and research institutions by connecting to the UbuntuNet academic network. At the end the response and interest from the officials was overwhelming and they pledged to work applying for membership by June this year,” said Dr. Hoba.

Angola is one of the countries within the UbuntuNet Alliance region yet to establish an NREN but the ministry of Information, Science and Technology is currently implementing a project that is connecting some universities in the country.

North and South join forces to promote Open Science in Africa 

The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) in Kenya and the Eko-Konnect Research and Education Initiative in Nigeria are among the very first organizations in Africa to begin use of DataCite Digital Object Identifier (DOI) prefixes.

The partnership with the Sci-GaIA project and the Conference of Italian University Rectors will help the research organizations generate persistent identifiers for their datasets: essentially long-lasting references that will help locate the datasets no matter where they appear online. It is also another step to realize a global data revolution – ensuring that research data are open, discoverable, navigable, machine readable, and open to being tested for replicability and reusability.

As a result of this partnership, the African organizations can create an unlimited number of sub-prefixes from their institutional prefix and, for each sub-prefix, an unlimited number of DOIs for their knowledge repositories. It is hoped that this will boost the promotion of e-Infrastructures in Africa and the deployment of key services such as Open Access document and data repositories, which can make scientific products (papers, reports, datasets, etc.) stored in African digital repositories more easily citable and discoverable, worldwide.

“All this has been done as part of the Sci-GaIA project activity to make African science and African scientists more visible,” said Prof Roberto Barbera of the University of Catania, Italy, Technical Coordinator of the Sci-GaIA project. He continued, “Indeed, research outputs, such as papers, reports, datasets, etc. tagged with DataCite DOIs, can be manually or automatically linked to the ORCID profiles of their authors thus increasing their list of publications both in term of quantity and diversity. ORCID profiles can in turn be connected to tools like Altmetric or Impactstory to quantitatively show the immediate impact of research made in Africa“.

“APHRC generates and posts online hundreds of open access publications each year, and these DOI prefixes and sub-prefixes give us important avenues for tracking these resources. This partnership contributes to APHRC’s vision to be at the forefront of the Data Revolution for Africa and positions the Center as a credible source of data for development”, said Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, APHRC’s Director of Research. She continued, “We believe that the work of African researchers has been under-represented in development discourse. This is a step in the right direction. Data should be made available in a timely manner and in user-friendly formats. Our quest for enhancing data discoverability is on”. APHRC’s use of persistent identifiers complements the aims of its microdata portal. Launched in 2013, the portal is a web-based platform designed to share metadata and research materials from studies that have been conducted by the Center since it became an independent institution in 2001.

“We became aware of DOI and its usefulness for managing digital content online during a recent e-research hackfest held in Lagos, Nigeria. Our researchers at this event were introduced to DOI and how DOI prefixes can be used to manage research applications and other digital content and assets. There was an immediate request by researchers to obtain DOI prefixes for their institutions. Eko-Konnect will be promoting the use of DOI within the Nigerian research and education community in all subsequent workshops, seminars and wider activities. We anticipate high uptake of DOI prefixes among our institutions in the coming months”, said Mr Owen Iyoha, General Manager of Eko-Konnect in Nigeria.

 “The Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI) joined DataCite as one of its members in September 2012”, said Prof Roberto Delle Donne of the University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy, Scientific Coordinator of the DOI Project at CRUI, “in order to allow Italian universities and research centres to assign persistent identifiers to their datasets and open access publications. At international level, we take part in the build-up of a global infrastructure that supports simple and effective methods of data citation, discovery, and access. In this perspective, we are very pleased to foster the growth of Open Science in Africa”.

All African universities, research organisations, libraries and other relevant entities interested in getting a DOI prefix for their institutional Open Access repositories are invited to contact the Sci-GaIA project at info@sci-gaia.eu

Asi@Connect project launched to bridge digital divide in Asia-Pacific

New Delhi, Feb 14 (UNI) Over 55 million researchers, academics and students across the Asia-Pacific, including India, will benefit from a new phase of dedicated research and education (R&E) networking - Asi@connect - which was inaugurated at the Asia Pacific Advanced Network 43 (APAN43) meeting here.

Asi@connect, co-funded by the European Union (EU), aims to seamlessly extend and build on the successful Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) initiative.

During the launch ceremony, which was hosted by the Indian Asi@Connect partner NKN (National Knowledge Network), delegations from the European Union, the Korean Government and the Indian Government welcomed the kick-off of Asi@Connect and encouraged the R&E network community to build on achievements to date and further strengthen cooperation between Asia and Europe.

Talking about the significance of the project, Ambassador of the European Union to India Tomasz Kozlowski said, "The EU has long recognised the potential of promoting people-to-people connectivity. AsiaConnect is an excellent example of regional integration, with the R&E communities of 21 Asia-Pacific countries inter-connected by powerful high-capacity, high quality Internet links. This project will be a vehicle for promoting a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative ICT environment between Asia and Europe, and in turn benefit society as a whole."

"There are unlimited fields of world-class research which can profit from the powerful links we have created together. Sharing data and working together on astronomy, meteorology, climate change monitoring, or early warning in case of natural disasters are just a few examples," he added.

President of TEIN*CC Dr Hye-Joo Yoon said, “Building on the considerable achievements of the predecessor phases, Asi@Connect will enable the connection of more countries at higher speeds, roll out advanced network services and contribute to achieving development goals through improved access to education and research resources, thus bridging the digital divide in the region.”

With a substantial five-year EU co-funding commitment of Euro 20 mn until 2021, Asi@Connect is designed to support the countries across the region to develop and deploy new network services, facilitate human capacity building and knowledge exchange, extend the R&E footprint to connect additional Asia-Pacific countries among others.

The launch event was also attended by Suk-Joon Son, Director of Network Promotion Sector, Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning of the Republic of Korea, Dr R Chidabaram, Principal Scientific Advisor, Dr Neeta Verma, Director General NIC/ National Knowledge Network (NKN) and Dr SV Raghavan, Chairman Technical Advisory Committee, NKN.

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