New high-speed internet connects African research to world

An African-led high-speed internet network has been launched to connect academics and researchers throughout Southern and East Africa to peers across the two regions and in Europe. The network will promote African collaboration in research globally.

Called UbuntuNet, the network is financed under the AfricaConnect project, which receives funding from the European Commission (80%) and African beneficiaries (20%).

The European launch of UbuntuNet took place at the 2012 Africa-EU Cooperation Forum on ICT, held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 28-29 November, according to a press report.

The European event followed a similar launch held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at the UbuntuNet-Connect 2012 annual conference from 15-16 November.

UbuntuNet is a collaboration between the UbuntuNet Alliance, the regional research and education network for Southern and East Africa, and DANTE – Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe – which operates the pan-European research and education network, GÉANT.

Although the UbuntuNet Alliance initially only connected Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia to Europe, the expansion of the network will provide connectivity to many more countries in Southern and East Africa.

Tusu Tusubira, UbuntuNet’s chief executive officer, told University World News: "UbuntuNet is about eliminating the isolation of African academics and researchers from global research and education connectivity, and also stimulating and reinforcing regional research and education collaboration by providing the high-capacity, fair-priced data paths critical to this.

"It is about increasing the African presence on the global intellectual property output map from negligible to proportionate, addressing the deficit that equates to a drain on national resources, and accelerating the translation of intellectual output to applications that enable and support development.”

Tusubira added: "Finally, it is about lifting the entire educational sector, as national research and education networks reach out to the overwhelming majority of educational institutions at all levels that still do not have access to connectivity and online resources."

Denis Salord, European Commission head of regional programmes Sub-Saharan Africa and ACP wide in the directorate general for development and cooperation, said the commission was “pleased to contribute to the development of this important regional higher education and research network.

"I am confident that African researchers now have an additional instrument to improve communication and exchange information among them and with their colleagues in Europe."

The network will provide advanced data communications infrastructure, enabling African researchers to collaborate more easily in advanced international research projects.

“This unique regional network will transform our higher education and research, with collaboration being at its core,” said Eunice Kazembe, Malawi's minister of education, science and technology at the Lisbon launch.

“Access to higher education will be expanded. Participation in high-level scientific projects and teams will be so much easier. Medical research and health care delivery will be enhanced."

The AfricaConnect project is expected to last until 2015, after which the African project partners will ensure the sustainability of the intra-regional research network and its direct connection to GÉANT.

Meanwhile, the Sixth Islamic Conference of Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research, held under the theme "The Role of Higher Education in the Development of Science and Technology for a Prosperous Future" in Khartoum, Sudan, from 20-21 November, approved the establishment of the Pan-Islamic Research and Education Network (PIREN) as a platform for improving connectivity for researchers and education networks among 57 Islamic states, including 27 African countries.

The Khartoum Declaration recommended promoting active collaboration and exchange of expertise among research communities in member states, and using PIREN to “leverage joint research and better education”.

The conference also adopted the document, Key Performance Indicators: Guidelines for assessment and quality enhancement for universities in the Islamic world, which will serve as a guide for universities in Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member states striving to achieve academic excellence, enhance R&D and improve education quality.