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AfricaConnect2 to create first pan-African research and education network

Speed read
  • The AfricaConnect project, contributed to the creation of the UbuntuNet — the high-speed network for research and education in Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • Now, the AfricaConnect2 project will develop high-capacity networks across the entire African continent and connect them to the European GÉANT network.
  • This new project will help to further lower the costs associated with high-capacity connectivity, and will provide a significant boost for both research and eduction.

African research and education network associations the UbuntuNet Alliance, ASREN, and WACREN have partnered with their European counterpart GÉANT in a €26.6m ($29.1m) EU co-funded project to provide dedicated high-speed internet all over Africa.

This follows the success of the AfricaConnect project, which contributed to the creation of the UbuntuNet — the high-speed network for research and education in Eastern and Southern Africa — between 2011 and 2015.

AfricaConnect2 will develop high-capacity networks across the entire African continent and connect them to the European GÉANT network, enabling students, researchers, and academics in Africa and beyond to better collaborate. The connectivity boost will not only advance research and education locally, with opportunities like e-learning and cloud computing, but it will equally benefit scientific studies the world over in areas such as climate change, biodiversity, food security, and infectious diseases.

O.O. Jegede from the department of physics and engineering physics at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria explains: “In my area of research I need access to climate data as well as regional climate models (RCMs) to be able to study different climate scenarios and train students to be able to do so. The AfricaConnect2 project opens up new vistas supporting collaborative research across Africa and beyond through timely access to scientific data using high-speed Internet connectivity provided by NRENs. I am very excited to be part of the cooperative whereby acquired data is made available to the global scientific community and for training of postgraduate students in Africa.”

Accelerating scientific breakthroughs

A central part of the recently announced Africa-EU Partnership, AfricaConnect2 will fulfill both continents’ wish to connect research and education communities across borders and accelerate scientific breakthroughs. 

Image courtesy GÉANT.“Science, technology, and innovation figure high on the African and European agenda as means to attain socioeconomic development objectives,” says Françoise Moreau, head of unit at the EC Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation (DG DEVCO). “That is the reason why under the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, both continents have decided to deepen their cooperation to promote knowledge- and skills-based societies and economies. The EU therefore welcomes the start of AfricaConnect 2, which will build upon the successes of AfricaConnect in improving scientific knowledge and will further reinforce cooperation between research communities of the two continents, for the benefits of all.”

For Pascal Hoba, CEO of the UbuntuNet Alliance, the momentum is here to seize: “Before AfricaConnect, bandwidth prices in the region were typically more than 10 times the prices in more developed parts of the world. AfricaConnect has allowed countries once isolated like Zambia to be on the map of research networking and contribute actively. Now that we know that affordable connectivity is achievable we want to partner with our neighbors to pursue our shared vision of a connected and engaged pan-African research and education community.”

A collaboration between four strong regional partners

AfricaConnect2 involves:

  • The UbuntuNet Alliance, which operates the UbuntuNet network in Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • WACREN, which is building a regional network in West and Central Africa.
  • ASREN, which has been connecting northern Africa following the Mediterranean EUMEDCONNECT project.
  • European networking organization GÉANT, which will strengthen and develop new connections with all pan-African networks, bringing research and education communities across the two continents together.  

All three African networking organizations will support local networks at different stages of development and improve regional and international connectivity, encouraging more institutions and countries to join in.

Supporting a network of people

Like its predecessor, AfricaConnect2 means much more than affordable high-capacity connectivity. AfricaConnect2 will also offer capacity building at a regional and continental level, supporting sustainable development and helping build a more inclusive information society across Africa.

Cathrin Stöver, chief international relations and communications officer at GÉANT, comments: “Looking beyond the routers, switches, and cables, the secret to a successful project is people. People as a close-knit community, with a pool of well-trained engineers who efficiently manage their networks and support their users to allow them to make a difference. AfricaConnect2’s ambition is to develop and nurture such a community spirit.”

AfricaConnect2 is due to finish by the end of 2018. The EU development co-operation funds contribute up to €20m ($21.9m), with the beneficiary partners bringing in the remaining €6.6m ($7.2m). 

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