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Feature - MANGO-NET: Bringing African ICT up to speed

Feature: MANGO-NET - Helping to bring African ICT up to speed

Mangoes are cultivated in African countries such as Nigeria, MANGO-NET aims to cultivate an ICT infrastructure. Image courtesy Amr Safey, stock.xchng

While computing technology is ubiquitous and increasingly powerful, its availability in developing nations remains limited. African universities struggle to participate in cutting-edge research because they do not have access to a widespread computer infrastructure, so their ability to conduct experiments and share results is compromised. As more science becomes "e-science," the problem gets worse.

To help solve this, MANGO-NET (Made in Africa NGO NETwork), was launched. This project seeks to boost information and computing technology (ICT) throughout Africa, by establishing a network of schools and production labs to train ICT students to build their own computers. Because components are bought in bulk, it should reduce hardware costs, decreasing African dependence on computer imports and antiquated recycled computers.

The organization behind MANGO-NET, Informaticiens Sans Frontières (ISF), hopes that superior ICT will boost education and the economy in African countries, as well as bring them to the forefront of scientific research via the grid.

"What we would like to do is give more African universities the chance to join international research - a chance to actually conduct research," says ISF President Silvano De Gennaro. "Instead of removing scientists from their home countries to come work in Europe, we want to bring them the grid. With the grid, they can join international research projects such as the LHC." (One example of such an existing opportunity is with the HP UNESCO project, which iSGTW covered in August 2007.)

MANGO-NET teaches people how to build computers from scratch. Image courtesy Marin Myftiu, stock.xchng

At home

Another such project is with AFRICA@home, a BOINC volunteer computing project which harnesses the power of distributed computing to help solve pressing health and environmental problems - such as malaria - through their flagship application, MalariaControl.net

Internet access in Africa is also improving. The recently launched SEACOM service, which consists of 15,000 kilometers of underwater fiber-optic cables connecting Africa with Europe and Asia, promises to drastically reduce the cost of sending and receiving data, providing speeds of up to 1.28Tpbs. Meanwhile, in South Africa, the project SAGrid is currently preparing to move to full production readiness, and its researchers are likely to be participating in global experiments soon. (South Africa already participates in global experiments such as the LHC.)

MANGO-NET is still in the preliminary stages, but is attracting significant support both in Europe and Africa. Together with new initiatives such as SEACOM and SAGrid, it could be an important step towards bringing Africa up to speed in ICT, helping African countries to make a significant contribution to global, grid-enabled research.

-Seth Bell, iSGTW

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