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History of the Internet in Africa: Organizations and Initiatives

Many international organizations have played an important role in Africa Internet history. Their actions were significant in the area of infrastructure, policy, capacity building and more.  This section is trying to summarize some of these actions by international organizations and research centers.

Africa Union

 
The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is a programme of the African Union (AU) adopted in Lusaka, Zambia in 2001.
 
 NEPAD e-Africa programme
 
NEPAD's e-Africa programme works in the area of technology to promote Africa as a globally competitive digital society. The programme was previously known as the NEPAD e-Africa Commission and is tasked with developing policies, strategies and projects at continental level for the development of information and communication technologies (ICT) throughout Africa. The aim of the NEPAD e-Africa Programme is to pursue cross-sector initiatives so that ICT is entrenched in all social sectors, e-services are developed and Africa is digitally competitive.
 
NEPAD's ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network for Africa is one of the key initiatives of the e-Africa programme, which:
  • Aims to connect all African countries to one another and to the rest of the world through existing and planned submarine (Uhurunet) and terrestrial (Umojanet) cable systems.
  • Aims to integrate the continent and enable trade, social and cultural interchange to take place with ease and affordability.
Uhurunet is being developed by Baharicom Development Company (BDC) which has signed an MoU with ACE (Africa Coast to Europe) to jointly build a submarine cable that will extend from Europe to South Africa, running along the West African coast, and connecting every African country along that coast. Umojanet is a a terrestrial network that will link every African country to its neighbours, will connect to Uhurunet to realise the dream of the cross-border continental NEPAD Network.
 
Another key project of the e-Africa programme is the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative. The initiative aims to harness ICT technology to improve the quality of teaching and learning in African primary and secondary schools in order to equip young Africans with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to participate confidently and effectively in the global information society and knowledge economy. Sixteen African countries have signed MoUs with the NEPAD e-Africa Programme and a consortia of private sector companies to participate in the NEPAD e-Schools demo Project. To date over 80 demonstrations NEPAD e-Schools have been implemented. Each school in the demonstration project was equipped with a computer laboratory containing at least 20 PCs as well as a server and networking infrastructure and peripheral devices such as scanners, electronic whiteboards and printers. The schools were connected to the Internet to enable them to access content and to communicate with the rest of the world.
 

IDRC

 
Acacia project
 
Canada is also an active country in cooperation in the field of ICT in Africa, especially in the Acacia project. "Launched in 1997, Acacia is dedicated to experimentation and learning. Each country represents a different laboratory to assess models of community access to ICT and the larger issue of the role of technology in development. Although there is general agreement that the information is essential for development, the notice is less consensus about how best to share. Many feel that ICTs are luxuries that detract from investment that should respond to basic needs like drinking water, primary health care and education. Acacia is an opportunity to demonstrate how ICT can supplement these development objectives and help achieve them. A monitoring program, ELSA (Evaluation Systems for Acacia and learning), will identify successes and failures, which in turn will determine the ongoing operations of Acacia and possible investments in ICTs for development [ 13] ". The Canadian government has allocated 60 million Canadian dollars for this program over five years. (IDRC).
 

USAID (US Agency for International Development)

 
The LELAND Initiative 
 
The United States are also interested in Africa. In 1996, they launched the Leland Initiative which, over five years, must spend $ 15 million to connect to the Internet twenty African countries. The USAID offers these countries the installation of dedicated lines for high speed (64 to 128 Kbps) to liaise between the U.S. network and the national telecommunications operator.
 
"The project seeks to be flexible, ready to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities in a given country to support policy reform, facilitate the rapid and low cost Internet and set up proven mechanisms that create and re buckets of active users . " In other words, the main consideration for the assistance provided by the Leland Initiative is the liberalization of national telecommunications sector.
 

Image: The Digital Freedom Initiative, from the testimony of Andrew S. Natsios, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

UNECA

 
The Addis-based UN Economic Commission for Africa has  played a leading role in the campaign to promote electronic networking for development, and to bring Africa on to the Highway
 
PADIS
 
From 1990-1993 PADIS implemented a pilot project in electronic networking in Africa, linking some 18 African institutions in a FIDOnet-based network. It also set up a bulletin board on networking and African development and an electronic conference on information technology in Africa. As a result of its success with this pilot project, it is now beginning the implementation of a much larger three-year project funded by International Development Research Centre entitled, "Building Capacities for Electronic Communication in Africa." Through this project, it hopes to install electronic networks in 24 African countries.   ( http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Acad_Research/padis_ams.html)
 
 
AISI (African Information Society Initiative)
 
The African Information Society Initiative (AISI) is an action framework that has been the basis for information and communication activities in Africa since 1996. AISI is not about technology. It is about giving Africans the means to improve the quality of their lives and fight against poverty.  
 
Following are some of the major achievements: 
  • Support provided to 28 African countries to develop their own national information and communication infrastructure (NICI) policies, plans and strategies 
  • Periodic consultations were organised with member states and partners through the following activities:
    • - organised the Global Connectivity for Africa Conference in Addis Ababa 2 to 4 June 1998 in collaboration with Partners for ICTs in Africa (PICTA) 
    • - organised the African Development Forum 1999 (ADF’99), which took place from 24 to 28 October, to bring the message of information technology and development, within the context of globalization and the knowledgebased economy. 
    • - Capacity building for decision makers and technical training 
    • - Launched the evaluation of ICT impact on peoples’ lives and welfare (SCAN-ICT project)

UNDP 

 
SDNP programme
 
The Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) of UNDP lasted in the main from 1992 to 2000 and reached close to 80 countries in efforts to promote greater use of ICTs for sustainable and human development. The SDNP was one of the first initiatives focused on bringing the benefits of ICTs to people in the developing world. A small team at UNDP HQ in New York managed the corporate programme, but the essence of the SDNP’s activities took place in about 40 partner countries located around the world.
 
The objectives of the SDNP were to facilitate access to information for decision-making and to strengthen the participation of various development actors such as CSOs in the development process. The SDNP was originally conceived as a support mechanism for Agenda 21 and up to 1998, had expended about USD 16 M from a variety of sources inside and outside UNDP. 
 
SDNP projects were developed in collaboration with the governments of the countries concerned, but did not always focus their operations on government. CSOs were often times the main beneficiaries along with other non-governmental stakeholders. The project in most but not all countries included a Steering Committee that brought together representatives of different stakeholder groups as advisors and partners with a stake in the SDNP project. A local management group was established, and a manager was sought, preferably one with entrepreneurial skills and some understanding of local needs and of the potential of ICTs.
 
SDNP activities included initially promoting the use of email and basic connectivity as well as engaging in awareness promotion and training. Later, the project extended its focus to consider Internet connectivity and appropriate local models of connectivity, as well as content and Web portal development. In some counties, the SDNP also mobilized attention around the importance of ICT for development and lobbied governments to adopt more liberal telecommunications regimes. Several SDNP managers were involved in ICANN and related initiatives.
 

The World Bank

 
INFODEV
 
Building Local Capacity for ICT Policy and Regulation: A needs assessment and gap analysis for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
 
Policy-making and regulation for the ICT sector in developing counties are complex and difficult challenges, for several reasons. The issues are complex and rapidly changing as technologies and business models change. The political economy of ICT sector reform is highly sensitive, both because of vested interests and because of labor and revenue implications of restructuring, privatization and competition. And policy and regulation are by their nature incremental, contextual processes shaped by local realities. 
 
Expanding Affordable Access in Africa: Support for a consensus building workshop on the EASSY submarine cable project.
 
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), along with other African and international organizations committed to expanding affordable access to information and communication infrastructure and services in Africa, have been engaged in advocacy and policy dialogue with public, private and civil society stakeholders in Africa. The dialogue has focused on how to promote flexible approaches for the financing and ownership of the proposed Eastern and Southern Africa submarine cable project (EASSY) so as to assure affordable and competitive access to the international communications bandwidth that will be provided by that cable. This work builds upon substantial work that APC has already been doing, in cooperation with other partners with substantial finding from the UK Department for International Development, on policy advocacy for expanding affordable ICT access in Africa.
 
The World Bank continues supporting many ICT initiatives in Africa.
 

ORSTORM

 
RIO (meaning “Reseau Intertropical d’Ordinateurs”) was a network of electronic communication developed by ORSTOM, a French scientific research agency working in West Africa. Interestingly, this early network emerged from France’s imperialistic ties to Africa. The ORSTOM agency was founded after World War II and only existed in former French West African nations. The agency’s initial goals were to explore how to stop the spread of disease in French colonies. Eventually, the organization formed a telecommunications network connecting the regions with France. RIOnet linked 25 UNIX hosts in 10 countries giving about 80 access points. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Seychelles, and Madagascar were all connected to Montpellier, France via dial-up. NSRC’s database has a status update from November 1993:
 
Services: Email, Forums, Listserv, Electronic bulletins, User directory.
 
Users: About 1000. They are working for scientific research establishments, Universities, NGO’s, library. 13 000 Emails making about 50 MO are sent every month between North (Europe, America) and South  Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) part of network.
 
Keeping links up 24 hours a day to Africa was not practical, however. Some countries turned off electricity at night. In addition, tariffs were high enough that a call to Paris 24 hours per day would be prohibitive. TCP/IP also had some problems in such an environment so the solution was UUCP. The UUCP F protocol ran on top of X.25 and calls were placed once or twice a day to transfer mail.
An archive site, museum.media.org explains even more about RIOnet. When a new site was added to the network, Pascal Renaud and local researchers would host a conference attended by government officials, PTT staff, any local non-governmental organizations (e.g., the UN), and university researchers. ORSTOM had a policy of allowing any of these people to use RIO. This open policy helped make ORSTOM part of the local community and helped spread mail access to many new parts of the world.
 
Supporting scientific computing in such a far-flung network is quite a challenge. Only a few sites had real computer support people. Dakar, for example, had one staffer to support the 15 Suns at that site. For other facilities, ORSTOM had an interesting support structure.
 
In France, military service is compulsory. An alternative however is a system somewhat like the U.S. Peace Corps. ORSTOM, as a national laboratory, receives an annual quota of young engineers and puts them to work maintaining computers in far-away places.
 

NSRC (Network Startup Resource Center)

 
 In Africa, as in the majority of developing areas, efforts to get more people to use the Internet productively are handicapped by a lack of essential technical information, trained local network operators, and financial resources. The NSRC, which traces its roots to a volunteer effort to support networking in southern Africa in the late 1980s, was formalized in 1992 with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). With its home base now at the University of Oregon Computing Center in Eugene, Oregon, USA, the NSRC continues to provide pro bono technical support and engineering assistance to developing area networks around the world.
 
The NSRC effectively functions as a virtual global clearinghouse and service center working with individuals, organizations, and governments worldwide. The NSRC disseminates information, training, and tools to local networking organizations in developing countries to help them acquire affordable networking technology. By providing technical assistance to numerous countries around the world, and tracking international connectivity developments, the NSRC has established and maintains an extensive base of contacts willing to contribute their time and expertise to further these efforts. The NSRC's emphasis on empowering in-country network engineers has contributed significantly to the development of sustainable networks, managed by local hands with local expertise.
 
The NSRC has been instrumental in the creation and expansion of the Internet and technology on the African continent in various ways as:
 
  • Technical assistance
  • Training, Technical Documentation and hardware 
  • Support for setting up Internet Governance authorities in Africa
Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie  (www.oif.org)
 
The International Organization of La Francophonie was created in 1970. Its mission is to embody the active solidarity between its 75 member states and governments (56 members and 19 observers), which together represent over one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 890 million people, including 220 million French speakers.
 
Alongside the IOF, the Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie and the four direct operators are responsible for implementing the programs decided at the Summits. Agence Universitaire de la Francophone is one of these operators ‘Digital campuses’ are central to the Agency’s broader mission of bridging the digital divide between developed and developing Francophone nations in general, and Anglophone and Francophone Africa in particular. Each of these centres- based in local universities- provides students with access to the Internet, e-mail and various online resources in French. Since 1998, the Agency has founded ‘digital campuses' at universities in many countries.
 

UNESCO

 
 
The Regional INformatics Network for AFrica  (RINAF) Project was  conceived by  the Intergovernmental Informatics Program (IIP) of UNESCO in 1985 (01).  At that time,  no initiatives to set up research network services in  Africa existed.  Due  to  delays  incurred  in  gathering fundings  and  obtaining burocratical approval,  the project was started late in 1991 with funding  of  about  1 million dollars  from the Italian Government.  The official opening of the project was held in DAKAR, in February 1992.  At that time, a number of projects were started under the initiative of  different governments, companies or institutions of  the more developed  countries; some  initiatives were also started by the African countries themselves.  For these reasons, the RINAF project decided to invest the funding available to  promote the use of research network services by cooperation with the initiatives already existing.
 
The aim of the project was to:
  • use new information and telecommunications technologies to favour exchanges between African countries;
  • remedy  the  isolation   of   development  and  research institutions in African  countries  and  facilitate dialogue between researchers, academics and industrialists;
  • develop  an  operative  process  for  the coordination, integration and  upgrading  of African networks,  as well as exchange with  other  international  networks.
UNESCO is also supporting other ICT initiatives on the continent.
 

ISOC

 
The Internet Society (ISOC) is an international, non-profit organization founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet related standards, education, and policy. It states that its mission is "to assure the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world. The Internet society has contributed to the Internet development in Africa in the following areas:
 
INET 
 
ISOC global INET Technical workshops have been very contributive in creating a pool of qualified people in setting up IP networks in developing countries especially in Africa. Over 10 years many african have benefited from the one week yearly training program focused on  DNS, routing and internet services implementation.
 
INET events were opportunity for participants from Africa  to organize events called  the “developing country networking symposium” .  Important topics relevant to the Internet in Africa were discussed during these symposiums. These events were leaded by Dr Nii Quaynor, Dr Tarek Kamel, Pierre Dandjinou.
 
The first ISOC chapter was ISOC Morocco chartered in 1996.   The chapters have been playing an important role in education,  public awareness and networking events.
 
To better serve the African region ISOC has approved the African bureau.
 
 
List of African chapters with dates of creation:     
 
Country
 
Contact
Month  
Morocco
AbdelazizHilali
April/1996
Ghana
isocghana@gmail.com
February/1997
Egypt
 
 
March/1998
South Africa
info@isoc.org.za
June/1998
Uganda
http://www.internetsociety.ug
info@internetsociety.ug
June/1998
Nigeria
info@isocnig.org.ng
June/1998
Mali
diallo_iam@yahoo.com
June/1998
Benin
pierredovonou@hotmail.com
March/1999
Cameroon
info@isoc-cameroon.org
April/2000
Niger
 
ousmane@musatela.net
June/2000
Senegal
isoc@isoc.sn
July/2001
Mauritius
 
kris_seeburn@orange.mu
December/2002
Tunisia
Khaled.koubaa@gmail.com
August/2006
Burundi
 
victor@isoc.bi
February/2007
Democratic
Republic
of Congo
 
Vpchapter.drc@gmal.com
February/2007
Congo
Philemon.kissangou@arpce.net
February/2007
Sierra Leone
info@isoc.sl
May/2007
Coted'Ivoire
assirou@gmail.com
February/2008
Mauritania
 
isoc_chapter_mauritania@yahoo.fr
March/2008
Togo
president@isoc.tg
December/2008
chad
 
December/2008
Liberia
Isoc.liberia@gmail.com
November/2009
Rwanda
Chris.mulola@gmail.com
October/2010
Somalia
mi@soregistry.so
January/2011
Gambia
info@isoc.gm
December/2011
Kenya
info@isoc.or.ke
May/2012

 

  • ISOC Egypt is in rejuvenation
  • ISOC Uganda was rejuvenated in 2011
  • ISOC Mauritius was rejuvenated in 2011 
  • ISOC Cameroon was rejuvenated in 2010-2011

 

ICANN (www.icann.org)

 

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was formed in 1998. It is a not-for-profit partnership of people from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers.

 

ICANN coordinates the Domain Name System (DNS), Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domain name system management, and root server system management functions. These services were originally performed under U.S. Government contract by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and other entities. ICANN now performs the IANA function.

 Source: http://www.icann.org/en/groups
 

 

Dr.  Nii Quaynor  was the first in the ICANN board of Director  from 2000 to 2003.  Many africans are also participating in the various  ICANN Advisory Committee (ALAC, SSAC, RSAC, GAC) and supporting organizations (ASO, GNSO, ccNSO)

 

AFRINIC

 

In 1997, the proposal for a regional Internet registry is submitted during the INET workshop in Malaysia. A year later, a steering committee was set up after a consultation meeting in Benin to work on the structure and proposed business plan. In 2000, the first AFRINIC observers were appointed to the ASO AC. Following a recommendation of the steering committee, an initial Board of Trustees was appointed based on a sub-regional representation in 2001. The first Board was chaired by Dr. Nii Quaynor with the mission to formalise the organisation and work towards its accreditation as a RIR.

In 2004, after a selection of potential host countries, AFRINIC was incorporated in Mauritius. It was decided that the overall oversight of AFRINIC will be done by representatives elected from the six identified sub-regions in Africa (Northern, Western, Central, Eastern and Southern).

 

The resulting organisation was registered in Mauritius with its various operations distributed among three other countries as follows:


 

 

 

AfriNIC is fully serving the Africa region in IP addresses management.  Adiel Akplogan is the Chief Executive Officer since its creation.