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Growing the Internet 22 March 2016

Madagascar – Exotic Internet Developments

By Michuki MwangiDistinguished Technologist, Internet Growth

The 17th of March 2016 will be long remembered a special day in the Internet history books of Madagascar as the “Journée de l’Internet” or “Internet Day”.

To most people Madagascar is an exotic destination, courtesy of the Dreamworks Animation movie “Madagascar”. The capital city is Antananarivo and getting there is fairly straight forward, with daily direct flights from Johannesburg (South Africa) or Nairobi (Kenya). In addition, there are flights between Antananarivo and the other neighboring Indian Ocean Islands of Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles, Mayotte and Réunion. Madagascar has an intriguing history and a visit to the Rova (Queen’ Palace) at “La Haute ville” or Upper town gives a scenic 360-degree view of the capital and country’s monarch history. The primary spoken languages are Malagasy and French. For foreigners, the local names are often a mouthful to pronounce and I presume the same applies for the locals since abbreviated names are commonly used. For instance, Antananarivo is commonly referred to as “Tana”. Interestingly, if you ever wondered what became of the classic Renault 4L “Quatrelle” well, wonder no more, they are still in use and happily serving as taxis in Madagascar!

On this “Journée de l’Internet”, the local Internet community consisting of the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and New Technologies (MPTNT), Autorité de Régulation des Technologies de Communication (ARTEC), .MG ccTLD Registry Manager NIC-MG, the national research and education network (NREN) i RENALA, GOTICOM, Operators amongst other stakeholders., came together to hold two activities. First, the morning session was reserved for the formal launch of the Madagascar Global Internet eXchange (MGIX), the Internet Exchange Point. The second session held in the afternoon was the inaugural national Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

The realization of MGIX was a culmination of many years of work with the support of many organisations. According to the chairman of MGIX Mr. Haja Ramboasalama, initial attempts to establish an IXP in 2009 did not bear fruit. In our experience, the local environment plays a major factor in enabling the establishment of an IXP. The second outreach was courtesy of the African Union’s AXIS project implemented by the Internet Society. The AXIS project conducted 2 capacity building workshops in Madagascar. 2 day Best Practices workshop in April 2014 and 5 day Technical Aspects workshops in August of the same year. It still took almost 2 years since the first AXIS workshop was held to realize MGIX.

While those who are familiar Madagascar may be quick to say that the time taken is reminiscent of the Malagasy “Mora Mora” way of life. I would like to reiterate that, many experts have repeatedly stressed that IXPs are often more than 80% social engineering and 20% technical engineering. Madagascar was not an exception to this rule and I would be fairly concerned if they were an exception. The reason being that, I have come to the conclusions that, a community that successfully goes through this social engineering process, emerges stronger and develops a unifying bond that is needed to continue growing the peering ecosystem. This video that was played during the MGIX launch ceremony demonstrates the value and outcome of this process.

I would like to echo the sentiments of the MGIX chair in recognizing the contributions of PCH in providing the necessary technical assistance towards the setup of the IXP. As of 17thMarch, there were 6 networks connected to the MGIX namely Airtel, Blueline/Gulfsat, Orange, Telma and PCH DNS and research services. In addition, with the support of the University of Maryland, MGIX went live with a local “anycast” instance of the D-Root Root server, which reduced the DNS resolution latencies from over 200ms to less than 10ms. Other operators such .MG ccTLD Registry NIC-MG and the national research and education network (NREN) i RENALA are expected to connect soon.

The MGIX was officially launched in a colourful ceremony officiated by Mr. Neipatraiky A. Rakotomamonjy, Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and New Technology, and H.E Dr. Elham Ibrahim, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union.

From the format of the day, it was clear that the local community is well aware that the launch of MGIX is just but the beginning. Thus, the afternoon session was dedicated to discuss Internet Governance and the creation of the national IGF to support their national Internet development agenda. The organisers had taken advantage in the importance of the “Journée de l’Internet” to invite all their partners namely AFRINIC, AFNIC, ICANN, PCH, Internet Society, including their Island country neighbors with a delegation from Comoros and Mauritius in attendance.

The invited speakers provided background information and updates on some of the topics that are at the center of discussions with respect to Internet Governance such as, the IANA transition, Collaborative Security, Access, local content, Data Centers, IPv6 and Policy amongst others. The questions and comments received from the audience were a clear indication that the dialogue needs to continue, and the IGF would be the ideal vehicle to provide that platform. It was reassuring when Mr. Jean Andriamaro RAKOTOMALALA, Chairman of the Board of Directors of ARTEC, who gave closing remarks on behalf of the Minister, reassured the community of the Governments support for future IGF events.

There was also an opportunity to meet the group of individuals who are working towards the formalization of the ISOC Madagascar chapter. I appreciated the fact that the meeting was hosted at ARTEC as this signaled good relationship between the regulator and the parties involved and the importance attached to this initiative. The discussions highlighted a number of areas where the ISOC Madagascar chapter can take leadership, some of which were raised during the IGF Q&A session. As a first trip to Madagascar, most of us left with a promise to return and also continue supporting them achieve their Internet development agenda. The future prospects of Madagascar’s Internet look very promising. We are honored by their invitation to celebrate their well-deserved success.

As we depart, many maps will be updated with new “points-of-presence” in Madagascar because there is an IXP, DNS D-Root Server instance, Atlas Probes, PCH node that serves many ccTLDs, a National IGF and very soon they will have their ccTLD signed with DNSSEC. What an exotic accomplishment!

Félicitations mes amis et à bientôt.

Note: more photos from Madagascar’s Internet Day 2016 are available.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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