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Building Trust 11 July 2017

Network Operators Groups in Africa Share Their Stories

By Kevin ChegeDirector, Internet Development

The Internet Society African Regional Bureau has worked with new and existing Network Operator Groups (NOGs) in Africa, providing financial and technical support to organize trainings and events at the local level. Currently there are seven known active national NOGs in Africa: Rwanda, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Angola, and Somalia as well as two regional NOGs:  Africa NOG (AfNOG) and Southern Africa NOG (SafNOG). While the Internet Society continues to encourage the growth of African NOGs and the NOGs have had a number of successes in building the technical community of Africa, they have also been faced with a number of challenges. Some shared their stories with us.

The Nigerian Network Operators Group (ngNOG)

The first African NOG, ngNOG, was formed in 2006 with the Preparatory Nigerian Network Operators Group (Pre-ngNOG I) workshop and meeting. At the time, ngNOG was co-convened by the Nigeria ICT Forum of Partnership Institutions, a NGO in higher education, and General Data Engineering Services/SKANNET, a private ISP and training consultancy.

The primary objectives of ngNOG were to build resident technical capacity in Nigerian Academic Networks, prepare participants for more advanced training at the AfNOG workshops, help build a National Research and Education Network and Services, and provide a local alternative to the regional AfNOG event (with the advantage of lower travel cost). 

Over the years ngNOG has operated various online discussions, hosted annual events and undertaken more specialized trainings covering issues like Internet number resources, learning management systems, optical fiber, campus network design, etc.

Rashida Umar from ngNOG says that over the years their NOG has trained over 800 network engineers, managers, and librarians. The audience usually includes mid-level and senior technical staff of research and education networks, public and private networks, commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs), NGOs, and others in the process of developing and enhancing and managing networks with local and international connectivity.

However, amidst its various achievements, ngNOG has also faced a number of challenges, such as the inability to ensure that the most suitable participants attend workshops, while more support is needed from local corporate organizations.

Its long term plan is to build a stronger and more active community that will sustain the NOG for the next generation. “We are also making plans to go beyond System Operations (sysops) into application development to stimulate more local content and possibly contribute toward making the ngNOG financially independent. We also hope to encourage the NOG community to strengthen the Research and Education network” said Rashida Umar.

According to ngNOG, they have leveraged the Internet Society’s online training support, while financial support by the Internet Society has subsidized fees for some participants, attracting high ranking decision makers in the local Internet community.

The Tanzania Network Operators Group (TzNOG)

tzNOG was officially formed in 2011 just after the conclusion of AfNOG 12, 2011 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Its objective was to localize the AfNOG trainings and provide an affordable training platform to local Internet Engineers. The organizing committee was comprised of members from Tanzania Network Information Centre (tzNIC), Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Tanzania Internet Service Providers Association (TISPA), and TERNET (Tanzania Educational and Research Network).

tzNOG offers one technical training per year, which raises awareness of tzNOG trainings to Tanzanians and the Government. However, tzNOG faces its own challenges from lack of local support by stakeholders (both local and public) and little marketing opportunities to attract more sponsors.

tzNOG is not yet fully self sustaining and the trainings being held depend on financial and material support from local and foreign donors including the Internet Society. According to Abibu Rashid Ntahigiye , Manager at tzNIC, “We have been receiving both financial and technical expertise support from ISOC and the NSRC. The support has been very useful in covering the event costs such as venue, catering, and accommodation for trainers. During the tzNOG4 in 2015, ISOC extended its support in terms of fellowship to 8 women engineers from TechCHIX, an upcoming women NOG in Tanzania. This increased the women participation to the trainings.” Ntahigiye says that the long term plan of tzNOG is to cover the whole country with at least one tzNOG training session and to commence workshops that share innovative ideas and/or challenges.

The Ghana Network Operators Group (GhNOG) 

GhNOG was formed on July 31, 2009 with the intention of localizing AfNOG trainings in Ghana. It holds one to two workshops and trainings per year to an average of 45-70 trainees. In 2011, GhNOG successfully organized a workshop in which AfNOG and GhNOG alumni taught. Since then, GhNOG has stopped inviting international instructors, relying on local talent and technical expertise instead.

Similar to other African NOGs, GhNOG faces challenges such as lack of financial support from sponsors and availability of volunteers to perform administrative tasks. Hence, the financial support it receives from the Internet Society and the internally generated funds are crucial to its survival and success rate.

According to Marcus K. G. Adomey, a Network Systems Administrator at the University of Ghana and president of the Internet Society Ghana Chapter, the longterm goal of GhNOG is to reorganize the ISOC Ghana Chapter Caucuses in the universities and polytechnics to bring effective, decentralized GhNOG workshops to those institutions.

The Southern Africa Network Operators Group (SAFNOG)

The Southern Africa Network Operators’ Group was formed in 2014. SAFNOG was formed to help with trainings and facilitate a regional discussion forum on issues like the increasing number of cross-border networks that operate in the SADC area. Although often well defined, network operators are often closeted and unwilling to share their experiences; the SAFNOG events have been very successful in bringing together operators who would otherwise not have been directly engaged. Because it is volunteer-driven, there are some challenges: the difficulty of finding new volunteers and volunteers’ limited time. Its longer term plan focuses on continuing to get the community to engage with each other. SAFNOG mostly sustains itself through the fee it charges for the plenary as well as through sponsorship and partnerships, such as the one it has built with the Internet Society.

The Sudan Network Operators Group (SdNOG) 

SdNOG started in October 2014 as a small mailing list for technical discussion and knowledge sharing. The first face-to-face event (SdNOG 1) was then held in December 2014. SdNOG was initially formed to address community needs and enhance the quality of Internet services in Sudan by exchanging technical ideas and information between different companies. It is now a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating communication between interested members from the Internet community in the region – with a focus on Sudan – and exchanging expertise in all areas related to Internet and networking. This is done through an open forum where discussions are held via mailing lists and annual meetings.

SdNOG is managed by hard-working volunteers who believe that they can make a difference in their community. It trains up to 90 students during three-day training sessions before each annual plenary, and the conferences have included more than 200 attendees. SdNOG also gives regular workshops and forums throughout the year that cover topics such as UNIX boot camp, network fundamentals, and network management, where approximately 20-25 students are trained. 

The Sudan NOG’s main challenges are a lack of financial and local human resources. SdNOG depends on sponsorship it receives from different organizations such as the Internet Society. According Sara Alamin, coordinator for SdNOG activities, the Internet Society provided financial support for the annual plenary meetings (2014-2016),and a grant for meeting hardware in 2015 (for SdNOG2). 

The Rwanda Network Operators Group (RwandaNOG)

RwandaNOG was formed in 2009. The primary purpose of the NOG was to grow the Rwanda Internet community and to bridge the technical skills gap with trainings that impart best practices.

RwandaNOG has made successful achievements over the years. “RwandaNOG 2015 was lead  by six NSRC trainers and assisted by four Rwandan trainers. During RwandaNOG 2016 the routing track was run by only by Rwandans. We have had 101 trained IT professionals and students the last two RwandaNOG trainings – and RwandaNOG 2016 sponsored 10 Girls with funds from NSRC,” said Sugira Claudine, Operations, Marketing and Public Relations Manager.

RwandaNOG sustains itself via a small participant fee and by soliciting funding from national and regional organizations. But there are challenges here as well. At the end of each training session, RwandaNOG gives certificates to the participants. However, the professional market in Rwanda tends to prefer other certified certificates such as CCNA or CCNP. 

RwandaNOG has a number of long-term plans, which include organizing training sessions that are tailored to the needs of the community while engaging more with schools, IT professionals working in telecom companies, government organizations, and web developers. 

RwandaNOG recognizes the financial support it receives from the Internet Society. In addition, according to Claudine, the NOG has used online UNIX and DNS courses for participants as a base training for participants attending the NOG workshops.

Angola NOG

Angola NOG was formed on the 24th of October 2016 by the Angolan Association of Internet Service Providers (AAPSI). Its goal was to bring together Internet service providers (ISPs), regulators, network operators and administrators, students, and all those involved in the ICT industry in Angola to encourage the sharing of knowledge, learning, and cooperation.

Angola NOG held its first event in 2016. It is planning to host more training sessions, workshops, tutorials, and a one-day conference in 2017 with the goal of raising awareness within the Internet community of the need to share knowledge and best practices. 

Finding local and international speakers and trainers on specific topics is one of the challenges faced by Angola NOG. It is the group’s hope that the Internet Society, which financially supported the first event, will continue to extend its support in providing technical expertise for the workshops.

Somalia NOG

The Somalia NOG was formed on 8 November 2015 with the primary goal of providing a platform for developing technical capacities related to networking and Internet services. It was inspired by the work of other NOGs in the region, primarily AfNOG. Somalia NOG has been an ideal platform for sharing experiences and promoting Internet development in the country.

Although the NOG’s activities are covered by small contributions from the participants and mainly by local sponsors from the Internet and networking industry, each year, the group organizes ToT training sessions, Pre-NOG workshops and a main NOG event. For 2017, three parallel workshops are scheduled to focus on network infrastructure, services, and management.

They face challenges such as access to experienced facilitators and training equipment as well as difficulty selecting the right audience. However, Somalia NOG looks forward to conducting more ToT workshops to build a significant mass of trainers, expanding the NOG membership and activities, promoting the establishment of IXPs in the country, and partnering with the Internet Society and NSRC in the launch of eLearning platform with content in the local language (Somali).

Become a local hero: explore the Internet Society’s work to encourage smart development and see how you can take part.

Image credit: TzNOG

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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