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Africa: Internet Advances
Apr 22, 2005 (050422)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
As of April 2005, the African continent now has its own regional
internet registry, AfriNic, with responsibility for assignment of
internet addresses within the continent. This long-awaited
development has the potential to save some $500 million in fees
paid outside the continent each year to registries in Europe and
North America. The agency, which received formal approval at an
international meeting in Argentina on April 8, is headquartered in
Mauritius, with an operations center in South Africa and back-up
facilities in Egypt.
The launch of AfriNic is one sign of the emerging maturity of
internet operations in Africa, as advances at many levels move
beyond conference talk about information technology to practical
applications. While gaps in infrastructure and equipment are still
substantial, more and more advances now depend on the human
capacity to take cost-effective advantage of those opportunities
Illustrations at one level include AfriNic (http://www.afrinic.net)
and the plans of the African Association of Internet Service
Providers (AfriSPA) to establish new data exchange points within
the continent. This week the Africa Network Operations Group
(AfNOG; http://www.afnog.org) is holding its latest training
session on network technology, in conjunction with the meeting
AfriNic in Maputo, Mozambique. At the level of applications within
countries, the operations of Schoolnet Namibia, which has provided
standard packages of internet-connected computer networks to almost
450 schools around the country in the last five years, demonstrate
what is possible.
By relying on open-source software and standard hardware
configurations refurbished in their own workshop, this nongovernmental
organization working with government and other partners has been able to keep
costs low and focus on training and
sustainable services rather than just supplying equipment. Staffing
for its production workshop at its headquarters in the township of
Katutura is provided largely by unemployed youth, who receive
training and the opportunity for later employment in exchange for
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a news article on the AfriNic
launch, excerpts from a 2004 report on Schoolnet Namibia, and
several additional links to related information. For additional
current information on Schoolnet Namibia, including a current list
of schools connected, see http://www.schoolnet.na.
Schoolnet Namibia's interactive Africa map puzzle is used worldwide
- test out your own knowledge at
Other recent articles of interest on related issues include
- an April 7 press release from the African Association of Internet
Service Providers (AfriSPA), announcing the award of a contract to
establish a network of internet exchange points within Africa, to
allow transfer of data within the continent
For regular updates on African telecommunications and internet
developments, see the weekly Balancing Act:
Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on related issues include:
Africa: Mobile Renaissance? May 6, 2004
Kenya: ICT Policy Debates May 6, 2004
Africa: Internet Creativity Feb 17, 2004
Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 2 Dec 15, 2003
Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 1 Dec 15, 2003
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
African Internet Users to Save $500 Million a Year
Highway Africa News Agency (Grahamstown)
April 8, 2005
By Rebecca Wanjiku, Highway Africa News Agency
Mar del Plata, Argentina
[Highway Africa news articles are also available on
It was a moment of great joy and pride for Africa as the Internet
Corporation for assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Board of
Directors approved AfriNic as the Regional Internet Registry (RIR)
The fouteen member board joined other participants in a standing
ovation as Adiel Akplogan, AfriNIC's executive director took the
"This is very rewarding news for Africa and the internet community
at large. It is a starting point for more participation by Africans
in global internet technology. Having our registry is proof of our
seriousness to address internet evolution on the continent," said
As expected, Africa's two representatives on the board, Mouhamet
Diop and Njeri Rionge captured the centre stage and took Africa to
new heights in the battle to bridge the digital divide. Diop
introduced the motion while Njeri seconded.
"I am honoured and humbled to be celebrating AfriNic's approval. We
will surely celebrate in Maputo, Mozambique, later this month
(April) during AfriNic's meeting," Njeri added.
The approval is the climax of a ten year journey that is likely to
save African ICT users U$500 million paid annually to other
regional exchanges as "transit fees". The approval will mean faster
internet access through local and regional connectivity as well as
the allocation of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses according to the
size of the institutions.
"Today, Africa pays more than U$500 million annually in transit
fees to other regional registries in Europe or America. We want to
ensure all that money goes to Africa's technological and
information development. Since AfriNic is a non-profit
organisation, any excess money raised will be ploughed back into
capacity building initiatives," said Pierre Dandjinou, AfriNIC's
Though the approval shows that Africa is serious about bridging the
digital divide, Dandjinou says the major challenge lies in getting
political backing to ensure that the role of AfriNIC becomes well
known in all African countries.
Since AfriNic will be delivering quality services comparable with
those currently on offer by other RIRs, Dandjinou argues there is
need for a major awareness campaign so that more people can take
advantage of the newly recognised entity.
Adiel Akplogan, AfriNic executive director confirmed that all data
and operational activity has already been and will continue to be
transfered effectively. The migration process is being conducted
with the support of the other RIRs that had previously allocated IP
addresses to African organisations. AfriNic is the fifth RIR and is
expected to handle all issues relating to Africa.
The approval was widely expected after the Internet Assigned Names
Authority (IANA) gave a clean bill of health in its public
presentation at the meeting in Mar Del Plata, Argentina. Barbara
Roseman, from IANA said AfriNIC policies and technical operations
have been satisfactory and all conditions set have been complied
Roseman said the public comment forum on AfriNic web site has been
the most successful so far. The internet public forum elicited more
than 20 positive comments, a move Roseman terms as commendable.
The idea of AfriNic was mooted by a small group of Africans
attending a meeting in Canada in 1995. Since then, the journey
towards its establishment has weathered many a storm ranging from
lack of finances to political goodwill. AfriNic is currently
registered and domiciled in Mauritius with other offices in South
Africa, and Egypt.
Empowering Youth and Connecting Schools: Lessons from the
SchoolNet Namibia Approach
International Network for the Availability of Scientific
INASP infobrief 2: February 2004
[excerpts: full text of infobrief available at
Schools in developing countries are beginning to get computers and
access to the Internet. They are using them in teaching and
administration; learners also use them to become computer and
Internet literate. Resulting from an evaluation commissioned by
Sida, this infobrief draws on the SchoolNet Namibia approach and
its achievements. It suggests that programmes like this should give
priority to the provision of affordable access using open
platforms, pay attention to longer term cost of ownership issues,
leverage change through partnerships, work closely with
governments, involve school principals and teachers, and seek to
ensure that necessary capacities are developed in schools
Quality education for all
In April 2000, the world's education community met in Dakar and
affirmed its commitment to six goals leading to Education For All.
The emphasis on quality in the Dakar Framework for Action is
important. It argues that "quality is at the heart of education,
and what takes place in classrooms and other learning environments
is fundamentally important to the future well-being of children,
young people and adults. A quality education is one that satisfies
basic learning needs, and enriches the lives of learners and their
overall experience of living". Among the twelve strategies
identified to achieve these goals is to "harness new information
and communication technologies" (ICTs). In terms of potential
benefits, ICTs are expected to contribute towards "knowledge
dissemination, effective learning and the development of more
efficient education services". They can also help to "improve
access to education by remote and disadvantaged communities, to
support the initial and continuing professional development of
teachers, and to provide opportunities to communicate across
classrooms and cultures". Affordability of the ICTs is seen as a
key factor to be taken into account.
In the search for quality education for all, numerous ICTs in
schools projects have been launched around the world. One very
visible model is the "schoolnet" that introduces computers and
Internet connectivity to schools. There are now schoolnets in at
least 9 African countries, there are also schoolnets in Canada,
Switzerland, India, Iran, and Lebanon, there is a European
schoolnet, a global schoolnet, and plans for schoolnets in 9
Southeast Asian countries. The latest evolutions in this area are
the global e-schools initiative of the United Nations ICT Task
Force and the NEPAD schools programme.
This infobrief presents some lessons emerging from one of these
initiatives SchoolNet Namibia. It is part of a wider evaluation of
Swedish support to SchoolNet Namibia that was commissioned by the
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and
carried out in late 2003. ...
About SchoolNet Namibia
SchoolNet Namibia was established in February 2000 to empower youth
through the Internet. Its main objective is to provide sustainable
low-cost technology solutions for Internet to all Namibian schools.
What does it do? In late 2003, the following main roles and tasks
were carried out.
Connect schools to the Internet
In 2002, SchoolNet set up its own Internet Service Provider (ISP)
hosted at the Polytechnic of Namibia. Schools gain access in two
main ways dial-up over phones using a modem, or via wireless. For
poorer schools, the phone access is subsidised using funds from
Sida. Under a new agreement, these tasks will largely move to
Telecom Namibia which guarantees fixed access rates for all
schools, irrespective how they connect.
Acquiring computers and equipment
SchoolNet Namibia provides refurbished computers to schools.
Increasingly, SchoolNet buys multiples of standard refurbished
computers instead of relying on "trick or treat" containers of
mixed equipment that require a lot of work before they can be used.
Building, installing, maintaining computer labs
Most schools get an Internet-connected computer laboratory.
Configurations differ according to the local situation. The current
package is the open source OpenLab application (which includes a
bundle of educational content). Most schools still use older Linux
(Suse 7.3+) solutions, some "fatclient" labs contain computers with
some Microsoft and Macintosh operating systems and usually a Linux
server. Until recently, all installation and support was provided
from Windhoek. A depot in northern Namibia now provides local
Addressing technical queries
Most teachers and learners are computer beginners and they cannot
troubleshoot and fix technical problems. When they encounter a
problem, they call a toll-free telephone number to register the
problem, receive immediate advice, or to arrange for a technician
Connecting schools to power
SchoolNet Namibia aims to ensure that any school can participate in
the programme. This includes schools off the power grid. So far,
SchoolNet has provided solar power sufficient for a computer lab in
six schools, two of which also access the Internet by wireless.
Strengthening ICT skills and capacities
Local skills are essential if the labs and connectivity are to be
used. Some initial training is provided to selected teachers and
learners at installation.
SchoolNet also provides ICT learning opportunities to street kids,
usually unemployed and with little formal education. Through
training and mentoring, they become ICT literate. Many become
SchoolNet ICT volunteers and work for a while in schools.
Thereafter, some continue working in their schools, some join the
staff of SchoolNet; most use their ICT skills to get a job.
SchoolNet also sponsors web-based competitions for school teams to
produce their own content.
Delivering educational and web content
SchoolNet mainly focuses on connectivity and computers. On the back
of these, demands are growing for more content applications beyond
games for learners and teachers. In 2003, SchoolNet joined with
Direqlearn to include some educational content in new OpenLab 2
An agreement with the Government's National Institute for
Educational Development makes it possible to also include their
local educational materials for teachers in the bundle.
Influencing wider policies
In partnerships with Government, the private sector, and others,
SchoolNet tests and demonstrates new technologies and new ICT
What has SchoolNet Namibia achieved? In just over two years, it
launched an ISP, connected around 120 schools and many other
educational groups to the Internet, and set up computer
laboratories in these schools. It has also shown how these can be
done in rural areas where there are neither telephone lines nor
connections to the power grid.
It has pioneered affordable strategies and solutions for schools.
Its models combine low-cost refurbished computers, open source
operating systems and software applications, discounted access to
the Internet, and the offer of ICT volunteers to provide basic ICT
support after set up and installation.
It has begun to tackle the lack of ICT skills in Namibia and in
Namibian schools. Through mentoring and training, young people have
gained computer-related skills that help them to get jobs. In the
schools, the pool of ICT-aware teachers and learners has also
grown, and these individuals are starting to use computers and the
Internet in both their daily lives and in the classroom.
Finally, SchoolNet has become a test bed for technical solutions
that challenge more widely used proprietary operating systems. In
particular, it offers alternatives that may be more sustainable
over time, given limited local funding for ICTs in schools. Beyond
technologies, innovative joint ventures and partnerships suggest
ways that all disadvantaged schools can begin to use the new ICTs.
Key elements in the approach
Probably the most important feature of the SchoolNet Namibia
approach is the focus on affordability providing solutions that
will ultimately be within the budgets of all Namibian schools. For
cash-strapped schools, it is essential that they can afford, in the
future as well as now, their ICT infrastructure and applications.
By focusing on affordability and longer-term costs of ownership,
schools can avoid some of the dangers of the 'free' market in
which, for example, donated computers are more costly than
expected. Donated 'free' computers that need licenses to be legal
can result in large unanticipated costs.
What can be learned from this experience? As well as the many
achievements, SchoolNet Namibia faces many challenges and issues.
After only a few years operating, it would be arrogant and
impossible to propose any 'best' practices. Instead, we list some
aspects of its experience that may assist others in developing
activities in this area.
- Sustainability in schools is closely linked to the affordability
of the ICTs. To be affordable, it is not enough to provide cheap or
free computers and connectivity, the wider costs of ownership now
and in the future need to be known.
- From a 'supply' perspective, ICTs can be made more affordable,
and thus accessible to schools. These include the use of
volunteers, refurbished computers, open source operating systems,
and providing discounted or free connectivity.
- However, a well-informed 'demand' from schools and the wider
education system is necessary to ensure that ICTs are sustained in
schools. Principals and teachers need to understand the wider
potentials of the ICTs and to take ownership of them. This is much
more than just becoming computer-literate.
- Providing an affordable and open ICT platform in schools is
essential. Getting it used is quite another challenge. It requires
commitment from the school and probably the involvement of
specialised partners in areas like e-learning or content
- The government has a vital role in this area. Since ICT
developments in and around schools often move much faster than
ministries are able to determine policy and standards, it is vital
that the various actors communicate effectively and work towards
common goals and priorities.
- The schools are key stakeholders and partners in this type of
exercise. Their active involvement in the programme should result
in dividends in the future. Seeing them as 'beneficiaries' may miss
out on opportunities for the sustainability of ICTs in both schools
and of a 'schoolnet.'
- There is a tension between installing ICTs in new schools and
supporting ICTs in partner schools. Since many schools do not have
in-house ICT expertise, the technical support challenge can grow
substantially. Without good support, schools and other actors may
become disenchanted with the whole programme.
- Some tasks, such as providing and supporting Internet access,
can be delivered through partnerships with specialised agencies.
Getting the attention of the prospective partner requires that the
feasibility of the 'market' is tried and tested, that enough
credibility is built up, and that a political demand is created.
- Ultimately, a schoolnet may see its core tasks evolve from the
implementation of technical tasks to a situation where, through
partnerships, it enables and mobilises the efforts of others,
directing them towards shared goals.
- ICTs can contribute to the quality of education in schools.
Through schools, they can also contribute to informal and lifelong
education and the general empowerment of youth and communities....
- The capacities required to make effective use of ICTs in
schools should not be under-estimated, nor restricted to technical
skills. A wider understanding of ICT potentials by teachers and
administrators is also essential.
This infobrief was prepared by Peter Ballantyne as part of a review
of SchoolNet Namibia commissioned by the Swedish International
Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). ...
The full evaluation report is available from
http://www.sida.se/publications or via
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