The Africa Connect project is helping to modernise and develop education and research in sub-Saharan Africa countries by supporting networking and internet connectivity.
The project began in 2008 with €12 million in funding from the European Commission and €3 million co-financing from African countries’ National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). The concept of research and education networks has been running successfully in Europe through the GÉANT 2 network for several years, and it has been successfully introduced in other parts of the world, including North Africa and Latin America.
The first step was a feasibility study on the Interconnection between South and Eastern Research Networks to GÉANT. It assessed the policies of Sub-Saharan countries towards ICT technologies.
The project aims are to:
- Lower the digital divide;
- Contribute to the development of Africa by enabling African researchers to have the facilities to work with their international peers and also widen Africa's research base;
- Modernise the education and research sector;
- Include Sub-Saharan countries in global research co-operation and global research projects;
- Increase of use of the ICT technologies by other sectors;
- Increase access to the internet for general population;
- Increase regional cooperation among the Sub-Saharan countries, particularly in the research sector;
- Increase exchanges of the Sub-Saharan region with the rest of the world, and to increase the openness of the region;
The main activities working to these goals are:
- To create one or several backbone networks to link the NRENs, including design of the most cost-effective technical solution, procurement of the network and management to provide stable services;
- Support to advanced user communities for the infrastructure, including promotion of the network to students, researchers and doctors;
- Training and support activities to consolidate the NRENs.
The final report from FEAST, the feasibility study for Africa Connect, was released in March 2010. It found that the physical infrastructure to develop an African research network is largely in place and that policy and regulation in most countries are mostly permissive.
However, the main obstacle identified was that the majority of the NREN communities are not ready for such networking activities. The awareness of the importance of NRENs and their needs is still low, regulatory frameworks are often under-developed or poorly enforced and there is a lack of affordable access to telecommunication links.