Investigating African e-Infrastructure Applications of the Future

Erina4Africa The 2nd ERINA4Africa Workshop ‘Investigating African e-Infrastructure Applications of the Future’ was held in Lilongwe, Malawi on the 6th and 7th October 2010.   Facilitated by a pioneering three-party high-definition video-conference session, medical experts at university hospitals in Malawi, Rwanda and Sweden discussed regional differences in treatment of portal hypertension and shared documents in real-time across continents.  This clearly demonstrated the potential of what advanced ICT support called e-Infrastructures can deliver to Africa.  The future of these technologies was also discussed in the workshop and addressed issues including digitization of research data, malaria research, secure drug distribution, e-health, e-learning, e-government and other advanced e-applications.

e-Infrastructures are research environments based on advanced computing and communication resources and distributed data repositories in which researchers globally collaborate and have shared access to scientific facilities.  ERINA4Africa is a project that is studying the early adoption of e-Infrastructures in Africa and is producing a foresight study identifying key high impact e-Infrastructures and a best practices report.

The recent arrivals of the submarine fibre cables SEACOM, TEAMS and EASSy to East Africa provide opportunities for enhanced harnessing of e-Infrastructure in the Sub-Sahara Africa region in a way that was not possible when VSAT was the main means of connectivity. National backbone networks and back-haul links from the landing points to landlocked countries like Malawi and Rwanda are being deployed. Last mile links to end-users are still a bottleneck but are emerging.

On top of this fibre infrastructure, National Research and Education Networks (RENs) are being implemented interconnecting African Research and Higher Education Institutions to each other, to the Global Research and Education Network  community, and to the Internet. The AfricaConnect initiative will contribute to the development of the RENs and associated e-Infrastructures.

The connectivity during the workshop in Malawi to support the e-Infrastructure video-conference was provided by courtesy of the incumbent Malawi telecom operator (MTL) via a temporary terrestrial microwave link to Dar es Salaam and a not yet commissioned link in the EASSy cable. The connectivity in Rwanda was provided by the Rwanda REN, Rwednet, connected via the SEACOM cable. The connectivity in Europe was provided by CARENET, a research network for e-health applications connected to the European REN backbone, GÉANT that is also connected to the emerging regional REN backbone in Southern and Eastern Africa, UbuntuNet.

The workshop was an opportunity to discover e-Infrastructures and their applications, to network with those interested in application development and to outline the high priority e-applications of the future that urgently need to be effectively designed and developed. The theme of the first day centred around brainstorming these issues and took place at Kumbali Lodge with the guest of honour James Kalilangwe, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Civic Education. A second day gave attendees the opportunity to see demonstrations and presentations of potential e-Infrastructure applications.  This was held at the University of Malawi, Kamuzu College of Nursing and was kindly opened by the Principal  of KCN, Dr. Address  Malata.

Presentations were given during the two days by representatives from the University of Malawi, the Malawi Commission for Science and Technology, SANREN, South Africa, Brunel University, MAREN, MACRA, Malawi College of Medicine, all of which are available on the conference website. Over 65 people attended the workshop from a wide variety of sectors including the local European Commission.  The workshop was made possible by sponsorship from the European Union under the EU FP7 project ERINA4Africa. Funding from MACRA (Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority ) and bandwidth from MTL were vital in extending activities for the extra day and facilitating the multi country video conference.

The brainstorming, presentations and demonstrations of e-Infrastructures gave a clear indication of the prospects of these technologies, their impact in Africa and the exciting potential of African-European collaboration. The major outcomes of this meeting will be available in November from the ERINA4Africa website.  The final ERINA4Africa conference will be held in December.  Please visit the website for more details.

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