Networking in Africa:

UNDP's Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP)

A Progress Report (February 1997)

Pierre Dandjinou and Raul Zambrano

SDNP New York

Overview

The Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) started operations in 1992 with the specific goal of facilitating access to information on sustainable development (SD) form all sectors in society in developing countries. SDNP's fosters the use of computer mediated communications (CMC) in its implementation and is, in fact, a direct response to several of the principles included in Agenda 21, the plan of action signed by over 170 countries during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Since 1995, SDNP has concentrated on connectivity (Internet use and dissemination at the national level), content (provision to all stakeholder to access to information on SD) and capacity building at the national level. More than 30 national nodes are operational today, five of them in Africa. An additional 5 African countries expected to be operational by the end of 1997. In addition, a regional project to provide Internet connectivity to another 10 African nations will be financed by UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa and implemented by SDNP within the next 3 months.

After almost five years of operations in most regions of the developing world, SDNP has established a basic (and open) model for project implementation, as follows: building of in-country awareness on the advantages of CMC such as electronic-mail; implementation of pre-feasibility and feasibility studies for SDNP, setting a national steering committees and a national SDNP coordinating unit to ensure participation of all sectors, procurement and installation of equipment and software packages (based on Open Systems) to ensure connectivity and use of Internet services, capacity building through training programmes for technical personnel and end users, and development of local and national contents related to SD.

SDNP has varied profiles in host countries with success stories in Latin America and the Caribbean (Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras, etc.), Easter Europe (Poland, Estonia, Hungary, etc.), and Asia (Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, etc). With the initial assistance of SDNP, a few African countries have pioneered the use of basic E-mail services among national and local communities and SDNP nodes are now being developed concurrently with new ISPs.

SDNP Country nodes in Africa

Angola: in close association with Angonet, an initiative of Development Workshop, SDNP started operations in 1993. To date, SDNP has helped in the development of the first Internet node in the country, Ebonet, which has received support from both SDNP and Angonet . Negotiations between the three parties are currently taken placed to try and merge the initiatives and provided support to all the sectors involved.

Mozambique: The experience garnered by the University Eduardo Mondlane in connectivity served as ther basis for launching SDNP in Mozambique. From its implementing agency in the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, the national node is intended to develop 4 additional nodes in different parts of the country. Equipment including 7 computers, Cisco routers, 40 modems, etc., has been shipped from New York and is being deployed in the country.

Chad : a national node located in the Centre dÁppui a la Recherche (CNAR) is currently using UUCP (store and forward link) via SDNP New York to provide email access to local users. The node is intended to serve at least 40 to 50 institutions in the country. In the absence of any Internet connectivity, the SDNP node is the first host to provide access to Internet mail in Chad.

Malawi: the country is still planning the implementation of Internet connectivity. The Chancellor College of the University of Malawi has been operating an e-mail service (Fidonet/Frontdoor) for the last 5 years. SDNP is now being implemented in the country and it is working closely with the University. Plans are to implement a VSAT solution for Internet access to the country (a license is about to be granted by Malawi Telecommunications, after lengthy negotiations). The planned national network includes four main hosts: Zomba will be the main SDNP node at the University of Malawi,; an NGO in Blantyre will be the host for another node and cater the private sector; in Lilongwe the Ministry of Environment will be hosting the third node; and finally, Nzuzu in the North will be the forth node). At this point in time, Malawi Telecommunications has no specific technical solutions to offer so SDNP's proposals are now being considered as the national solution by all sectors. Apart from the University of Malawi, two other ISPs provide basic services of e-mail, and access via Compuserve. It is estimated that there are about 800 email users in the country.

Cameroon: SDNP's node is located at the Polytechnique in Yaounde and runs a UUCP connection via SDNP New York. The node has been operational since late 1996. SDNP is planning to provide access to at least 50 national institutions that work directly with SD issues, and including bilateral and multilateral organizations. There's currently no Internet connectivity in the country but several national and international institutions are currently studying the various possibilities, as well as the national PTT.

Gabon: The UNDP country office is directly funding SDNP in the country. The project started operations in December 1996, after a series of national brainstorming sessions and workshops on Internet services. The Centre International de Recherches Medicales de Franceville (CIRMF) has been a regular user of Internet (Email and web brousing), with an address in France. Other users have accounts in France using Calvacom. As the result of SDNP activities in Gabon, the PTO have been inundated with requests from potential users for Internet services. International consultations were initiated in March 1996 to implement full connectivity in Gabon. A solution is yet to be found between the proposals of MCI's and France Telecom. UNDP is organizing a workshop on Internet connectivity in Africa. It will take place in Libreville in March and will bring together PTOs, ISPs, users and decision makers from 6 Central African countries.

New SDNP sites with completed feasibility studies and project documents for 1997 are:

Togo: no full connectivity to the Internet as of yet, but an proposal to connect four institutions via a host located at the Togolese Chamber of Commerce is in the pipeline.

Benin: a proposal for connecting 10 institutions representing multiple sectors with full IP connectivity has been submitted. It will also link with the other servers developed by the four existing ISPs: the Postes and Telecommunications Office, the Ministry of Planning and Economy, Eulodia and TDM.

SDNP Capacity Building

National capacity building is an integral component of all SDNP projects. Included here are: in-country workshops on Internet services, information management; international workshops such as SDNP's global workshops (India, 1994, Mexico, 1996), and sponsoring of African candidates for the annual INET training workshops; sites visits by SDNP staff and consultants for technical backstopping, specially for new sites managers. For example Chad's networking specialist travel to Tunis for training and the Gabonese Coordinator visited SDNP Morocco for management consultations.

A regional workshop for SDNP African nodes is now scheduled for November 1997 and will tackle, among others, issues related to content provision and information systematization, Web development, off-line access to Web resources and databases, promotion of SDNP services, training for decision makers and key members of civil society, and leveraging of resources to achieve sustainability.

SDNP has also engaged in collaborative activities with other players interested in connecting the African continent to the Internet such as training of 30 participants to the Ghana workshop on networking organized by the University of Ghana, Legon, from 31 January - 14 February 1997. SDNP provided $ 50,000 for equipment (Servers, computers, routers, etc.), and recruitment of course instructors. UNESCO, ITU, and the American School of Physics were the other partners. This programme is likely to continue and eventually evolve into a regional activity for West Africa.

Other SDNP related activities

Other related initiatives in the region have been using SDNP expertise both at headquarters and at the field level. REIMP (Regional Environmental Information Management Project), a project promoted by GEF and the World Bank, is a Central Africa initiative for rain forest countries where CMC are being deployed for Congo, CAR, Gabon, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon in order to promote and exchange information on environmental issues.

In 1995, SDNP NY was instrumental in the creation of the African Internet Forum (AIF), a consortium of nearly 20 institutions concerned on Africa connectivity. SDNP has developed the AIF web site (http://www3.undp.org/aif/). An agreement has been reached with PADIS (ECA) to jointly maintain this site and eventually grant them full ownership with a mirror site in SDNP NY.

Future developments

Reportedly, there are currently over 100 initiatives dealing with Internet connectivity for the continent. One of SDNP's main concerns is to avoid possible duplication of efforts and instead attempt to coordinate initiatives and projects at both the national and regional levels.

SDNP is also interested in consolidating existing operations in the continent, reinforcing the in-country national capacity building efforts, deploying public access Internet point in both urban and rural areas, and promoting national and local content that can be accessed in an affordable manner by all sectors of society via CMC.

The overall objective of SDNP in the region is, in short, a sustainable Internet development in Africa that builds on the other major initiatives such as AISI (African Information Society Initiative, ECA), the Leland initiative (USAID), and other related programmes being put forward by ITU, UNESCO, the World Bank and ACCT (Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique.



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