- We were
at the beginning of 1992 and I had just got my degree. I had been working
for a few months at the Consorzio Pisa Ricerche dealing with the organization
of an International conference set up by CNUCE Institute of CNR.
- One morning
the CPR Director, M. Andrenucci, was called by S. Trumpy, CNR-CNUCE Director.
He wanted to know if there was anybody at the CPR that had some experience
in international relations and particularly somebody who spoke English
and French fluently. When I innocently asked him why he said: "because
you are going to have to work with the French and English speaking countries
- I had
just done the post-grad specialization in International Cooperation with
Developing Countries and so it sounded very stimulating and I thought I
would jump at the chance.
- So one
bright morning I went along to Via S. Maria for an interview with Stefano
Trumpy, then Technical Coordinator of the RINAF Project (Regional Informatics
Network for AFrica).
- In a matter
of a few days there I was, working for the development of the activities
of UNESCO's RINAF Project. Its aim was to help the development and spread
of Internet in research institutes and universities in more than 20 African
countries. These were activities which I was dedicated to for a long time,
from 1992 to 1998.
- That interview
was without doubt the starting point for my African adventure. At the same
time it was an enthusiastic impact with the world of Internet and of research
networks and also the beginning of my working experience at the CNR.
financed by the Italian Government, with a limited contribution from the
Republic of Korea, the RINAF project was conceived by UNESCO's Intergovernmental
Informatics Programme (IIP) in 1989 and officially launched in Dakar in
- The IIP
Programme highlighted the role of computer networks as a means of fostering
regional and international co-operation, in addition to their function
as a medium for disseminating information. The networks could help in reducing
the isolation of research institutions in less developed countries, facilitating
the pooling of information and experience by specialists, researchers and
- The main
project objectives were in fact:
To supply basic network services (e-mail, bulletin boards, access to databases,
discussion lists etc.);
To facilitate dialogue and exchange of information between African researchers,
academics and between them and the private sector;
To lessen the isolation of African academic and research institutions;
To increase the awareness of the importance of data network services;
To create a group of African technical experts and network operators skilled
in the management of network services (capacity building);
To leave an infrastructure and a team of people in place to manage the
network services provided by the project even after its completion (project
to the hierarchical structure adopted by UNESCO, the RINAF Project established
five "regional nodes", one for each region (north, east, west,
centre and south) and ten "national nodes". The regional nodes
(Algeria, Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria and Zambia) had the task of managing
and coordinating the project activities of the national nodes (Algeria,
Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Swaziland
and Zambia) belonging to the same region, establishing regional connectivity
and its connection to the worldwide network.
- The CNUCE
Institute of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) located in Pisa
was at that time nominated as technical support agency for project development.
- In 1992
the members of the CNR Technical support unit were: Stefano Trumpy (Project
Technical Coordinator), Laura Abba, Adriana Lazzaroni and Abraham Gebrehiwot.
back to those years I think I can say that our activity dealing with the
spread of Internet technology was truly pioneering.
- Our mission
consisted of various activities: acquisition and shipment of equipment,
supplying technical expertise for setting up network connections, organizing
regional training courses having to deal with the movement of people and
things with not too few logistic and thecnical problems, along with a good
deal of red tape.
sending a fax to one of these African research institutes, could take up
to an hour and I was soon given the nickname by my colleagues of "the
fax girl". In fact, I used to spend much of my time at the fax machine,
still very much a precious device to communicate with Africa.
- This was
all with the hope of being able to send a few pages to invite our African
colleagues to network training courses, to let them know that the hardware
and software was on the way, or to inform them that CNR technicians were
about to arrive for the installation.
- From the
point of view of setting up and maintaining the Internet connections, I
still remember with pleasure the excellent results achieved in countries
such as Nigeria and Algeria. In Nigeria we activated in 1994 the first
UUCP dial up connection through a commutated telephone line between CNR-CNUCE
and the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos, later extended to other Nigerian
- In Algeria
we activated an Internet connection from CERIST (Centre d'Etude et de Recherche
sur l'Information Scientifique et Technique) in Algiers to CNR-CNUCE by
means of a 9600 bps dedicated line from 1994.
- In addition,
my colleague Abraham Gebrehiwot worked on the installation and management
of the primary nameserver at CNUCE for Nigeria (.ng) and on the registration
of .ng subdomains. At the CNUCE he also managed the primary nameserver
for Algeria (.dz). We also dedicated time to managing the project discussion
lists (RINAF-L, RINAF-T, RINAF-R) and the RINAF mailing lists (CAMNET,
NGR-MAIL, SENEGA-L, GUINEQ-L). These were the blogs of their time through
which the local African communities in Pisa were able to keep in touch
with their fellow countrymen.
- At that
time, a number of projects were starting under the initiative of different
governments, companies or institutions of the more developed countries;
some initiatives were also set up by the African countries themselves.
- For these
reasons, we decided to invest the funding available in cooperation, whenever
possible, with the initiatives, starting in those years, contributing to
Internet development such as: IDRC/ECA (Cabeca Project), ITU, UNDP, USAID
(Leland Initiative), World Bank, IDRC, RIO-Orstom, HNET, REFER etc. In
some cases the project supported the initial costs for the start-up of
connectivity to the Internet through the local ISPs and, in order to facilitate
the deployment of network connections, we made agreements, not always easily,
with the very few local service providers available at that time such as:
Africa Online (Kenya), Padis and Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency (Ethiopia),
Orstom Rio and Sonatel (Senegal), AUPELF-UREF (Ivory Coast) and Socatel
- The project
succeeded in obtaining substantial results in almost all 15 countries selected
in the first phase, although the regional topology adopted by UNESCO was
not always effective, sometimes causing delays in the achievements of project
goals. This was mainly due to the lack of commitment of certain nodes to
play a regional coordinating role, that is promoting interregional communications.
the difficulties mentioned above, we decided to encourage, from the beginning,
the establishment of direct Internet connections for the most advanced
focal points, providing technical tools which allowed users to interact
in the best cost-effective way with other network users, regardless of
the physical path followed by the data. This approach proved at that time
to be particularly positive in almost all cases.
- From 1992
to 1998 the African countries directly supported by the CNR technical unit
in Pisa were: Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia,
Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Zambia,
Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Niger.
- A further
financial contribution from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs enabled
the continuation of the project activities, the so-called RINAF Project
Extension, in four other countries: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Angola and Nigeria.
In order to carry out the project objectives we interacted not only with
African research institutions and universities but also with UN organizations
and with local government bodies in charge of the development of ICT in
the various countries, and this was undoubtedly an enriching experience
- On the
other hand, a certain political mentality sometimes represented an obstacle
to the project development.
building and training of local technicians and personnel was one of the
priorities, achieved with the organization of ten regional and national
training courses held in various African countries. In this way we were
trying to get across the idea that focussing on Internet was essential
for sustainable development.
- The organization
of these training sessions was a real trial and very demanding in terms
of the time and logistics needed.
tens of young Africans from 20 different countries on the continent meant
at that time facing significant logistic and diplomatic difficulties. The
project budget available, about a million dollars, also implied the optimization
of costs and collaboration with the local authorities and with local telephone
service providers when organizing courses.
- It was
in this way that 20 years ago, in November 1992, we organized the first
RINAF training course for System Operators and the following year the same
course was held in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, in April 1993, and later in another
8 different sites.
- In those
same years we supported the participation of African tecnicians and network
operators, belonging to different universities, at international networking
conferences and events in order to introduce them to the big picture of
the Information Society and of its latest developments. At that time the
Internet Society had started the organization, within the frame of the
INET (International NETworking Conferences), of specific Workshops for
Developing Countries which offered a very good occasion for the African
representatives and technicians working for RINAF to exchange ideas and
to become integrated in an international networking environment.
- From CNR
we organized the participation of several African delegates at: INET91
(Copenhagen), INET92 (Kobe, Japan), INET93 (San Francisco, USA), NSC 92
Network Services Conference (Pisa, Italy), and to HELINA 93 - International
Conference on Health Informatics in Africa (Ile-Ife, Nigeria).
along with some colleagues working at that time for RINAF, on the occasion
of the Internet Governance Forum 2011, to an international Workshop called
"African Internet oldies to share with the young".
- This was
organized by the Kenya Internet Governance Steering Committee by iHub Kenya
in Nairobi last September. The event was attended by Vint Cerf and some
of the main actors in the development of Internet in Africa since the early
nineties. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to share our experiences
with an audience of young Kenyans (digital natives, IT specialists, entrepreneurs,
iHub operators, and end users) and relate the birth of the first network
connections in Africa and what it meant at that time.
- A question
I was asked most ofte -, one which can really put you in a corner - was:
"What is there left of that mission"?
- But the
answer came straight away: "We set up reliable Internet connections
in universities and research institutes, but above all, we tried to contribute
to raising the awareness on the importance of Internet for the development
of a country".
- I can
in fact affirm that the organizational and economic efforts made at that
time were well repaid.
we know for sure that there are African researchers and technicians who
are working for government organizations and for universities in their
countries also thanks to the training received through RINAF, even more
than twenty years ago.
contributed to this has been undoubtedly a reason for satisfaction for
all of us and a very enriching experience