Africa at INET

Larry Press
OnTheInternet, in press

ISOC sponsored a one-day African Network Symposium the day before INET '97. The symposium was chaired by Nii Quaynor and Alex Tindimubona, and was attended by 80 people.

The meeting began with presentations on networking in Egypt, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana. The Net is growing rapidly in each nation, and, as elsewhere, commercial activity is outrunning university and research networks. They are also concerned with access in areas outside their capital cities (Table 1) and the high cost of networking (Figure 1).

The first Egyptian networks were non commercial. They have seeded commercial activity with free accounts for businesses, and the strategy seems to have worked. There are now roughly 15,000 commercial users, and the sector is growing rapidly [2]. There are also 21 ISPs, most, but not all, in Cairo, and they plan to add another 15 ISPs, primarily in remote areas. Egypt now has a satellite link to the US and cable connectivity to France, but they are concerned about regional connectivity. They are also concerned about a lack of multilingual applications and content.

South Africa was an early leader in university-based Fido and UUCP networking, and has grown steadily. Today there are 72 ISPs with connectivity in 50 locations. Since the early days, South Africa has routed traffic from other southern African nations, and continues to do so. Internet shopping and banking are getting started, and 95% of South African domains are now commercial. South African ISPs have had conflicts with the telephone company which is also an ISP, and they have established an Internet Exchange, which now has five connected networks. There is also an active plan to use the Net for access to government and the legislature. They plan to issue an email address to every South African, and place an Internet-access kiosk in every post office.

Zimbabwe has chosen a centrally controlled networking strategy. The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (PTC) operates a backbone, and ISPs and large end users can tie into it, purchasing access to backbone ports which are priced as a function of speed. The ISPs are treated as franchisees, and capacity will only be added as it is subscribed for. This may seem like a limited, non-competitive approach to networking, but resources are extremely limited. For example, the PTC has only two network managers. Dial-up access will be available at local rates for every place in Zimbabwe that has connectivity.

Ghana's first IP connectivity was provided by Quaynor's Network Computer Services (NCS), which was commercial from the start [3]. A year ago NCS was the sole Ghanan ISP, but there are now five -- three commercial and two public sector. Ghana also has two telephone companies, and Internet costs have fallen from around $100 per month a year ago to $45 per month today. There are between 2,500 and 3,000 users, but few are in remote areas. Increased rural connectivity is a major goal of the local ISOC chapter, which lobbies the government and telephone companies.

In addition to these national summaries, there were reports on topics like a Web caching project in Mozambique and the importance of news groups and list servers in keeping African expatriates involved with their nations. There were also reports from some ISOC chapters and a later session on organizing a national chapter was jammed. ISOC chapters may become important organizations for training, lobbying, and telecommunication planning in developing nations.

There was also a session on global initiatives in Africa. Since 1989, Orstom has supported a university and research network in Francophone Africa called RIO, Re'seau Intertropical d'Ordinateur ( They have established networks in ten nations, run workshops, built Web sites, etc. with an eye toward transfer of control to local people as soon as possible. RIO will run for another two years. There was also a representative of the United Nations Development Program's Sustainable Development Network (SDN, which has nodes in seven African nations. They also build capacity and content, but SDN came in for a bit of criticism for their coordination with local institutions. The Leland Initiative ( is sponsored by the USAID Bureau for Africa, and hopes to augment networking in twenty African nations, but the scheduled presentation was canceled.

In addition to these and other initiatives of international donor organizations, Africa Online, a division of Prodigy International, plans continent-wide networking on a commercial basis. They now have connectivity in five nations, and have budgeted $12.5 million to upgrade these operations and expand into ten new nations this year. Except for a second city in Kenya, all their activity to date is in capital cities, but they plan multiple POPs in Zimbabwe and will initiate wireless connectivity to parts of Uganda during the third quarter, 1997. For now, all their links are to Europe or North America, but they plan to create some international links within the region during the coming year.

The most important session was devoted to the announcement and discussion of a planned African Network Information Center, AfriNIC, which would serve as a continental registrar of IP addresses and autonomous system numbers (ASNs). Currently three organizations have been authorized by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to allocate addresses, RIPE in Europe and parts of Africa, APNIC in Asia/Pacific, and InterNIC for the rest of the world, also including parts of Africa. InterNIC intends to transfer American registration to ARIN and AfriNET hopes to take over in Africa. (There is also a proposal for a Latin American and Caribbean registrar,

The AfriNIC proposal ( calls for the establishment of a non-profit corporation in South Africa and operating offices in Ghana. The financial model is based on those of RIPE and APNIC. The primary income will be from allocation of blocks of at least 8,192 IP addresses to large ISPs and end users, who will pay registration and maintenance fees based on the size of the block of addresses. Note that these addresses are not sold, but licensed in return for the fees. Other income will be derived from membership fees, ASN registration, and number transfers. It is not necessary to be member to obtain addresses, but members will determine policy. Surplus from operations will be used for member education and advocating public policy that is in the interest of the networking community. They will also maintain the Whois and DNS databases.

People form ten nations have approved the proposal and it has been favorably reviewed by RIPE, APNIC, and IANA. The organizers hope for a short period of comments on their proposal and rapid implementation. In view of the reorganization of IANA and the fact that other regional registries are already operating, the time is ripe.

The final panel talked of regional integration, rural connectivity and participation, and regulation -- recurring themes in developing nations. The attendees agreed unanimously that the symposium was worthwhile and should be repeated next year. I would have to agree.


1. Jensen, Mike, Internet Connectivity For Africa,

2. Kamel, Terek, "Internet Commercialization in Egypt: A Country Model," Proceedings of INET 97, Kuala Lampur, Internet Society, June, 1997.

3. Quaynor, Nii, Tevie, William, and Bulley, Andrew, "Expansion of the Internet Backbone in Ghana," Proceedings of INET 97, Kuala Lampur, Internet Society, June, 1997.

Nations        Connectivity Status

 8             no IP plans at this time
 8             IP planned soon
36             IP in the capital city 
 4             IP in capital and second major city
 6             IP in more than two cities

Table 1.  Availability of publicly accessible IP connectivity in 
Africa [1].  As in most emerging areas, connectivity is 
concentrated in capital cities.

Figure 1. Monthly costs of low volume dial-up accounts.

The average cost is around $65 per month, and the lowest cost accounts are for store and forward email only. For details, see, compiled by Jeff Cochrane of USAID.

Bookmarks An eclectic list of links on Africa and African networking with emphasis on freedom of information and democracy. Extensive information on computing and networking in Africa. Acacia is an initiative of Canada's International Development Research Centre, working on policy, infrastructure, tools and applications in Africa. Information on the The African Information society Initiative, which has wide government and international donor community support. Current African Internet information and a collection of links compiled by African networking pioneer Mike Jensen. An eclectic collection of papers on African networking and technology and links to related sites.

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