Capacity Building for Electronic Communication in Africa (CABECA)


Capacity Building for Electronic Communication in Africa

Capacity Building for Electronic Communication in Africa (CABECA) is a three-year project to promote computer-assisted networking throughout Africa, executed by the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

A information revolution is under way. From college professors to farmers, people all over the world are using their computers linked to the telephone to exchange messages, news and information over huge distances at low cost. These e-mail messages are travelling along global information highways, dominated by the giant Internet system. Traffic on these systems is increasing by a phenomenal 10% per month. Many countries in the world are investing heavily in the infrastructure necessary to pave and widen these routes. But Africa is struggling to get onto the highway. Africa stands the furthest removed from the Information Age of all the regions of the world.

Throughout the region, researchers, planners, development workers, business people and others face severe difficulties in communicating among themselves and with their colleagues abroad. In isolation, their work suffers, especially in a period of rapid socio-economic, technological and cultural change. Unfortunately, the spread of e-mail technology has followed the pattern of many other technologies - wealthy nations are quick to utilize it and reap its benefits, while poor countries must wait.

Funded by a grant from the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), CABECA builds on the experience gained over the last four years from a number of IDRC-funded electronic networking projects in Africa. A public corporation created by the Parliament of Canada to support research designed to adapt science and technology to the needs of developing countries, IDRC has taken the lead in financing African electronic networking initiatives with the aim of demonstrating that the technology for deploying electronic connections throughout Africa is readily available and can be implemented at relatively low cost, taking into account the economic, social and political difficulties the region faces. The CABECA project design attempts to address the problems of the African region that have isolated it from the international networking phenomenon, including:

What are its objectives?

CABECA's overall objective is to provide technical assistance to bring about sustainable computer-based networking in Africa, at an affordable cost, accessible to a wide variety of users from both the private and public sectors. To build African capacity for computer networking, it will train a corps of systems operators who can train others in their area and offer continuing support to fledging users to ensure the sustainability of national nodes with connections to international networks. The project's aim is to offer inexpensive and easy access to local and international information services on systems run by local operators and sustained by revenue from users. They will be able to exchange electronic mail worldwide at a fraction of the cost of fax or telex; they will also have access to conference mail, file transfer and databases. Efforts will be made to facilitate African connectivity to the expanding range of Internet information services.

There are presently 30 some electronic communications systems operating in 19 African countries. These range from national nodes in Ethiopia, Zambia and Zimbabwe with over 150 regular users each offering a range of services to small single-user systems operating sporadically; only three are on the Internet. CABECA's goal is to strengthen the existing systems and initiate others in order to put computer networking on a firm footing by the end of three years. To be able to accomplish this with its limited resources, the project will work co-operatively with other networking projects in the region.

What assistance can CABECA provide?

CABECA can provide the following assistance to projects, institutions, organizations and individuals in Africa interested in using electronic communication:

Initial site visits to evaluate needs and facilities and design an electronic communication plan.

Sensitization workshops to introduce management and other users to the concept and potential of electronic networking.

Skills training for systems operators and training for network users.

Procurement, delivery, installation and testing of hardware and software.

Supply of software manuals and other documentation.

Assistance in forming network users groups to promote electronic communication.

Technical support for both systems operators and users, through follow-up visits and online help.

While these services will be free of charge for institutions selected as national nodes, they are available to others on a fee-for-service basis.

Networking information

In order to improve information and documentation on networking in Africa, CABECA will establish and maintain databases on telecommunication and networking infrastructure and publish guides to networks and telecommunication infrastructure in the region. The project will publish guidelines on low-cost networking.

What is PADIS?

CABECA is being implemented by PADIS, the African regional development information system created in January 1980 under the aegis of the UNECA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PADIS' overall objective is the promotion of development information management throughout Africa. It operates an information system of bibliographic, referral and statistical databases to which African governments and regional institutions contribute information and data. While primarily directed at planners, researchers, decision makers and development workers in Africa, PADIS' information services are available to the general public worldwide and can be requested through the addresses (including e-mail) listed below. PADIS also provides technical assistance in building capacities for collection, storage and utilization of development information.

How to participate in the project

Institutions or individuals wishing to participate in the CABECA project should contact PADIS at the address listed below. Inquiries are invited regarding contact points and persons in African countries. CABECA will prepare customized plans on a fee for service basis for institutions and organizations which want to participate in low cost electronic networking in Africa. For individuals who wish to become points on existing nodes, fees will be set by national nodes or the national network users' councils.

Some achievements to date

CABECA is in the business of developing electronic networking infrastructure in African countries, establishing nodes where they do not exist and strengthening existing ones where they need strengthening. It also assists organizations in securing connectivity for their contact points across the region.

CABECA itself came into existence in July 1993. Since that time it has established new nodes in the following countries where they did not exist before: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania (Arusha) and Malawi

CABECA has strengthened existing nodes through the supply of equipment, training for systems operators and users, in the following countries: Kenya, Uganda

CABECA is presently undertaking infrastructure building for nodes in these countries (feasibility/site visit completed, equipment ordered, training and support plan developed. Equipment arrival is awaited to train systems operators and users): Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso

CABECA is in negotiations to establish or strengthen existing nodes in: Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, Niger, Mali, Chad, Djibouti, Sudan, Congo, Zaire, Gabon, Rwanda (currently suspended), Burundi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana

CABECA emphasizes the development of national public access nodes, i.e. open to all. The nodes established to date are located in national universities and research institutes, international NGO's, government offices and offices of international organizations. Points are at private sector offices, private individuals, NGO's, research and academic institutions, international organizations, projects.

The project has one professional working full time on the project based in Addis Ababa, plus one administrative support person. This team co-ordinates technical and administrative aspects of the project. It is supported by the administrative services of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (for purchasing, processing of travel, shipment of equipment), as well as our field offices in 52 African States, which are the UNDP offices. They take care of clearance of travel, clearance of equipment from customs, arranging of appointments, etc.

Thus, as a UN project the project is able to benefit from extensive administrative support. In the field it has under contract subregional co-ordinators who undertake site visits, develop national working plans and train systems operators and users, handling the following areas: the Horn of Africa, Eastern and Central Africa, West Africa, southern Africa.

All of these are persons who are noted personalities/experts in the field of networking in Africa. They are the pioneers and the developers of African systems, and all have international reputations. Additionally, the project contracts national trainers, with experience in establishing and running national nodes, to train operators and users and to provide on-going technical support. On-going technical supports is also provided by the subregional trainers mentioned above.

CABECA's main goal is the development of national networking infrastructure by building national capacities. Our technical approach is low-cost entry level (Fido systems) for a start, using dial-up telephone lines and store-and-forward techniques, where these are the only possibilities available. However, full portability is maintained, working towards the adaptation to higher level systems (uucp/Unix in computer technology) and using leased lines and packet switching networks as these become available and are affordable. Our concentration is on the affordable and the possible, with the aim of constantly moving up to full Internet connectivity as the telecommunications infrastructure develops. Cost sharing, resource exchange and the development of supporting infrastructure enable growth from low cost, low band-width technologies (such as Fidonet and UUCP) to high band-width global links to TCP/ IP.

One of the major achievements of CABECA to date is the development of a southern Africa strategy, for links to Uninet-ZA and to the Internet. This trend that CABECA's goal of Internet connectivity through the development of network supportive infrastructure is achievable.

CABECA is the only networking service in the Africa region that (1) services the entire Africa region, and (2) is based in the Africa region.

The project maintains close collaboration with all the other major networking efforts in Africa, including: RIO-ORSTOM, RINAF, UNDP's Sustainable Development Network and Healthnet/SatelLife.

For more information contact:

Pan African Development Information System (PADIS)
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
P.O.Box 3001
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: + 251 1 511167
Fax: + 251 1 514416  
  or + 1 212 963 4957
Telex: 21029 eca et

Date: Fri, 19 Aug 94 22:47 BST-1
From: (Ben Parker)

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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