Networking in Africa: an Unavoidable Evolution Towards the Internet, Jean-Yves Djamen, Dunia Ramazani, Stephane Soteg Some

Networking in Africa: an Unavoidable Evolution Towards the Internet,

by Jean-Yves Djamen, Dunia Ramazani, Stephane Soteg Some

Networking in Africa:
An unavoidable evolution towards the Internet

This paper was published as technical report 937 of the Departement d'Informatique et de Recherche Operationnelle (IRO), Universite de Montreal (January 1995).

Universite de Montreal,
Departement d'Informatique et de Recherche Operationnelle
C.P. 6128 Succursale CENTRE-VILLE
Montreal, Quebec, H3C 3J8


The Internet is an indispensable tool that African countries may utilize for: (1) regional integration, (2) participation in world activities, and (3) a complete mastery of their development. This paper proposes a scenario for the evolution of the infrastructure of data transmission available in some African countries through the Internet. The study includes the following countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Niger, Senegal and Togo.


Networks are a means for sharing common resources (hardware, software, data, etc.) among several computerized systems. They also constitute an efficient medium for communication. During the last three decades, their use has become widespread in organizations such as universities, corporations, etc.

The Internet, an interconnexion of networks, is a gigantic computer network covering several countries all over the world. Access to this network, which is of practical use in several fields of human endeavor, is very limited on the African continent. Moreover, very few African countries are interconnected. This lack of connectivity renders communications and the sharing of resources difficult.

In this article, we propose the installation of an inter-African network that would be connected to the Internet. We expect that this initiative would be viewed negatively and might even alarm those who believe that a demand for network services is virtually non-existent in Africa. We easily counter that point of view by demonstrating in this article that several government and private institutions would benefit from Internet access. Moreover, those institutions already have the financial resources necessary to operate such a network. Others would argue that things can stay as they are. We believe that maintaining the status quo would lead to decline rather than progress, for Africa will not have access to the worldwide electronic superhighway through the Internet. (See section on perspectives.) Other skeptics would argue that demand for Internet services may be stagnant, thereby (i) making it impossible to break even on investment costs, (ii) leading to skyrocketing service costs, and (iii) limiting Internet use to a small elite and further aggravating the marginalization that already exists in certain developing countries. We counter such skepticism by arguing that if such considerations had been taken into account by researchers in western countries, the Internet would never have come into existence nor become so widely used.

Our presentation does not intend to suggest that the Internet would solve all the problems of the African countries. There is no doubt that introduction of the Internet will create a few problems that would need to be resolved. However, we believe that the potential benefits are attractive enough to make African countries interested. Failure to be interested will create a void that could be filled by outsiders, thus posing the problem of conflict of interests which would be far more difficult to solve.

After presenting an overview of the Internet, we will examine the present state of networks in Africa and their limits. That will lead us to proposing a scenario for the evolution of the available services.

Finally, the inevitability of the Internet coming to Africa will be established in the section on perspectives.

1 Overview of the Internet

The Internet came into existence slightly over 20 years ago as an experimental network funded by American military research and named ARPAnet. It was conceptually based on the construction of networks capable of withstanding any military assault. The ARPAnet model has greatly influenced the conception of the present Internet which requires that a computer should be able to communicate with any other computer connected to the network. The Internet has proved to be an excellent means of communication between computers of various designs. It gained wide use with the appearance of workstations and after the integration of the TCP/IPThe TCP/IP is a protocol suite used by Internet for end to end data transmission protocol within the UNIX system.

Another contribution to the development of the Internet was the NSFNET of the National Science Foundation (NSF), USA. Indeed, the NSF made available to all research centers (American universities) the capacities of the fastest computers in the world by creating half a dozen centers. This networking capacity had previously been limited to a few developers and researchers.

It was soon realized that half a dozen centers could not physically support direct connexions with all universities; consequently, the concept of regional centers appeared: neighboring universities were interconnected, the regional group was then linked to a NSF center at one point, and the NSF centers were in turn interconnected. The new problems created by this regional network concept were heavily outweighed by the new possibilities of networking offered to the general public by the NSF.

The Internet subsequently became even more widely used after its expansion to cover the rest of North America, Asia, etc. Available figures show that the number of users connected to Internet doubles every 9 months. There are currently 15 million users, with about 2.6 million nodes and a rate of increase of 1000 nodes per day [13]. Moreover, other networks such as Bitnet, Decnet, etc., which use different communication protocols than the Internet, provide their clients with Internet access through gateways.

Services offered by the Internet include electronic mail, file transfer, data banks access and remote login. In the following paragraphs we will discuss these services and their impacts on everyday life.

1.1 Internet services

Many applications are based on the communication resources provided by networks; such applications constitute the raison d'etre of networks since they use the networks only as a medium for transmission of pieces of information.

In fact, most of the tools presented here are not exclusive to the Internet; they can also be found in other communication networks. However, those services acquire additional importance because of the size of the Internet. For example, even though electronic mail may be transmitted through any local network, the communication possibilities are very limited when compared to those offered by the worldwide available Internet.

*Electronic mail.

Electronic mail (email) is undoubtedly the best known and most widely used Internet service. It makes it possible for users to exchange messages among themselves. Users have addresses just like in postal mail. Internet addresses take the form user@place.domain where "user" designates the user and "place.domain" gives the address of his/her host system. Electronic messages are structured into several fields comprising the text of the message, sender's address, response address, subject, etc. These pieces of information insure proper transmission of messages among users. A single electronic mail can be sent to several recipients by specifying the list of their addresses as the correspondent's address. It should be noted that the international X.400 standard (Message Handling System) provides an electronic mail service that typically functions on X.25. This standard is widely used in Europe. Electronic mail has several advantages, chief among which are speed, low cost, no need for synchronization between sender(s) and recipient(s), the possibility of simultaneously contacting several recipients, etc. The following table compares electronic mail to two well known means of communication (telephone and postal mail) [10].

                   Telephone	Electronic Mail	      Postal Mail
rapidity	           high	      moderate  	            low
cost	     		     high	      low	                  low
synchronizatin	     necessary	not necessary	      not necessary
conference	           limited      unlimited	            no

Of the three means of communication, the telephone is the fastest since it enables establishment of a communication link between two persons within a few seconds. The postal service is the slowest and takes several days. The speed of electronic mail is variable depending on the distance and the various methods of transmission; it can take a few seconds to several hours. However, transmission of most messages between any two points on earth via the Internet normally takes a few minutes. Indeed, it is possible to simulate dialogues by electronic mail on condition that the individuals involved respond promptly to received messages.

The telephone is very costly because each call requires and completely uses the resources of one circuit for its entire duration. By comparison, electronic mail is sent as a packet and can be mixed with other packets using the same communication channel, thus reducing the cost. The individual cost for using electronic mail can vary greatly depending on the number of users using the same connexion. One of the disadvantages of the telephone, when compared to email and postal mail, is the requirement for the physical presence of the interlocutors at the time of the communication. Electronic mail does not require synchronization with the recipient. Messages that are received are stored until they can be read, just as postal mail is kept until distribution.

The possibility of sending a single message to several recipients enable discussions or conferencing among several people. Each participant receives the same message and the responses can be distributed among all the initial recipients. This type of conferencing is difficult to implement with postal mail. It is possible by telephone, but with a limited number of participants whereas the number of participants in email conferencing is unlimited.

*File transfer: FTP

The file transfer protocol (FTP) is the method used for transfer of files between Internet sites. FTP enables connexions to other systems from which several services may be obtained, such as listing of directories, copying or writing of files. The type of machine as well as the type of operating system may be different. The types of files handled may also be varied (ASCII, binary, compressed, etc.).

FTP enables sharing of files between sites separated by several thousand kilometers. The speed of transfer varies depending on the load on the network and the particular Internet connections used, but it is generally acceptable. There are several hundred FTP sites containing several gigabytes of data that can be freely accessed and copied. These sites contain several different types of files: public access software (Freeware, Shareware), publications, pictures, etc.

*Remote login: Telnet

Telnet enables the establishment of links to and working from far away sites. It is thus possible to execute commands at the remote site in the same way as they are executed at the local site.

Telnet is also used by the general public to access servers and examine data. It is thus possible to access the catalogues of several libraries throughout the world, to consult the white pages to obtain a list of Internet users, and to consult a variety of data banks.


The NEWS consist of a variety of discussion groups on several subjects. Participants write articles that are posted to the group(s) they specify. Each article posted to a group is available to all subscribers to that group who can in turn respond to the article, thereby making a discussion.

The NEWS form part of the USENET network that was established in 1979 by Duke University and the University of North Carolina. USENET is presently available in many countries around the world. Internet and USENET are separate networks but Internet handles the traffic for USENET.

NEWS articles are similar to email, the only difference being that the recipient is not an individual address (or a list of addresses) but rather the name of one or several discussion groups. There exist about 3000 discussion groups organized into several categories.

The NEWS constitute a very effective means of information. They provide the forum for hundreds of thousands of people from the five continents to participate in discussions both for acquisition of knowledge and for recreative purposes.


Gopher is a retrieval tool that permits on-line browsing across the Internet by using menus. It enables searching for and accessing information without prior knowledge of the names and addresses of the site(s) where it is located nor knowledge of the access route(s). The gopher interface enables the selection of items; when a particular selection requires an application such as telnet or FTP, the application is directly called up for the user.


WAIS is an Internet utility for accessing indexed information. Just like Gopher, WAIS enables access to resources across the Internet, without prior knowledge of their location nor the necessary address(es). However, unlike Gopher, only the item requested is presented in WAIS. There exist several WAIS libraries across the Internet, which contain information on subjects such as computer science, networks or religion.

*Hypertext utility: WWW

WWW (World-Wide Web) is a utility based on hypertexts that was developed at CERN in Geneva. The function of WWW is to organize any information available by Internet into hypertext documents that are easily accessed through special links. WWW and Gopher have some similarities but a fundamental difference between the two is the WWW hypertext structure which establishes links between diverse documents thus permitting navigation between documents without going through their storage base. WWW also provides other utilities such as reading the NEWS or FTP.

*Other utilities

There exist several other Internet utilities that we have not described. In addition, new utilities and services are constantly being added. Among the utilities not reviewed the following are worth mentioning:

.. Finger: enables a user to know who is working in a particular host or to access information on
a specified user.
.. Ping: used to verify if a particular system is functioning.
.. Talk: enables the holding of interactive conversations through Internet.
.. Chat: a generalization of TALK involving more than two partners.

2 The Impact of the Internet

It is difficult to imagine the impact of electronic mail, remote login and file transfer between now and the year 2000. Indeed, while it is possible to identify an application that uses these three elements, the impact that application will have on our lives may be unpredictable. In this regard, it is pretentious to discuss the global impact of the Internet on all aspects of our lives. Nevertheless, we will attempt to give an overview of the impact of Internet by focussing on those aspects of human endeavor that have undergone major changes as a result of Internet use.

In this section, we will first discuss the impact of the Internet on the financial markets. Then we will present a classification into three groups: (i) communications between individuals; (ii) the possibility of establishing new activities; and (iii) the disappearance of transnational borders.

*The example of the Abidjan stock market

Recently a stock market was opened in Abidjan where the shares of various African multinational corporations are quoted. One main attribute of stock markets is their ability to react promptly to any event that might affect the values of the shares quoted. The first market to open in the world on any given day is Tokyo (Japan), which reacts to events that occurred in Europe and North America while it was closed the previous night. The reaction of the Tokyo market is automatically followed a few hours later by the reactions of the stock markets in Frankfurt (Germany), London (England) and Paris (France) which open before the New York (USA) and Toronto (Canada) markets. The Abidjan market opens at the same time as London. But the market analysts of those two markets are not exposed to same information at the opening time. In fact, early in the morning, before opening time, the market analysts for London analyze the "daily bulletins" for trading in New York and Toronto the previous day and in Tokyo during the first hours of trading. They are thus better equipped to maximize yields from their clients' investments. Receiving fresh information is possible through the use of "electronic information highways" (often privately owned data transmission networks). In this way analysts can examine economic and financial data from sources in Japan, the USA and Canada. Unfortunately, it is a luxury the Abidjan analysts cannot afford because the electronic highway does not go through Abidjan! This has a direct negative impact on the work system and the profit margin of the Abidjan market.

The example of the Abidjan market, while being simplified, provides an overview of the usefulness of data transmission networks such as Internet and their direct impact on everyday life (see also the contribution of the RELCOM network to the failure of the attempted coup in the USSR in August 1992 [20]).

*Classification of the impact of the Internet

The impact of the Internet on daily life may be summarized into three major components: communication between individuals, promotion of new activities, and lifting of transnational borders. In the following paragraphs we discuss the effects of the Internet without making a distinction between benefits and potential problems.

- The Internet could help for establishment of new industries and provides access to new markets.

The globalization of markets requires more and more transmission of information around the world. Economic operators are now offering services for transfer of information with added value, the information being post-treated by adding trend analyses, providing synthetic graphs, etc [18]. In addition, financial services are now able to cross geographical barriers by using the networks. According to Press [13] , an absolute requirement for developing countries to participate in world production of software is that they be linked to the rest of the world via the Internet. According to the same sources, developing countries have a competitive advantage over developed countries. Qualified manpower is becoming more and more available and labor costs are lower.

- The Internet reduces the distances between workers.

In most multinational corporations (IBM, etc.) communication between workers has to follow certain hierarchical pathways established by the corporation's organigrame [8]. In certain cases it is difficult for workers in various subsidiary companies to communicate and discuss certain aspects of their work using commonly available means of communication (telephone, fax, etc.).

- The Internet enhances the conception of research and development through the sharing of resources such as information and powerful number-crunching equipment.

Such use of the Internet is applicable to various fields, including health, education, fundamental and applied research, data collection, agriculture and management of natural resources, international relations, etc.

- The Internet facilitates access to the public (transmission of information).

In this case, its impact ranges from mass education to specialized training with applications such as using the network for education and training, teleconsultation, teleconferencing, telebrowsing, and information retrieval.

- The Internet enhances the disappearance of national frontiers.

In this era of globalization of international interactions, methods which are not affected by distance are most welcome. But then, we create the problem of international jurisdiction. The international environment is often characterized by incompatibility between existing legislations in several countries. This problem is best highlighted by the example of distributing hateful propaganda [8].

In fact, the impact of the Internet on everyday life is well summarized in an abstract of a speech by the Canadian Secretary of State for education during the opening ceremony of the conference on "the Canadian information highway" at Toronto (Canada) on February 2, 1994. He stated that in the eighteenth century it was already recognized that information was the cornerstone of democracy. At the end of the twentieth century, information, as well as money, are the cornerstones of power. The haves and the have-nots of the next century will be defined by their degree of access to information. In that regard, if the present state of network communications in Africa persists, then the gap between rich and poor countries will grow even wider with the establishment of the "world electronic super highway". That highway would not be affordable to most of the poorer countries, which would effectively become outcasts.

3 State of network services in Africa

The figure 1 shows the present distribution of network services throughout the world as of August 1993. Since then Egypt has become fully connected to the Internet.

Figure 1 international connectivity to Internet, Bitnet, UUCP, etc Copyright 1993 (Larry Landweber)

The only African countries that are connected to the Internet are South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia. However, several other African countries have connectivity to other networks (BitNet, FidoNet and UUCP) which permit some limited access to Internet. There also exist projects that aim at expanding Internet services in Africa.

We will discuss the nature of these other networks and the different African countries that are connected to them. Then we will compare the services offered by these networks on one hand and the Internet on the other hand.

3.1 The existing networks


BitNet [3] is a network of computers linked point to point by exclusive connexions that communicate using the NJE protocol. Each of the BitNet network computers (a node) has a unique name and the addresses of users are presented in the same manner as in the Internet (i.e, user@node).

The BitNet network offers three basic communications tools: messages, file transmission and electronic mail. The messages utility may be used to transmit short messages in an interactive manner. Messages are directly displayed on the user's screen if s/he is online, otherwise they are lost. File transmission makes it possible for files to be sent across the network. Such files are stored in the recipient's computer until s/he retrieves them. Electronic mail through BitNet works in the same way as in the Internet.

Other BitNet services are rendered through servers. Servers are programs that are resident in the network's nodes and which respond to requests received via messages or electronic mail. Servers are identified in the same way as users, that is by addresses. There are various types of servers: file servers, users' address servers, list servers and relay type servers.

The Bitnet is connected to other networks including the Internet. Such network interconnexion permits the exchange of messages between the two networks. BitNet servers may thus be accessed through the Internet. In Africa, only Egypt and Tunisia are connected to BitNet.


The FidoNet network [2] was established in 1984 to handle electronic mail and NEWS at low cost between BBS (Electronic Billboards). Over 20,000 computers in several countries are presently linked to FidoNet.

FidoNet uses the telephone network as a means of communication between computers equipped with a modem. The phone number to which each computer is connected is converted into a numeric address in the form zone:network/node, where "zone" designates the continent (for example, the number of the African zone is 5), "network" designates a limited geographic location such as a city and "node" the accessed site. Transmission of data is organized in such a manner as to limit as much as possible the costs of communication. In this regard, data are grouped and sent by network and zone and calls are made at periods when phone rates are lowest.

The FidoNet is connected to the Internet and UUCP. The Internet is used to handle FidoNet traffic to certain destinations, especially between Europe and America, thus further limiting costs.

In Africa, the FidoNet network is mostly used by non governmental organizations (NGO). In January 1994, twenty African countries had some sites connected to FidoNet: Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

*The UUCP Networks

UUCP (Unix to Unix CoPy) is a collection of protocols developed to copy files between UNIX systems using telephone lines and modems. UUCP was quickly used to setup networks of computers that exchange electronic mail and sometimes NEWS. The principle of UUCP connexions is that computers call one another automatically to exchange files. Although UUCP was initially developed for UNIX systems, it has been applied to other operating systems which can thus use UUCP networks.

UUCP connexions provide indirect Internet access by tapping in-coming information via a computer connected to the Internet. The information can then be transmitted to a target computer via a UUCP call. This technique only works for electronic mail and NEWS.

The UUCP networks distinguish themselves from other networks by their lack of centralization. The connection between any two computers does not have to transit through a special pathway. All that is needed is for the two computers to be connected to UUCP and to agree to call each other. There are in fact several individual UUCP networks. However, some of these networks have merged into a large network known as UUCP which has over one million users. The Intertropical Network of Computers (known by the French acronym RIO) [16,15] is another UUCP network established by the French overseas agency ORSTOM; it provides Internet access for electronic mail only in ten African countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal and Togo. In southern Africa, UUCP links exist between the Internet in South Africa and Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

3.2 Current projects

There are presently many networks developmental projects in Africa. In April 1992, the Global Networking Workshop enumerated the following projects [11]:

- NGONET: project to provide electronic mail access throughout the African continent via FidoNet. NGONET is almost completed.

- ESANET (Eastern Southern African NETwork): project to link researchers in eastern and southern Africa by electronic mail. This project is associated with the NGONET.

- HealthNet: project created by SatelLife, an American NGO, to establish a satellite network for exchange of medical information at low cost in developing countries in general.

- PADISNET (Pan African Documentation Centre Network): project to interconnect centers performing research on planification of development in 34 African countries into a network for data and information exchange.

- WEDNET: project to link researchers working on women's projects for the management of natural resources in Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Canada.

- MANGO: project for electronic billboard in Zimbabwe.

- ARSONET: project of the Canadian International Development Agency to link centers located in Ethiopia, Senegal, Kenya and Egypt via the FidoNet.

Other similar projects include AFRINET [1], BESTNET and RINET [8].

3.3 Comparison of the networks

The table 2 presents the services offered by Internet, BitNet, FidoNet and UUCP. Although we have only listed a few of the Internet services, the table shows that of all the services only electronic mail and NEWS are offered by all the different types of networks. BitNet offers a utility that is similar to Internet FTP, through its file servers. It is also noteworthy that BitNet offers a few services that we have not listed.

Email NEWS FTP Telnet Gopher WAIS WWW Internet X X X X X X X Bitnet X X X Fidonet X X UUCP X X

Table 2: Comparison of services offered by different types of networks

The differences between the types of services offered by networks such as UUCP or FidoNet and those offered by Internet are due to the lack of remote login by the former networks. This limitation makes interactiveness impossible; consequently, services such as Gopher, WAIS, FTP or WWW are not available.

We should recall here that Internet exists only in three African countries (Egypt, South Africa and Tunisia). The other African countries that have Internet access achieve it through UUCP and FidoNet. It is noteworthy that existing projects involve only UUCP/FidoNet networks.

4 A scenario for the establishment of an Internet network

The usefulness of Internet access cannot be overemphasized. In the preceding section we have used a comparative overview to illustrate the fact that in general the available networks in Africa do not offer the whole spectrum of services available through Internet. We have also indicated that most of the completed and on-going projects are limited to the FidoNet or UUCP type of networks. The goal of this section is to explore how an Internet network could be established while optimizing the use of the existing infrastructure. In this regard, we may make use of the experience of South Africa where a FidoNet network evolved into Internet in response to the ever increasing demand for services not available on FidoNet (e.g. FTP, Gopher and Telnet) [7].

In order to present a scenario that can lead to the establishment of Internet in Africa, we have organized this section in the following manner: first, the framework for the application of our scenario is established. In this regard, we have chosen, for illustrative purposes, a group of francophone African countries. We present an overview of the data transmission infrastructure available in those countries. Second, we discuss the installation of the Internet in two stages. Stage one would aim at reinforcing regional integration by providing Internet services among the countries involved. Stage two involves the integration of those countries into the world electronic highway. Our goal is to identify the possibilities of connexion to the rest of the world.

4.1 Framework for the application of the scenario

Our study involves the following countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Niger, Senegal and Togo. According to [16,15] the data transmission infrastructure in those eight countries is excellent. Indeed, each of them recently acquired a X.25 public data network (PDN). According to [5], these X.25 PDN are presently under-utilized for lack of value-added additional services; the short term consequence of under-utilization is higher costs of services. The installation of value-added services such as Internet would optimize the utilization of these infrastructures by decreasing running costs while increasing the potential clients base, thereby insuring the widespread use of network services.

Thus our project for establishment of a regional Internet network is justified by the need to optimize yields from the existing data transmission infrastructures. In the following paragraphs, we present the establishment of the Internet in two stages in the region involved.

4.2 Regional Integration

The title of this sub-section was chosen to reflect one of the many things that can be realized through the installation of Internet in Africa.

*Phase 1: Interconnexion of the X.25 networks

By interconnecting these networks, one establishes a virtual public network of commutation by packets with a regional coverage. This type of networking has already been adopted in many countries, such as the USA, Canada and Japan where the X.75 standard [19] was used to interconnect existing X.25 networks, thus providing a vast network of commutation by packets. At the international level, IPACS (International Packet-Switched System) [19] is a world-wide network of packet-switched commutations established using the X.75 norm. Such an interconnexion requires the establishment of "routes" among the various national X.25 networks and the management of traffic within this virtual network. Others aspects associated with regional use of such a network also need to be considered. Several agreement between the various national telecommunications operators will certainly be needed in order to integrate and harmonize pending legislation regarding the use of public data networks in the region. Linking the various networks hardware might be achieved as follows: at the onset earth stations using a satellite channel will handle the transmission of data between X.25 networks. When the network will become operational, we envisage that the traffic would light and that satellite linkage will not seriously inconvenience users by being relatively slow [5]. Working on this premise, we suggest that the new network will be useful for a sufficiently long period to enable the establishment of connexions that can handle heavier traffic. Such connexions may be earth-based (of the T1, T2 or T3 type) or they could be fiber optic-based underwater cables along the African coast. Cables capable of handling both telephone and data transmissions would be a good start for the establishment of regional ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network [6]). It is worth noting that the creation of earth-based or underwater connexions may require huge investments, which further supports the idea of limiting costs by including telecommunications through the ISDN. The figure 2 illustrates a typical interconnexion of public X.25 networks.

Figure 2 an illustration of a possible way to use X.75 to link X.25 networks into a regional network by using satellites

*Phase 2: Establishment of TCP/IP

Once the interconnexion of X.25 networks is completed, it would be necessary to establish a supplementary set of data transport services of the TCP/IP type using the region's X.25 virtual networks. Moreover, hardware and software required to establish TCP/IP on X.25 are readily available [21]. This would require additional computer equipment and the designation of basic nodes to which potential users will be connected. Users could be individual stations using TCP/IP or local networks of businesses within an institution that has a large network of computers. The designation and the location of TCP/IP nodes would depend on national factors, but we might suggest that each country should have a point of entry for internal traffic and a point of exit for external traffic.

The establishment of the TCP/IP network alone would provide several services as illustrated on the figure . With that, it becomes possible to install applications that use the transactional mode (bank transactions, flight reservations, etc.).

*Phase 3. Establishment of initial services (e-mail, ftp and telnet)

E-mail, ftp and telnet constitute the core of internet, since the other Internet services are simply a smart combination of those three services. The applications as well as the consequences would be similar to the model that we have presented in other sections of this article.

This concludes the first stage, which will consolidate the regional integration of the countries involved. We discussed this phase rather summarily in order to be concise. We are aware of the need for more in-depth study and for various consultations. Nevertheless, our goal is to stimulate the debate and to promote regional integration among African countries by using electronic highways to cancel out geographical separation.

*Entrance into the world electronic highway

The global village is a reality, African countries cannot afford to progress on the basis of a closed world assumption, i.e., only based on regional cooperation. Accordingly, the regional network proposed should be connected to the worldwide data transmission infrastructure, the Internet. This desirable objective can be achieved by connecting the regional network to one of the Internet nodes. Such nodes are already in place in some african countries: Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa. Technically, the establishment of a satellite based link between the regional network and the internet node chosen may suffice. Next, we envision the usage of an optic fiber link to connect the regional network to the world.

Figure 3 showing the building of TCP/IP on top of X.25, and the setting of FTP, TELNET and EMAIL services on top of TCP/IP.

In this section we have presented a scenario for the establishment of an Internet network in Africa. The same scenario might be used to establish a pan-African Internet network that would go a long way to minimizing the distances between the English-, Portuguese-, Arab-, Spanish- and French-speaking parts of Africa. It would then be possible to imagine most Africans having direct access to OAU resolutions stored at a gopher site in Addis-Ababa!

5 Perspectives for Africa

The benefits that can be derived from the Internet by developing countries in general (and African countries in particular) have been discussed in several publications. For example, Sadowsky [17] listed potential benefits to governments, education, health, statistics, agriculture and natural resources, development and planification, telecommunications and foreign affairs. Hills [9] highlighted the critical role of telecommunications in the promotion of democracy, especially in the exchange of information among individual citizens. However, most of the articles dealing with connexions in Africa (Internet and others) have a partial vision of the potential benefits of such connexions for inter-state transactions on the one hand and for the participation of Africa in all the activities of intellectual life (for example research and development) on the other hand. Indeed, only rarely do those articles clearly discuss the eventual contributions of Africa (and Africans) to the globalization of connexions. Virtually all the articles stress on various aspects of north-south transfer.

Bellman and Tindimubona [1] are probably the only authors who highlighted the need for Africa to acquire new telecommunications tools to publicize and extend the writings of Africans as well as to integrate all data on Africa. We believe that it is not good for African countries to have the largest data banks on critical aspects of Africa stored and managed abroad. Is it imaginable, for example, that all the data of the Washington Museum could be stored and managed in Dakar, and by non-Americans? Slightly over 5 years ago, the proportion of data on Africa that are stored and managed in western data banks was estimated to be 90% [23].

An argument would be the lack of storage infrastructure in Africa. We have discussed above how it is possible to establish reliable infrastructure in Africa by building on what already exists. Moreover, the equipment used in Western countries exists in Africa [12], even if it is not presently used for the same goals. In fact, in the absence of established and followed guidelines for technological development, African countries only be bystanders to world changes.

The means of communication (Internet being the leader) will not only enable Africans to access global data but will also help the entire world to access information on Africa in Africa, thus reversing the present situation in which Africans do not directly control their own data. Africa is not well known to the rest of the world, except for its capacity to supply raw materials (coffee, cocoa, manganese, etc.).

The solutions proposed in most studies [17, 9, 12], attest to this lack of knowledge on Africa. Africa has, for example, invested a lot of money in training its young people in schools and universities throughout the world. In certain countries, such training was a priority activity with a goal to train nationals to take over the management of national affairs (major projects, etc.) from foreign companies. However, the integration of these young people at the end of their studies did not go as expected for various reasons, including (within the limits of this article) lack of adequate telecommunications infrastructure. Contrary to the suggestion of Odedra in [12], Africa does not lack trained manpower in science in general and computer sciences in particular. Sadowsky [17] has stated that Western experts that went to perform studies in Africa lacked follow-up upon returning to their countries - a situation that would surely be different if Internet services were available.

Now, let us consider an African who has studied (law, medicine, statistics, computer science, etc.) in the West and who is used to working with (among others) Internet services (file transfer, etc.). Once s/he returns home, s/he is not only incapable of effectively applying acquired knowledge using inadequate Internet substitutes (telephone, post, etc.) but it becomes impossible for s/he to keep up with, let alone contribute towards, developments in his/her field. It is easy to understand therefore that because on inadequate communication infrastructure, Africa watches, rather than contributes, to world changes.

In fact, at the time that African economies were healthy, it would have been easy (but not self-evident) to acquire such infrastructure. Today, in the wake of the CFA devaluation, rising unemployment, etc., short term survival primes over any long term planning. But, one might ask, is money really lacking? Can the acquisition of such critical infrastructure be put on hold indefinitely?

*Is it a problem of money?

Slightly over two years ago Marc Dandelot [4] answered "a lot of money is available in the world for investments in telecommunications. But the networks of Eastern Europe woefully lack it...". Recently [22], the general manager of the African foundation of telecommunications (TFA), Marcel Werner, citing the desire of many African countries to open telecommunications companies to more liberalization, privatization or an amelioration of their techniques, requested that the industrialized world shows more interest in the African market.

Dandelot and Werner have similar proposals, even though their targets are different. Nevertheless, foreign investments ought not precede a complete appraisal of existing structures and those investments ought to be solicited. Otherwise, the receiving countries might be victimized by the goals of foreign investors which might not necessarily correspond to national objectives. In addition to the need for each country to establish its national goals, Africans ought to agree on a program of regional integration (see our proposition above), especially in the area of telecommunications.

We should however recognize the limitations:

In most of the countries covered by our study, the state has a virtual monopoly over telecommunications. It is needless noting here that those countries are cash-hungry in many areas.

The demand (for jobs, etc.) which used to be addressed to the state are now directed towards private companies which, in the present economic situation, are themselves cash-hungry.

Nevertheless, the available infrastructure in Africa can very easily be adapted to offer Internet services. The experiences of Peru and the Dominican Republic [14] might be applicable to African countries, since the symptoms are similar. In other words, what Africa needs to enter the era of telecommunications and hope to contribute to its development (amelioration) while minimizing costs, is (in descending order):

- An adequate national strategy.

The creation (at the national level) of a group responsible for establishing a listing of all connectivity possibilities (based on completed studies, etc.). Private local operators should participate in the activities of the group.

- An adequate regional strategy.

The creation (at the continental level) of a group responsible for establishment connexions between African countries (these connexions might be similar to those we have described above, that is, they should support file transfer, etc.). This group would also be responsible for evaluating and recommending the best connexions between Africa and the rest of the world. The group could also promote the establishment of research centres for extension policies and support to African projects.

- An intercontinental strategy.

A group should evaluate all the means for connexion throughout the world and, if possible, include the largest possible number of combinations.

These strategies do not require more money than is currently invested in running the existing structures. Moreover, it is preferable to rely on this type of regional cooperation (customs unions, banks, etc.) to facilitate regional and international integration. For example, acquisition of the means for effective transfer and sharing of data in the existing structures would actually reduce communications costs.

*Is it a problem that can be postponed indefinitely?

Internet access enables participation in various developments in the software domain; the talk of the day is freeware that may be used to develop public domain software (see GNU - Gnu is not Unix-project to develop free software packages).

Linux (a Unix dialect) is about to become the most complete and the most widely used operating system on PCs. Its development involved the joint efforts of several volunteers who sought to contribute towards progress in science through the Internet.

Examples like this abound and can be verified by simply being connected to the Internet. Internet provides a level playing ground for advancement in science. Anyone can contribute on condition they are connected. To retard connectivity in the countries involved in our study in any way is a recipe for further widening the gap between those countries and the so-called "developed" countries.

6 Conclusion

We have discussed the Internet, a network widely used in the world for various purposes. Very few African countries currently have access to that tool. In this article, we have proposed a scenario for the evolution of the data transmission infrastructure available in certain francophone countries towards the Internet. We believe that the Internet is an unavoidable tool from which African countries can derive benefits for (1) regional integration, (2) participation in world activities and (3) a full mastery of their development.


The authors are indebted to Jerry Saliki for the translation of this article from french. They would like to acknowledge Shabani Ramazani, Claude Frasson, Gregor v. Bochmann and Guy Lapalme for their advice and comments.


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