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European Union Pumps €30M into AfricaConnect

The EU has announced additional €30 million for the project “AfricaConnect”, that will provide affordable, high-capacity Internet for research and education networks across Africa.

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, said: “Affordable high-speed broadband connectivity enables African youth, students, and researchers to boost collaborative scientific research with their peers around the world to help them tackle challenges in Africa. This is an important step towards tackling the digital divide.”

Improved Internet connectivity will not only facilitate African participation in world-class research projects, but also enable education, training and research institutions to develop and use applications to improve their teaching and learning environments, such as virtual classes or massive open online courses.

This additional €30 million contribution from the EU budget will provide support to the three African Regional Research and Education Networks, which will also contribute €7.5 million:

  • UbuntuNet Alliance (Eastern and Southern Africa),

  • WACREN (Western and Central Africa) and

  • ASREN (Northern Africa and Middle East Arab countries) as well as

  • GÉANT, Europe's leading collaboration on e-infrastructure and services for research and education and operator of the GÉANT pan-European Research and Education Network.

    The new contracts signed today will support the third phase of the project. Since its launch in 2014, more than 800 higher education and research institutions have been connected, their high-speed capacity has been significantly increased, while costs have been lowered.

  • In Zambia the National Research and Education Network (ZAMREN) multiplied their Internet capacity by 60 times, while costs dropped by 94% over a 4-year period.

  • In Nigeria, the project helped students to improve campus security at the University of Lagos. By building a mock surveillance system for the detection of intruders, in the form of a moving robot, the project demonstrated a cost-effective way to deploy monitoring on Nigerian campuses. This has inspired other universities to improve campus security nationwide.

  • In Uganda, the project helped students to enhance their university services by facilitating affordable online access. Frustrated with long waiting lines and complex bureaucracy, a group of software development and data management students developed an application that optimised administrative processes and enhanced their learning experience.

  • In Egypt, AfricaConnect joined forces with the scientific community to issue early warnings about natural disasters. The impact of dust storms, which can cause injury through falling debris or trigger asthma attacks, is being mitigated through monitoring and timely alerts. Reliable Internet connectivity provided by this project has helped to access, download and transfer data from satellite sensors and meteorological stations.

    Background
    Home to the youngest population in the world, Africa is progressing rapidly in digital adoption. Over the past ten years, Africa has recorded the highest growth globally in Internet access, moving from 2.1% in 2005 to 24.4% in 2018. The digital economy in Africa provides not only opportunities for increased job creation and data, but also the basis for accelerating access to quality basic services, improving transparency and accountability of governments, and enhancing democracy.

    Research and innovation environments can support the development of skills and improve the employability of young people. eEducation and eLearning can support the establishment of collective digital educational resources, and virtual reality can increase access to quality vocational education and training for young people in remote areas. Given their strong potential as enablers of "knowledge-based” societies, digital technologies are key to accelerating progress in the education and research sector.

    AfricaConnect3 builds advanced Internet networks for research and education across the entire African continent. It involves regional networking organisations, facilitators of cross-border exchanges of data and collaboration, from three geographical areas: ASREN in North Africa; WACREN in West and Central Africa; UbuntuNet Alliance in Eastern and Southern Africa. By collaborating with the pan-European GÉANT network, it strengthens Europe's links with the African continent and provides African research and education communities with opportunities for global collaboration.

    The projects announced above are funded by the Pan-African Programme Annual Action Programme 2018.

    They contribute to education, skills and digitalisation – key priorities under the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs. The European Union-African Union Digital Economy Task Force, set up under the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, recommends mainstreaming digital skills and responsible online behaviour and the promotion of digital skills in schools, by reviewing education curricula in accordance with the evolving needs and trends in the digital economy and society.

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