AfricaConnect, approved by the European Commission last week, should elevate the ability of Eastern and Southern Africa to tap the Internet for research and education and provide the region with a gateway to global research, according to project insiders.

The EC's approval opened the floodgates for €14.75 million (US$20.9 million) in funding, under the aegis of the Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe (DANTE) organization. The objective of the project is to overcome the current limitations of international research collaboration between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

The infrastructure that is expected to be operational by 2012 comes in the wake of a similar project by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) that failed to take off the ground due to restrictive policies by member countries.

DANTE will work with regional organizations in Africa including the UbuntuNet Alliance, which covers Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Association of African Universities.

DANTE is a non-profit organization, coordinating large-scale projects co-funded by the European Commission, and works in partnerships with European National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) to plan, build and operate advanced networks for research and education.

"DANTE has always put emphasis on partnership in this kind of activity and we are delighted to see this project underway and working with such strong group of partners on a project of such importance," said DANTE international relations manager Cathrin Stöver.

The project is expected to last for four years after which time the African project partners of AfricaConnect are supposed to ensure the sustainability of the research network and its continue to direct connectivity to GEANT (Gigabit European Advanced Technology). GEAT provides data communication infrastructure to many research projects in Europe.

In January 2009, the UbuntuNet Alliance established a 1G-bps IP link to GEANT's network in London, U.K and a 10G-bps link for dedicated point-to-point connectivity. This made sub-Saharan Africa the first world region outside North America to gain dedicated circuit capacity with Europe.

"We appreciate the support of the European Commission in this respect their funding makes the achievement of the impossible a whole lot easier," said Francis Tusubira, CEO of UbuntuNet Alliance.