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Community Projects 25 August 2015

AfPIF 2015: Where Business in Africa Start

Dawit Bekele
By Dawit BekeleRegional Bureau Director, Africa

The sixth African Peering and Interconnection Forum opened today. Sixth!

It’s a conference I’ve seen grow and change over the past six years into somewhat of a landmark event for those in Africa and working with Africa who focus on building the Internet in Africa.

So – while many technical experts, businesses leaders, content creators, and regional experts gather together for a sixth year – it strikes me as a great time really see how this conference – which started as a simple idea – has grown to become a pivotal backbone to the African economy and development.

A faster and cheaper Internet is key to African businesses

There are dozens of reports outlining the Internet’s potential for Africa and, thanks to some recent studies – there’s a clear progression in terms of how to do it.

But what needs to be said about all of this is one thing:

For Africa to profit from the Internet the Internet actually needs to be there, it needs to work, and it needs to work well.

The people who come to AfPIF are the ones who are making that happen.

Building Africa’s Business Backbone: It’s About People

What’s magic about AfPIF – truly magic – is what happens here between people. In comparison to much of the developed world – meeting one another, sharing ideas and building contacts isn’t as simple as it sounds. There are not many African forums where people can meet in an affordable environment. Many conferences are too expensive for most African professionals to attend. Travel isn’t always economically or practically feasible. In many ways working professionals exist in their own world without even knowing what is happening in the country next door.

This is why we started AfPIF:

  • Through fellowships we help key African Internet players overcome some key travel hurdles.
  • By broadcasting AfPIF over LiveStream (link). Anyone can take part from anywhere.
  • By moving the conference around to each of Africa’s regions we’re able to bring the conference TO the people who are trying to get there, and,
  • By keeping it open we remove a lot of the costly entrance fees that can be a barrier to so many.

Why Does It Work? It Wasn’t an Empty Promise

Just like the Internet we’re building – we kept AfPIF open. This means you don’t have to pay anything, you don’t need to know anyone, and you don’t need to wait for a long sought after invite to show up on your desk.

You just need to either be here in person, watch it online, share your ideas, and network. Just be a part of it.

The result is amazing. Imagine a room full of people with this amazing desire to learn – matched with an incredible desire to share. AfPIF’s camaraderie is unmatched.

We told people this was our vision, we delivered, and we kept it that way – after six years.

And, we see the impact. There are more IXPs in Africa, and more local traffic in Africa each year.

What’s the Result: Great Business Outcomes For Africa

In simple terms, “peering” is when Internet service providers (ISPs) connect with each other directly or at a central location (an IXP) to avoid sending traffic through expensive international Internet connections to connect with each other. This means ISPs can provide better performance using fewer resources. And, the rest of us have the potential to have faster and cheaper Internet. 

But, when most peering relationships start with a handshake – we need a place to do that.

At AfPIF we gather together technical people, business leaders, and content providers, to build the personal relationships needed to make peering happen. Together, the plan is build, and change the African economy – one relationship at a time.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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