Fun fact about Cleven: He may have grown up on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, but he never climbed the mountain while he lived in Tanzania. He was so peeved about people asking him if he had climbed it and having to answer no, that he finally decided to make the journey in 1998.
SAIT Director Cleven Mmari sits amid a sea of colorful balloons with a wide grin. His colleagues sprinkled the balloons around his office to welcome him back from a recent three-week trip to Tanzania for the 12th annual African Network Operators Group (AFNOG 12), a conference that has been promoting internet interconnectivity in Africa since it’s inception. The theme of interconnectivity in Africa is more than a professional goal for Mmari; it’s a personal mission for the Tanzanian native.
“I remember when I came [to the University of Oregon] in 1992, I could not talk to my parents,” says Mmari, who grew up in Lawate, a village 4,500 feet up the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where his parents maintain a family farm producing coffee, bananas, and corn. When Mmari came to the U.S. to pursue a degree in computer science and mathematics at the UO, Lawate’s only telephone was at the post office. If Mmari wanted to phone his parents, he would have to contact a third party to relay to them when to be at the post office to receive his call. “Now, they’ve started using email and they text all the time,” he says, laughing and holding up his phone.
AFNOG 12 was held at the White Sands Hotel in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania. When Mmari found out that Tanzania, one of AFNOG’s member countries, was hosting the conference, he knew he had to go. And when he discovered his childhood friend, Abibu Ntahigiye, was running the conference, it was even more of a sign (Ntahigiye now manages .tz or Tanzania’s national internet identity). With the sponsorship of the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), an organization that develops and supports network technologies globally, Mmari was going home to teach and network. He emphasizes the encouragement of his colleagues. “Steven Huter, Kathie Stanley, and Robin Holmes really want to continue world outreach,” he says.
This was in the wake of Mmari discovering the UO’s Global Oregon Initiative, which spawned the recent sustainability partnership between Gabon and the University of Oregon. “The University of Oregon is known throughout the African continent,” he says. Mmari would like to see that trend continue.
Arriving early at the conference to help set up and teach Network Management sessions, Mmari spent the next two weeks leading workshops for over 200 participants from 23 countries. The workshops ran from 9am to 6pm for two weeks with some night sessions. “It was an intensive learning opportunity,” he says, laughing. All participants had their own machines and participated in hands-on demonstrations. Mmari describes the experience as “unbelievable.”
His workshops focused on three ideas: reliability, availability, and performance. One example that Mmari shared at the conference was the performance and sustainability of the servers at SAIT. SAIT originally had 60 servers, but by monitoring their performance, Mmari consolidated the division’s networks to fifteen servers. His goal is for SAIT to eventually run on only six servers. With each server he removes, he reduces the consumption of energy. He also shared OpenNMS, the first open source and free network management application that allows engineers from all over the world to work together in an active community. The application was a big hit.
Mmari picked up some valuable ideas from his peers at the conference, like increased documentation. He plans to implement more rigorous documentation of the processes within SAIT to improve performance
“It’s about empowering each other,” says Mmari, who described the conference as an exchange of ideas. He plans to stay in touch with many of the conference participants – an active mailing list has already been set up. “The sky is the limit,” he says of networking opportunities, which ties in well with the Global Oregon Initiative and the Division of Student Affairs’ own goal to increase communication with University partners. “The collaboration and cooperation will be immense.”
In fact, the collaboration went so well that Mmari’s brother and sister-in-law, Donald and Fillipina Mmari, hosted a goat roast at their home near Dar es Salaam for about fifty of the conference participants.
“Cleven was a wonderful ambassador for the University of Oregon in the AFNOG community,” says Huter, NSRC’s co-director. “I received several e-mails per day from students, organizers, and trainers thanking the NSRC for sending Cleven.”
AFNOG 13 will be hosted in Gambia, and Mmari and Huter have already been invited to participate in the planning. Mmari hopes to attend. The conference has also inspired him to start working towards a master’s degree that explores the difficulties of interconnectivity in Africa, while improving the partnership between the UO and African universities.
For more information about AFNOG, visit www.afnog.org
Story: Alexandra Notman
Photos: Courtesy of Cleven Mmari