Enshrined in the National ICT Policy of Liberia, is a mandate for the creation of a research and education network to improve education and research for national development. Hence, in September of 2018, heads of several Liberian universities and colleges, and USAID-Digital Liberia E-Government Project (USAID-DLEG), converged at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MoPT) to discuss the establishment of a National Research and Education Network (NREN) in Liberia. Subsequently, on December 13, 2018 the same group met and signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of an NREN which was later named, the Liberia Research and Education Network (LRREN). The members present at the signing of the MOU included local universities and colleges such as(University of Liberia, AME University, United Methodist University, AME Zion, Stellar Maris Polytechnic, Bomi Community College, Bassa Community College, Starz, Bluecrest and Barshell University), USAID-DLEG, officials of the MoPT, and other stakeholders of the ICT and Education sectors of Liberia. The University of Liberia, being the premiere and largest university in the nation, was selected to head the LRREN.
The LRREN is a specialized Internet Service Provider (ISP) that interconnects research and educational institutions within Liberia and externally to similar networks across the global Internet. The LRREN is expected to connect to other regional and international RENs to boost research and education in the nation; an endeavor that ultimately enhances our national economic development initiatives. LRREN is considered strategic asset of economic and social value to Liberia because it plays a major role in closing the digital divide between academic and research institutions. It is intended to fulfill the data communications, networking, application and e-services needs of the Liberia’s research and education community. It distinguishes itself by providing very-high speed network both at the core and access levels with the possibility of offering dedicated channels for individual research projects.
LRREN is also expected to be an incubator of creativity and source of innovation of both scientific and technological ideas that will spill over to the societies in the region. LRREN’s scope will extend to hospitals, schools (primary and secondary), telecom service providers and the Liberia Internet Exchange Points (LIXP), even though its membership primarily consists of universities and research institutions.
The LRREN has a Board of Directors which meets quarterly and a management team which is headed by a Chief Executive Officer or CEO and a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). The Current Acting Chairman of the Board of Directors is Prof. Dr. Julius J. S. Nelson, Jr. The current Acting CEO is Dr. Darren Wilkins.
From the signing of the MoU, the United States Government, through USAID-DLEG had made significant financial and technical investments to expedite the establishment of the LRREN This included the provision of funding for the deployment of a campus network at the University of Liberia, since it is the CORE of the LRREN. USAID-DLEG was expected to assist in connecting four campuses initially, to launch the LRREN. However, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, that did not happen.
Figure 2: LRREN training in Liberia-UL
Figure 3: Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Speaks at LRREN’s Workshop
Figure 4: Trainers from USAID-NSRC (University of Oregon) and Garnet- University of Ghana
To prepare universities and colleges for this endeavor, USAID- DLEG sent technicians from the UL, AME University and Stellar Maris Polytechnic to Ghana for training (train the trainer) and to garner an understanding of how NRENs operate. USAID- DLEG has also brought a consultant from Ghana who is familiar with NRENs based on his work with GARNET, Ghana’s NREN. Subsequently, a team from the Network Startup and Resource Center (NSRC) of the University of Oregon arrived in Liberia to provide a five-day technical training for technicians and network engineers of members of the LRREN. At the same time, the LRREN, through the UL joined the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN), which is an entity that promotes collaboration among national, regional, international research and education communities. The UL is also provided a facility (on Capitol Hill) that serves as the secretariat for the LRREN.