Intertitle: Briefly describe your most vital contributions; what led you to become an Internet Hall of Fame member?
Adiel Akplogan: The first is the fact that as a young engineer in the 90s, we learned about the Internet and started in a very small room—five by five—to connect the whole country to the Internet. We started by getting the domain name of the country. We were just out of university. And everybody was laughing at us because at that time in Africa specifically, all the telecommunication was government-led. We were just by ourselves trying to connect the country, trying to find the technology that can help us connect the country. That has been a very enlightening experience for me, but also for the local community because we managed to do that and it was one of the first private ISPs in the region to provide Internet service at the time.
The second one was something that came out from that experience of building an ISP in the early 90s, which was to be able to bring to Africa the management of the number resources. We as an ISP at the time were struggling to get number resources because we had to obtain them from our upstream provider, which at the time were either in the US or in Europe, and we had to go through a very long and tedious process to get them. So we joined forces and started working on building an original registry. So what really was interesting and my contribution there is that the [?] in Africa is a very diverse region with diverse backgrounds, diverse language. And building consensus was a very big challenge. So I joined the initiative and what I’m very happy and proud about is the work that we did to build consensus in such a complex environment.
Intertitle: What are the biggest challenges you had to overcome to achieve success; how did you overcome them? Was there an “aha” moment, a period of impact or a breakthrough realization or a steady flow?
Akplogan: One of the key challenges is the language barrier. In Africa there are three major languages spoken, or used in professional environments: French, English, some Portuguese. And trying to bring the community from all those different language backgrounds to focus on a project like AFRINIC was hard. First you need to make sure that people speaking French understand, get, and read all the documents related to the project, and at the same time convincing those speaking English that we need to bring all our French colleagues on board. I am myself from a French-speaking country so I understand the challenge for doing that because most of the work has to be done in English to start with. That’s the first thing.
And also culturally, being able to match the different understandings. Some countries have a more strong governmental lead, some have not. Some have a very well-developed business ecosystem, some don’t. So you have to find the right balance to get those different levels and those different cultural backgrounds together and to have the same understanding of where we want to go with AFRINIC, specifically to get them to understand it’s for the region. It’s allowed the region for once to be present at the global scene, to be able to defend some of our specificity, because we may not have the same issues as other regions because of where we’re coming from, and be able to defend those at the global level.
So that has been one of the key challenges that we have worked around, and to build a consensus does require a lot of engagement. A lot of courage as well to confront some of the things that were holding people back, trying to discuss with them, to convince them. And also use some very disciplined and I will say steady progress process rules throughout all of this. So that was the first challenge.
The second challenge of course has been the technology challenge. Managing those critical resources means putting in place infrastructure that is reliable, that can have the trust of the community as well. And that requires us to be very transparent in what we were doing and trying to build stuff that’s based on our limited resources but that’s pretty much focused and based on best practices. And that has been also very important to reassure the global community but also to reassure our community that what we are doing is serious and they can trust us.
Intertitle: Which people, experiences or developments were most crucial in your professional success and its impact?
Akplogan: People who you know, give you the drive to continue doing what you are doing. I will always mention Vint Cerf, for instance. Although he’s the father of the Internet, he’s a very renowned person, when we were in the process of AFRINIC he has been somebody that has listened a lot, that has paid attention to what we are doing but also that has been somebody that gave us the confidence that we can do it.
Intertitle: What are your hopes for the future Internet? Your fears? What action should be taken now for the best future?
Adiel Akplogan: My hope is that the Internet continues to develop based on its underlying culture, which is an open technology that is accessible to everyone. A technology that allows innovation without permission. I think that is key, and from my own example, if I didn’t have the opportunity to take that technology openly because it was accessible and innovate and do things without asking anyone, I wouldn’t have done what I did. So my hope is for the Internet to continue to be that technology. The technology that gives opportunity to people to do things without having to ask anyone.
That said, it has another corollary which is because it is open, because it’s available for everyone, because everyone can do whatever they want with the Internet, it poses another social issue. Which is security. How do we make sure that everybody knows and implements the best practices that make the Internet stable, secure, where people can still have confidence in the technology. And that I think is my fear. How do we make sure that we close, as much as possible, the gap between the development of the technology and the policymaking?
Intertitle: What advice do you have for the next generation working in your field?
Akplogan: Not to be afraid to tackle challenges, and also to embrace the Internet technology as a tool for solving problems, as a tool to…coming from a developing country, as a tool for development. We— The young generation has to see the Internet just as something that they have to consume but also as a real tool that they can use to shape their environment, to change things, and to move the needle when it comes to some of the issues.
The second important thing for the young generation as well is that privacy has to be balanced with the technology. We are the masters of our future online and the future of our data online as well. We have to make sure that we…I mean the young generation, that is the digital generation, they are born into the Internet, they know nothing else. So it’s natural for them to live online. But it’s important as well while doing that that nothing is free. Our data has a value. And we have to observe as much as possible the best practices that protect our private data.
Intertitle: What has surprised you most about the Internet as it has developed?
Akplogan: Human beings are always after a way to communicate, a way to build human networks. And I think the ability for the Internet, beyond building computer networks, is allowing people to build human networks around the world. And the speed at which the evolution, the innovation also spread has impressed me and continues to impress me. Everywhere in the world you will see the same kind of services, especially the social services. And the social aspect of the Internet is what has made it boom.
Internet Hall of Fame profile