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.

Further Reference

Internet Hall of Fame pro­file