Eddy Kayihura was appointed in the position of the Chief Executive Officer of AFRINIC in November 2019. Ashil Oogarah, AFRINIC’s communications team leader sat down with Mr Kayihura to get his reflects on his year serving AFRINIC and its community as well as his thoughts on the new AFRINIC Strategic Plan 2021-2023 and the role AFRINIC can play in developing the future of the Internet in the region.
1) What were your first impressions when you joined the AFRINIC one year ago?
Now that I look back, I realise that I might have underestimated the challenge. I knew the task at hand would not be easy, but I also knew that it would pay off for the whole continent in the long run if we get it right. This was and still is the primary motivation; we have to build a secure and accessible Internet for sustainable digital growth in Africa.
2) What did you do in your first 100 days as CEO?
I did not come with the “First 100 Days Mindset”. I knew that there were challenges that I had to tackle immediately; however, to answer your question, during my first 100 days, I mainly focused on understanding the environment. I was getting to know my colleagues, stakeholders, and partners to obtain better insights into their most urgent needs.
For example, a week before my official duties began, AFRINIC’s auditors had resigned. This meant I had to hit the ground running. Within my first 30 days at AFRINIC, I experienced as CEO my first Public Policy Meeting in Angola. It was an opportunity for me to see the realities of planning and running such an event live.
During those 100 days, you asked about, we also had some quick wins, such as developing the 2020 budget and setting in motion several key projects that were actioned during the same period.
3) What were the changes that were implemented during your first year?
2020 was by no means an easy year for us, but I would still say it was a good year. We worked a lot on our foundation and feel we are on much more solid ground today than we were since November last year. So despite the challenges, and yes, there were a few, we are on track to meet our targets.
One of these, and on which we have been working hard throughout this year, addressed the IP Misappropriation of AFRINIC’s resources. We started working with other RIRs and colleagues' support to understand what had happened and took remedial actions. We were able to reclaim some IP resources and reverse some changes on the WHOIS database. We are in the process of publishing all our findings to the community in a few weeks as initially promised.
" Despite the many challenges and hurdles, it was an excellent year for us at AFRINIC. We have our priorities set, and we know exactly where we need to move.
Another critical target we set for ourselves was enhancing the membership experience at AFRINIC. In 2021 we will be launching our new member portal, MyAFRINIC version 2.
We also needed to improve our infrastructure for services such as RPKI, which is an essential service AFRINIC provides, to support the different features and applications that we are planning to launch. I am glad to say that there will be a blog post coming out soon with more information about these enhancements.
With COVID-19, we had to adapt quickly to the changes that came by, such as planning and organising our first AIS online. It was an exciting journey dealing with all these new challenges as a team.
We embarked on an agile transformation journey to be more efficient, play better, and work more collaboratively. Through this method, I firmly believe that co-creation is faster, and we can achieve better results and create more value for our customers. A significant stepping stone for us is to deliver amidst the challenges and the changes in the world today. I quickly realised that I had great talent in my team, and I collaborated for success.
However, I must say, one of my proudest targets that I am happy we met was collaborating with different stakeholders to develop the AFRINIC Strategic Plan 2021-2023. This reflected the new direction we are taking and the changes we would like to work on for our service region's good.
4) Tell us about the AFRINIC Strategic Plan 2021-2023
We did not embark on a five-year plan this time; after consulting with stakeholders and the board, we settled on a three-year program. These three years, to me, will be a transition period where we would like to focus on things that are key for the company and stakeholders. It was vital for us to clarify what we would be focusing on.
I would have liked to get a lot more feedback from the community; however, I must say that contributors who did react to give us their feedback provided us with a lot of valuable information that helped shape the document. This exercise allowed us to align both internally and externally.
5) The strategic plan is very customer-geared; was this intentional?
As you read the strategic plan, you will notice that it is very customer-focused. And by the customer, we mean anyone, member or not, who is using or consuming any of our services and applications. We are here to serve the continent's development as a whole, and that is a responsibility we do not take lightly.
6) What are your immediate goals?
The two words that come to mind are Stability and Growth. You want to leave a place much better than you found it. It was vital from the beginning to have stability, and it is imperative to generate growth.
When I say growth, I mean growth in terms of membership. It also means growing the digital economy of our continent. 2020 has made it very clear that we need more digitisation on the continent. We have all experienced slow Internet connections, interrupted online meetings due to power cuts, and low bandwidth capacity that does not allow for enabling video during calls, among other challenges.
While we might not be the investor or the operator that is building the infrastructure itself, but we can play our part in the ecosystem, we can be a catalyst for Internet growth in Africa.
7) Do you foresee any challenges for AFRINIC in fulfilling the role of “catalyst of Internet growth in Africa”?
I think one of the challenges is the trust level. We have been working on being more accountable and restoring trust and ensuring that AFRINIC is seen as the right partner and an enabler of change and development.
" I think one of the challenges is the trust level. We have been working on being more accountable and restoring trust to ensure that AFRINIC is seen as the right partner and an enabler for change and development.
To do so, we have to deliver on the promises we have made. We continue to do this while opening new communication channels and aligning ourselves with our continent's needs.
8) What do you mean by “the needs of our continent,” and what role does AFRINIC play?
By looking at global statistics, we can see that Africa somewhat lags in terms of Internet penetration. The new way of doing business is the digital way. We want to build digital bridges between the different players in Africa. AFRINIC is a neutral player in this environment, but we influence growth in this market.
We want to ensure that technical knowledge and best practices are well disseminated through training and our research efforts in our region and beyond. We encourage our community to take advantage of the various digital learning platforms.
As a registry, we know that security is paramount for people to feel comfortable with growth. As a regional Internet registry, the role we play there is in the field of routing security but not in device security.
We will continue to invest in research and academia. We are going to have partners from the academic sector to ensure we do research that will be consumed by our industry.
We are also working with several governments to build a few success stories that will be replicated. We want to attract governments and have them involved in deployathons for IPv6 migration.
9) Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
I get a lot of inspiration from my parents and my country’s story. My parents raised my siblings and me from a foreign land as refugees. They taught us perseverance even when the situation was not always favourable for my country, which has gone through an extremely devastating situation and still resolved to not stay in a victim mentality but focus towards the future with an indefeasible resolve to take ownership and rebuild. This shapes my hope to see a brighter future for our continent that has faced so many challenges.
10) How do you motivate your team?
I ensure that we have continuous communication and discussions on how to improve what we do. The team is self-motivated, and I guarantee that we always are aligned with the primary goal. I have a lot of respect for the AFRINIC staff. I am grateful for the tireless support of the Staff, doing what they do towards the achievement of the company goals.
11) Finally, can you sum up your first year with AFRINIC in a few words?
Despite the many challenges and hurdles, it was an amazing year for us at AFRINIC. We have our priorities set, and we know exactly where we need to move. We worked a lot on reinforcing our internal foundation to support what is to come. It might not have been evident in 2020, but trust me, the whole world will see the change very soon.