Debriefing from WACREN 2017 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire


On 30 and 31 March 2017, I attended the WACREN annual conference in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. WACREN (West and Central African Research and Education Network) is a collective organized effort to build organizational and technical capacity aiming at building and operating a world class network infrastructure, developing state of the art services, promoting collaboration among higher education institutions in countries of west and central Africa. Initiated by the Association of African Universities, it started up in 2006. On their website ( theirs objectives are formulated as follows.

The objectives of WACREN is the promotion and establishment of interconnections between national research and education networks in West and Central Africa to form a regional research and education network, the interconnection of this network with other regional and continental networks, and the provision of services aiming at fostering collaboration between research and education institutions in the region as well as between them and peer institutions at continental and international levels.

At WACREN 2017, the topics presented or discussed ranged from library and digital services to Software Defined Network (SDN) and transmission delays, from connectivity and resource sharing to identity and security. The main theme of the conference was “Catalyzing Quality Higher Education and Research,” with the following sub-themes:
i) Advanced networks, applications and services (SDN, Cloud services, NOCaaS, …)
ii) Trust, Identity and Security
iii) NRENs and communities: Business models, Communities of Practice, Use cases and Collaboration

The topic for my talk is “From State Administration to Blockchain: A Policy Perspective on Fundamentals of Identity.”
I shared some lessons from the modern state era identity credentials drawing on my research. Identity has worked (and scaled) so well to the extent that not only the users (identity subjects) have subscribed to it, for reasons ranging from efficient incentives to coercion, but also that third parties which played no role in issuing such identity have come to rely on it.

Then I briefly recalled the process of the making of digital identity from early 2000’s, from centralized identity to federated identity to user-centric identity.

I went on to introduce self-sovereign identity and its principles while outlining the promises of blockchain technology in that regard. I specifically discussed the case of Sovrin Identity Network and its fundamental principles, outlining the various stakeholders involved as well as the model of governance including the accompanying policies (business, legal and technical).

In the Q&A section, I realized that there were adept of SAML in the room (of course they know Eve Maler ;-)) and they were skeptical about blockchain as the way forward. While recognizing that the battle is not won yet, I tried to reiterate and counter with the promises of blockchain (and Sovrin), but we might as well have comparative talking points ready, specifically showing the advantage of blockchain-based solutions over SAML, or the much needed additions they might bring to it.

Among large institutions in attendance –and supporting one way or the other the WACREN networking efforts—are included: Orange Cote d’Ivoire, UbuntuNet Alliance, Main One, XON, AfricaConnect2, Glo1, ICANN, etc.




Thanks much for the report. I’m grateful you were able to present the concepts of self-sovereign identity to the group.

When only a relatively small, mostly unchanging group of institutions want to federate identity, it’s easy to see how SAML could be the right solution, but modern Internet technologies and needs are pushing us beyond those. So, let’s keep working to show the promise. I’m happy to supply sides, talking points, etc.



@Mawaki +1 to all of Phil’s points. Blockchain-based (or ledger-based) identity is still a very new concept to many audiences, especially those still looking at federated identity models, but as Phil says, it has enormous advantages. So we’ll keep stocking up on the talking points.



Thanks @phil and @Drummond
Yes, Phil, I can use slides or talking points, plus whatever blog posts you may have out there on this (as I know you are a prolific blogger and an effective pedagogue on these technologies.)



@Mawaki Great job planting the very first seeds of self-sovereignty over there! Well done!

In my opinion, when it comes to discussing whether distributed ledger technology is appropriate for identity, you first need to discuss whether a user should own their own (literally own, not just control) identity. If so, then DLT is the only way forward. If not, then DLT is just another form of a database (that has some pretty cool properties).

If whomever you’re conversing with believes that people shouldn’t own their identities, then it’s helpful to discuss the problems of depending on the “siloed identity” model (identities from other sources), which are many, both for individuals and for organizations that become forced into the identity business. (I can share a list of that “wake of destruction” if you’d like.)


I’ll be giving a lighting talk about the potential of ledger-based identity at the TNC (, the main conference for research and education networks (RENs) in Europe at the end of the month. While I’ll only have 5 minutes for the presentation, I hope to start some discussions among the SAML users, who are a majority in the higher education sector - as @Mawaki already mentioned.

@phil Thankful for any such information you can share with me.

Will anybody else here attend the TNC conference? It’d be good to have some backup when the SAML guys come after me. :wink: Especially since I am quite new to the concept of a self-sovereign identity.



@ChrisRohrer I’m based in Vienna, so going to Linz for this TNC17 conference should be easy, I will put it on my calendar and try to meet you there.

@Mawaki congratulations on your talk, I am interested in the title you chose “From State Administration to Blockchain”. I have recently seen some initiatives in the blockchain/DLT area coming from state authorities, and I have been wondering what meaningful role a state and its government could fulfill with regard to technologies that help to decentralize authority and control. Do you have any thoughts on this?


@peacekeeper Thanks! The WACREN Conference came up at the last minute and I was allowed to chip in for a short presentation before developing a paper (presentations were meant to be based on a paper submitted.) So my presentation title is the anticipated title for the paper, which I’m in the process of writing …Well, I shall start anytime soon. The idea was to build on my research on state identity history and systems to introduce the self-sovereign model of identity. Of course I can share the paper when ready (within the limits of WACREN publishing conditions, but I’m sure there will be enough room for this). In the meantime however, I’m really in need for further (more recent) references to use for my paper.

@All - So any pointers to those state or government initiatives (including refugee or disadvantage population use cases), references of papers in the same vein of thought or related, or any didactic support in mastering writing about, expounding or explaining DLT itself would be helpful and will always be appreciated (keeping in mind that some of us are not code guys but come to this from a policy and societal perspective.)



Here’s the slides and talking points I used at EIC a few weeks ago.

I’ll be speaking at AFXI and CIS in June and will further refine these.


PDF (with notes):