Connecting humanitarian agencies in Dadaab – the world’s largest humanitarian camp

The worst drought and famine in more than 60 years have threatened the livelihood of 9.5 million people in the Horn of Africa since early 2011. Refugees from Somalia continue to arrive in Kenya by the tens of thousands, making the Dadaab complex now the world’s largest refugee camp ever with almost 500,000 counted and perhaps as many as 100,000 more unregistered.

In the fall of 2011, NetHope and USAID asked Inveneo to help identify opportunities to bring better Internet and interagency communications to the many humanitarian agencies working in the region. Inveneo recommended our unique approach to deliver broadband access. By partnering with a local service provider to provide reliable and affordable broadband access, and by deploying a long-distance WiFi network, the humanitarian agencies working in and around the camps would benefit significantly. Additionally, Inveneo and NetHope determined that together with Cisco’s TacOps we could install and configure a local high-speed network that would enable the Dadaab organizations to collaborate and to share information more effectively.

Skinny, guy wire masts are always more interesting to climb than the big telcom towers. They tend to sway a bit. Inveneo CTO Andris Bjornson climbs the UNHCR mast in Dadaab.

To accomplish these goals, Inveneo initiated a strategic business and engineering partnership with Orange, a local Kenyan telecom provider, to extend new data services into the Dadaab compound using Inveneo’s long-distance WiFi solution. NetHope aggregated demand for the new service among the Dadaab aid community members, and we secured agreement from Orange for pricing as well as ensured that there would be adequate initial and ongoing Internet backhaul capacity.

Inveneo, NetHope, and TacOps co-designed the high-speed network, “DadaabNet,” to connect the NGOs locally and to enable bandwidth-intensive, intra-agency collaboration technologies such as file sharing, videoconferencing, and Voice over IP telephony.

In March 2012, Inveneo trained in-country technical teams from Orange, from the Dadaab-based NGO technical staff, and from our local Inveneo Certified Partner Setright. This cohort will continue to connect additional agencies and to support the network on an ongoing basis. We offered our customized practical curricula covering network design in the classroom, and installations in the field. This included safety-at-height training for work on telecommunications towers that can be more than 150 feet tall.

Trainees from Orange Kenya, Inveneo ICIP Setright, and Dadaab-based IT staffs assemble a Ubiquiti Rocket Dish.



By April, the bandwidth contracted was fully installed, and now Orange is on track to add triple the original amount of bandwidth to keep pace with demand and to meet new service order expectations.

This connectivity is already enabling the humanitarian agencies to function better, to communicate among themselves, and to support overall operations. As the new network architecture is tried and proven to be more reliable and cost effective, it will be extended to the general population via sustainable outreach community centers that support learning, resettlement, and economic empowerment.


The Dadaab Connect project is funded by Inveneo’s Broadband for Good Program, Cisco, Microsoft, NetHope, Craig Newmark, the Orr Family Foundation, UNHCR, and USAID’s Global Broadband Innovations Program.

We would like to thank Craig Newmark for his support of this and many other vital networking projects around the world!

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