2012/A Snapshot of Open Source in West Africa

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Ever wonder why Wikipedia fund raising focuses that much on Africa?

Are you curious about what Open Source means for West Africans? What it is used for and where it is going?

Join to hear real world examples about us trying to build communities and businesses around open source in West Africa.

Speaker: Renaud Gaudin

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Contributed notes

Wikimedia trainings - big success but the markup language is hard for them to learn (need visual editor)

"Ubuntu Mali" content distribution kiosk 0- usb stick will let you download anything that;s on the computer onto your usb stick and its got a lot of open source software on it.

deployed android systems and then the offline distribution of wikipedia in 15 countries in Africa

seriously lacking local community leaders - leaders are foreigners

Jokolats? Chocolates? Senegalese open source organization

Author's notes


  • Define Open Source
    • Open Content, needed for Education.
    • Open Software, needed to boost software sector.
  • Define West Africa (mostly Mali, but also other countries in West & East Africa)

Importance of Wikipedia in Africa

  • Education system poorly developed
    • (1) public university in Mali
    • Limited curriculum available (no ICT/Programming)
    • Teachers are low ; salaries are low.
    • Limited # of schools (mostly big cities).
    • Most schools have no library.
    • Books are very expensive ; almost no public library.
  • Internet is in expansion right now.
    • Only in big cities.
    • Low speed ; especially outside capital cities (mobile).
    • Leap frog from nothing to Internet: no reading culture, no keyword thinking.
    • No knowledge of capabilities and resources:
      • Beside P2P, Web is 100%.
      • No info expect operator marketing.
      • Only entertainment: chat, porn, youtube, facebook.
      • Telescope experiment: device to monitor & analyze + interviews + observation.
      • Reuse last browser request.
      • Lie about doing research.
      • Browse randomly with no purpose.
      • Very sensitive to scams. Especially VISA ones.
  1. Great need for a digital (cheap & easy) free resources, including educational like Wikipedia.
  2. Need for Open content from Africa, especially in Wikipedia.
  3. Need for contributors.

Programming & Open Source in West Africa

  • Software market is just starting.
  • Not an industry, mostly data processing.

For General Public

  • Unaware. Suspicious about anything that's free.
  • No piracy policy. Tons of Windows computer donated by Microsoft.

For Programmers (or wanna-be)

  • (freeness) Reuse a lot to skip coding. Don't respect licenses. Don't advertise it.
  • No contribution. Feels disconnected. Contribution requires quality.

For deciders (employers, clients, etc)

  • NGOs and Governments (main market) starts to require Open Source.
  • Corruption: developers/providers are not based on quality/skills.

Programmer Profile

  • Learn by copy, just like carpentry or car car electricity.
  • Code monkeys, not hackers.
  • Open Source requires skills to overcome freeness.
  • Shyness ; lack of ambition.
  • Don't believe in open. Knowledge is competing advantage.

Experiments & Findings

  • All domains: Access to content, content creation, contribution, programming.

Moulin: Creation & Deployment of offline Wikipedia distribution in Mali

  • Created in 2006 for offline-yet-connected kiosk and radio stations.
  • Realized it was more useful than expected: radio stations organizing polls, learning sessions.
  • Tons of computers with no content (thus unused) donated by NGO.
  • Distributed hundreds of CDs.
  • Expanded to arabic world.

Wikipedia trainings in Mali

  • Students & teachers. Great interest, especially local topics & Wiktionary.
  • Difficulties with Wiki syntax.
  • Only a couple continued: equipments + edit target + difficulties.

Ubuntu LUG in Mali

  • Promote Ubuntu to build up skills. Share downloads & tips.
  • Few enthusiasts. Lack of leadership.
  • Now a monthly discussion group.

La Source: Creation and animation of a Free Software/Content kiosk

  • More computers (laptops) than Internet connexion (one time vs periodic cost).
  • One in Bamako market, 7 in school labs across Mali, one in France + replicas.
  • Good success.
  • Income generator.
  • Lack of animation.

MVP: Deployment of Ubuntu + Kiwix in hundreds of computers

  • Free allows large scale-up.
  • Wikipedia is not enough.
  • Free games are great.
  • Need for a Free Content package: System + Contents + Games + Teacher's manual.

Wikipedia & Wiktionary contributions: Kunnafoni Center

  • Thousands of words in French/Bamanakan/Soŋay.
  • Script to generate PDF from Wiktionary.
  • Facebook + downloads is great compensation.
  • Difficulties finding what-to-fix.
  • Lack of feedback & encouragement. Need for goals.

Open Street Map contributions

  • Google Map has no street names.
  • Few sessions with Walking papers.
  • 120,000m2 mapped with street names and some point of interest.
  • Motivation is very high to map own neighborhood. Fades outside.
  • Encourages tourists to add details.

Afripedia: Creation & Deployment of a Wikipedia HotSpot in Mali University

  • Free Wikipedia access to anyone with laptop + WiFi.
  • Ability to download Kiwix software + ZIM file.
  • Logs web pages access and search requests for analysis.
  • Deployment in 20 universities this fall.

Contributions to Free software packages

  • Translations on Launchpad.
  • Minor fixes to python softwares + mobile operator.
  • Mali keyboard.
  • Very rewarding. Main motivation is pride.
  • Hard to find bugs that are easy to fix.
  • Ubuntu models makes it difficult to bug fix for non-permanent developers (Versions of software you use are old).

Professional-oriented Approaches

  • No hobby programmers.
  • IT as a mean to make money. LaSource.

FLOSS Development workshop in Senegal

  • 3 days intensive Python/Django training for Programming students.
  • Theory unknown ; tied to language or tools. No general ICT mastering.
  • Need follow-up exercises and documentation.
  • Similar to what Google does.

Year-long FLOSS Development training in Mali

  • Students at end of 2 years C.S/Programming school.
  • English level very poor. Can't understand error message nor documentation.
  • Programing skill = 0. Great opportunity to learn best practice from scratch.
  • Good results. Hard to replicate (costly).

FLOSS Development presentation sessions

  • Spread Open values in universities and school.
  • Shows that school curriculum are outdated, programming not as hard.
  • Creates a community, builds reputation and fight shyness.

Running an all-open-source company in Mali

  • Government & NGOs love it.
  • 100% transparency makes you look good.
  • Proof that open is compatible with money.
  • Clients trust is very high.

Next? What could we do?

  • Dispense a lot of outreach presentations at high schools and universities: Existence of free content, Open values, communities, contribution, programming, free softwares, etc.
  • Jokkolabs.
  • Animate, animate, animate.
  • Need for community leaders. Today, they are mostly foreigners.

Access to Information

  • Education Bundle:
    • System & Software (Linux, Kiwix, Games)
    • Lot of content in multiple languages.
    • Step-by-step lesson manual for teacher (write).

Improve local contributions

  • Organize Trainings days at places with equipments (Wikipedia Campus)
  • Reservoir of inactive educated youth ; Contributor algorithm.
for person in youth_unemployed:
if requirements_satisfied
   and contributor_trained: 
		if contribution_cost <= 0:
   			contribution += 1

Foster Open Source in/& Programming

  • Encourage best practices. Success will be replicated.
  • French StackOverflow with social/community additions.
  • Development Bundle:
    • Development documentation in multiple languages (collect).
    • Exercises & step-by-steps.
    • Resources: references, examples, links.
    • Showcase successes.

Enemy of Open Source in (West) Africa?

  • Google
  • Great products that just works.
  • Lots of tools to help developers.
  • Use crowd-sourcing for free without freeing data.
  • Regular events on Google technologies with Google prices.