A lot is going on in the world of IT about opportunities in Open source Software which Africa is yet to maximize, in creating more awareness on its benefits, we had this online interview with Nnenna Nwakanma, Chair, Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa(FOSSFA)
FOSSFA and its activities in Africa.
The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) is the premier free software and open source foundation in the continent. In its eight year now, FOSSFA:
- Promotes the use of the FOSS model in African development.
- Promotes the integration and adoption of FOSS in national policies
- Coordinates Africa’s Free Software efforts
- Uses FOSSFA expertise to add value to FOSS initiatives in the continent
- Acts as Africa’s FOSS voice
- Plays an interface role between international and continental FOSS efforts
- Contributes FOSS applications towards the achievement of women empowerment, the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development in Africa.
- Promotes African FOSS expertise, creativity and industry
- Partners with development organizations who share same goals with FOSSFA
The foundation is now working on several key points:
1. Advocacy : with its FOSSWAY project, the Foundation is reaching out at all levels of the society to promote open source knowledge, buy in, and benefits. This program covers government policy, schools, professional groups, media; localisation and national events.
2. Community Building: The foundation is growing the open source community in the continent at all levels. Nodes in government, in schools, universities, in the research community, consultancies, developers and business solutions are being grown across the continent.
3. Capacity Building: FOSSFA, in keeping with its raison d’être has kept training and the deployment of applications as a key area. The ict@innovation project has trained over 100 businesses in Africa that are now earning incoming from open source deployment as business solutions. The directory of expertise is increasing daily and extending from the original project region to across the continent. The lists and forums of FOSSFA also offer real time solutions to members who need their ICT problems solved. I have been particularly encouraged to note that every single IT problem that has been raised by a FOSSFA member has found its solution. I can only congratulate the sharing, the exchange and the enrichment of one another on the FOSSFA platform.
4. Knowledge Management: FOSSFA is working on and supporting competence centers, resource centers, directories, and a range of open education resources.
5. Communications: Educating and communicating with the community is critical to the activities of FOSSFA. Across a range of web sites, national, regional, continental and global spheres the foundation is raising the African open source voice and disseminating news on the African FOSS expertise.
6. Organisational Capacity: The foundation is carrying on its membership drive. It now counts over 500 individuals and organisations as members. It is also expanding staff base. The arrival of Joris Komen, Projects Manager is giving a new breath to projects and plans within the foundation.
7. Idlelo – The African conference on FOSS and the Digital Commons is now planning its 5th edition. (Proposed theme for Idelo 5 being OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS FOR ACHIEVING Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). After a serious bidding process, we are happy to report that the consortium led by the Open Source Foundation of Nigeria won the right to host the Idlelo 5 in Nigeria in 2012. So here is to the open source industry and activists in the great country!
8. Regional Leadership: Other than key leadership alliances with Economic Community of West African States – ECOWAS, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa – COMESA, and the State Information Technology Agency of South Africa, the foundation is leading the West Africa Internet Governance Forum Consortium and several other key continental initiatives.
How Africans can benefit from Open Source
Let us start with the government, since it is the biggest IT user/customer in our countries. Open Source software is payback to government. Government can save software license fees.
SMEs in Africa are customizing and deploying needed solutions and making money. Applications that come with their source code is revolutionising IT solutions in Africa. African SMEs have deployed e-gov portals in Cote d’Ivoire, world cup information help desks in South Africa, hospital management applications all over the continent and electoral monitoring systems.
Free Software and Open Source (FOSS) solutions are spurring local creativity and capacity. Across the continent, innovative Africans are proving that the era of reselling products is coming to an end. We have started exporting software. “Ordinary” Africans are doing extraordinary things: with Ushahidi, Chisimba, Mpesa, Yarnable and a thousand other applications.
In the area of education, you remember when our academic destiny was hampered by our ability to purchase books. The Open Education Resources that are available today have opened opportunities to African academia and researchers.
FOSS gives the opportunity to an African child to understand codes, try their hands and learn. As you are aware, once a child overcomes the fear of the unknown, everything is possible! Schools in Ghana have started teaching software to children. Watch the space. In Côte d’Ivoire, teenagers are doing great things. In Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, young people are writing the software needed to solve their problems.
FOSS offers freedom. We are moving from political independence to digital and technology independence. As I said, software that is made in Africa is already exporting. Given equal opportunities the young African will excel more than many global youth. So watch the space in the next few years!
I would like to heartily congratulate the Open Source Foundation of Nigeria on winning the bid to host Africa’s biannual conference on FOSS and the Digital Commons – Idlelo 5. Hosting an even that kicks of at least one year before its last lap is not an easy task. I want to use this opportunity to give my personal support to the people and the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I also want to emphasis my faith in the youth of this continent. From Praia to Djibouti, From Cape to Cairo, Luanda to Limbe, Antananarivo to Aba. I am confident in the ability of our young people to raise the level, face challenges and overcome outcomes. Over the past years, we have started moving forward as a continent in many areas. I am looking forward to more transparent governance, education opportunities, developer communities, web presence, citizen participation in policy, respect for human rights and democracy.
And yes, a hearty welcome to the FOSSFA Projects Chief – Tate Joris Komen!
Nnenna Nwakanma trained across Sociology, Humanities, and History where she holds Bachelor Degrees, and in International Relations and Law, where she holds graduate degrees; across the American, British, French and Spanish academic zones. She is one of the earliest actors of the knowledge society in Africa.
She has gained professional experience from the African Development Bank(AfDB),The Helen Keller Foundation (HKI) The Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF), the Diplomacy Institute and the African Information Society Initiative (AISI).Co-founder of the African Civil Society on the Information Society (ACSIS)and the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), Nnenna has lived in 5 different African countries, speaks 5 different languages, considers herself a global citizen and loves making positive development impact.
Council Chair FOSSFA and Board observer of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), Community Team Lead of Dreamfish, Nnenna has founded and is still the CEO of NNENNA.ORG, the West African Consultants’ Platform for human development experts.
Rather preferring to describe herself as a global citizen based online,
she is lending expertise in global management, organisational dynamics, standards, policy and strategy to businesses, civil society organisations and governments.