Africa prepares for open source launch in Geneva

By   |  February 21, 2003

Africa will today take centre stage in Geneva with the planned launch of an organisation aimed at promoting the use of open source software throughout the continent. The launch, as part of the World Summit on the Information Society’s Prepcom 2 meeting in Geneva is expected to take place late this afternoon.

Preparations for the launch of an open source foundation for Africa started many months ago at the ICT policy and civil society workshop in Addis Ababa. At that meeting a task force was established to drive the initiative forward. The task force includes representatives from across the continent including Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda.

In a recent Tectonic interview with members of the task team, Bill Kagai of Kenya said: “It all started during the ICT policy and civil society workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when 82 participants from 25 different countries invited by the Association for Progressive Communications(APC), Article 19 and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) assembled to discuss ICTs in Africa. The workshop participants agreed that open source software is paramount to Africa’s progress in the ICT arena, and began work on a coordinated approach to support open source development, distribution and integration.

“In Africa, we see the value of open source in broad terms. Open source guarantees us opportunities to develop local programs built by Africans for use in Africa. We are working with educators to introduce open source into schools, where young people can learn to use, maintain, modify and improve computer software. We envision a future in which governments and the private sector embrace open source software and enlist local experts in adapting and developing appropriate tools, applications and infrastructures for an African technology renaissance.”

The foundation was originally planned to be called the Open Source Foundation for Africa (OSFA). However, recent debates within the task force and other public arenas may see the organisation being called the Free and Open Source Foundation for Africa, in part because of arguments put forward by advocates of the Free Software movement.

Initial indications are that the foundation, whatever its name, will work on lobbying major stakeholders, governments as well as multi-lateral bodies such as the AU and the UN to promote open source software though its actions. The foundation also aims to build and maintain lists of free and open source expertise on the continent.

The structure and office bearers of the foundation are not yet known.

Related links:

Open source key to Africa’s development – an interview with Bill Kagai of the Open Source Task Force.

OSFA website – with background to the formation of the foundation.

World Summit on the Information Society website.

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