Fossfa calls on African leaders to adopt FOSS

By   |  September 19, 2006

In a statement released on Software Freedom Day (September 16) the Free Software and Open Source Foundation (FOSSFA) called on heads of state, policy makers and all Africans to support free and open source software (FOSS).

“On the occasion of Software Freedom Day 2006, [Fossfa] wishes to reiterate that African development is first the duty of Africans and African governments,” the organisation said in a statement.

“The goal of every African country should be to find a way to engage in high-speed yet sustainable development from a base rich in culture and natural resources but lacking in skills and technology resources to a situation that retains the culture and meets the needs of the country in terms of a growing and evolving skills and resources infrastructure.

“FOSS (Free /Open Source Software) represents certain values – sharing, collaborating, community and social development. These values have deep roots in human nature and can be found in all societies at all times.

“We believe this model – developing software by a community of peer reviewed activists, participants and employees and gifting the results back into the community to be further developed by others thus extending the cycle – can be extended to economic and social development in Africa. It is in this context that the FOSS model emerges as a powerful model for African development.

In contemporary Africa where knowledge and skills are scarce a simple free market model would require extensive duplication of activity that would simply prevent development. Why should forty countries repeat the effort of developing or buying a particular portal,software or textbook? In principle ideas and knowledge are free but it is only the form that can be restricted by law.

“However the form in which ideas and knowledge come to Africa are often controlled by foreign enterprises causing unnecessary high prices. A FOSS model incorporating open content would allow the creation of knowledge and ideas in forms that allow instant and free distribution and adaptation.

“Knowledge and information embedded into proprietary formats is an outrage to the rights of citizens. Information that is fundamentally free is encapsulated into formats that require access to proprietary software. Government information which is a public asset and should never be encapsulated into proprietary formats.

Fossfa said that African ICT and governments would benefit in many ways by using FOSS. These would include:
– Security – The peer review process leads to greater security in products and in terms of national security avoids the risk that secret back-doors could compromise important national interest.
– Local support – because the software is free and open it is easy to create a local support capacity
– Capacity – local ICT capacity is encouraged because local developers can access the source code and access other experts in the international community. Proprietary software by restricting the ability to adapt, innovate or share, radically de-skills the African ICT environment.
– Radical reductions in costs.
– Innovation and creativity – Open standards and open formats give rise to more creativity and innovation and less vendor lock in. Open formats are absolutely required as there can be no justification for a government to privilege a private company’s products. .
– Economic Independence – FOSS avoids dependence on foreign suppliers and situations where foreign governments may impose official or unofficial sanctions and restrictions.
– Sovereignty – FOSS allows a national government sovereignty over its ICT infrastructure in terms of security, support, development and costs.

Free access to public information and the ability to interact with government as citizens, businesses, or other organisations without impediment – whether in terms of cost or in terms of freedom – should be an essential value. It is clear that the use of open standards, open formats, and FOSS best supports that endeavour. Governments should avoid proprietary standards, formats, and software in order to avoid restricting this free access.

Any attempt to get Africa onto a sustainable high speed development path would require continent wide co-operation. African countries are not competing against each other to develop – therefore there is a high premium for collaboration and co-operation. FOSS provides a model for such collaboration and co-operation and also allows for co-operating with people outside Africa, say in US, Asia and Europe etc. Open standards and open formats are absolutely essential.

FOSSFA believes that every African government should adopt open standards and open formats. We call on all to seriously consider adopting FOSS and the FOSS model to promote the ICT infrastructure of our countries and to promote open content to increase general access to information and knowledge. We believe that a viable collaboration between Africans, African governments, and FOSSFA will make this a reality.

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