Insight into the African Open Source movement

By   |  May 10, 2004

African software developers face many obstacles as they struggle to grow professionally in their chosen field. But these \”coders\”, as a group, form a community marked less by their frustration and isolation than by their perseverance and resolve. This theme dominated AfricaSource, a workshop held in Namibia in March, 2004. The meeting of 40 developers from 25 countries in the small town of Okahandja was the first chance many of the coders have had to collaborate and compare notes.

Bridges.org, in cooperation with Tactical Technologies, has written an article airing the views shared by the workshop participants and looking at ways in which the field of software development could grow in Africa. The article is based on

interviews and contains quotes from many of the delegates.

Governments, often the biggest employer and spender in the economy, systematically shut locals out because they typically are not aware that a local talent pool exists. says Ugandan Wire Lunghabo James. Similarly, he says, corporations fail to look for locally produced solutions because they lack knowledge or even interest in domestically-produced solutions.

The article focuses on a number of key issues inclufing:

· The lack of access to the means and tools of production is the issue African programmers most commonly identify as the greatest barrier to success in their work.

· The prohibitive cost of bandwidth and hardware is an obstacle most programmers face, but it has the greatest effect as they are preparing to enter the job market. Without the opportunity to earn salaries so they can afford equipment of their own, market entrants eager for work face the prospect of successive unpaid internships – and must accept all the

unwelcome conditions that come with this kind of \”student work\”.

· Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) typically lack the kind of expertise in technology that might help them increase their impact in their chosen sector, and need help from outside the organisation. Many hope that software developers, especially those who work with free and open source software (FOSS), will be the ones to produce the applications and localise the solutions appropriate to NGOs.

To read a summary of the report or download the PDF version of the full report visit www.bridges.org/africasource/

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