I spent a little time over the weekend gathering information about free and open source software in Africa, and found at least one active pan-African FOSS organization (FOSSFA), and several interesting articles about governments in Africa using FOSS to open data, and make government more accountable. It seems that the Shuttleworth Foundation sponsors projects, although it wasn’t clear to me whether that sponsorship was primarily for South African projects.
If you know of user groups, other active FOSS organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, or want to suggest interesting research or articles – please leave a comment!
I’ve collected everything as PDFs and uploaded it to drop.io/fossinafrica. I’m also going to link the original sources below.
- Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, organization that has been very active the last few months (2009).
- Free/open source software (FOSS) policy in Africa: A toolkit for policy-makers and practitioners, PDFs of a report and resources at bottom of the page
- South Africa’s freedom includes its data, article on South Africa releasing GIS data
- Chief Directorate Surveys and Mapping, Mapping resource for South Africa with some map data freely available
- African Tech Events, list of tech events including an upcoming Maker Faire in Accra, Ghana
- Presentation on FOSS in Africa, from LinuxTag 2009 (June 22-26, 2009) presented by FOSSFA
- FOSS in Africa, academic paper on state of FOSS in Africa around 2003
Here are some articles about Microsoft Windows and Linux competition in Africa:
- Microsoft vs the Open Source Community in Africa, commentary on Microsoft’s involvement in Africa
- Microsoft Battles Low-Cost Rival for Africa, Tip: search directly for this URL in Google and view the cached version to get the full text.
- Hi Tech Battle for Africa, from the BBC. Talks about a disaster response initiative from Microsoft that sidestepped Ushahidi.com, an established and African-developed disaster response network.
The most disturbing thing I found was a Wall Street Journal article from October 2008. The WSJ investigated reports that Microsoft had used relatives of government officials to try to get Windows onto government purchased laptops, and also chronicled the failure of a windows-based lab made of refurbished machines that was essentially abandoned, with only 1/3 of the promised computers installed and little or no training for the local staff to maintain the machines and software. Sad and frustrating story.
There’s also a recent blog post about Brazil and open source from the OSI. That report is anecdotal, so I’m taking it with a grain of salt. Still, it is disappointing.
If you are interested in sponsoring travel for an African government official to Open Source Bridge next year, please get in touch. I have met several technologists here in Nigeria who are interested in sharing their experiences implementing free and open source software in Africa. I am encouraging them to also attend open source events in West Africa, but as it turns out, travel inside of Africa is still quite difficult.