Thursday, July 12, 2007

Consolidating on FOSSFA, media relationship

Features of the week:

Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) recently, held a weeklong workshop for African media practitioners in Accra, Remmy Nweke, writes that this effort could be consolidated.

Societies and organisations all over the world identify their own strategies to the media and so was FOSSFA at its recent meeting in the city of Accra-Ghana.

This culminated in a weeklong meeting at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) (AITI-KACE), for the African media with the theme: “Free Software for African Media, Free Software by African Media.”

Welcoming participants to the occasion, FOSSFA council chairperson, Ms Nnenna Nwakanma, commended all for the supporting FOSSFA over the years and particularly for the collaborative workshop with the media.

Giving an overview of FOSSFA, she said, that it originated in pursuance of ICT policy and civil society workshop that was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between November 6 and 8, 2002.She pointed out that FOSSFA is a group that is determined to aid every aspect of the economy to grow through offering free and open source software for the upliftment of the continent, at little or no cost.

She did not forget the management of KACE for accepting to host the event and singled out the Highway Africa News Agency (HANA) for praise for bringing seven members of its editorial team to the event, saying it is the greatest number from a particular group for this event.

Just as she did not left out the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), L’Association de Presse Panafricaine (APPA), the Meraka Institute, University of the Western Cape (UWD), IDC, Swiss Development Corporation (SDC) and PANOS London.

The meeting centred its discussion in relation to FOSS in the context of developing countries and the role of African journalists.

She described the workshop as a FOSSFA model for empowering African media practitioners and strengthening good governance.

As said by her, FOSS solution enthrones accountability, transparency and encourages growth, which are currently needed in the continent to develop in bridging digital divide.

“We also encourage good governance and support and coordinate FOSS activities in Africa by bringing in experts and facilitators to share and train our people,” she said.

Reiterating that the workshop focused on hands-on training during its five-day exercise and called for open model in every aspect of societal engagement to foster the creation of level playing field for every interested participant.

“There should be an open model in everything we do, in our individual lives and government,” she urged.

What is FOSS?:
FOSS, which stands for ‘Free and Open Source Software’ and is a movement that began globally in 1983 and led by Richard Stallman as well as the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

‘Free’ here is in the context of freedom and precisely the free speech and not price although FOSS tends to be. FOSS also stressed the fact that “Free software is a matter of liberty not price.”

Open Source is alive in Ghana
However, giving his address at the occasion, the Ghanaian Minister for Communications, Prof. Mike Oquaye, said that his country is committed to the penetration of FOSS on the continent.

Declaring open the first-ever FOSS-Media workshop on Tuesday, April 24, this year, Prof. Oquaye also said that this commitment is evident in the deployment of FOSS in most of the Ghanaian universities.

“Our educational institutions are also moving forward on the Open Source front,” he said, stressing that the active Linux user groups exist in a number of key institutions, consisting of the University of Ghana, Legon, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), University of Education at Winneba and University of Cape Coast.

He also asserted that Open Source (OS) is alive in Ghana, hence the government of President John Kufour, has shown some seriousness on its usage including having an OS group at the University of Development Studies, Navrongo Campus.

Prof. Oquaye noted that more and more institutions in Ghana are exploring the use of OS solutions, even as the banking sector has indicated interest as well.

“I am very pleased to note that the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT has migrated its entire server services to Open Source,” he declared.

I too can programme
The minister further pointed out that this migration has saved some fund for the centre, the country and all its partners at large, thereby reducing costs and improving security.

According to him, Ghanaian youths are embracing FOSS and its activities through the campaign of AITI-KACE known as “I too can programme (i2CAP)” competition with focus on Senior Secondary Schools throughout Ghana.

“Our young people are being given the opportunity to learn Ruby and Open Source programming languages and to develop software while they are still in school,” he said, emphasising that Personal Computers (PCs) given out to winners’ as prizes under the i2CAP are all loaded with Debian, the FOSS Foundation Linux release.

He further said that Ghana sees FOSS solutions, as having African content and it’s good as the media is being brought to the centre stage, explaining that any revolution without media is bound to fail.

Therefore, he lauded the organisers for recognising the media and the need to carry the fourth estate of the realm along in this project, pointing out that ICT as a tool for development should be sustained, even as he hopes that this workshop would continue to be extended to other parts of the continent in other to attract the relevant success story expected.

Increasing FOSS usage
In her remark to the occasion, the Director-General of AITI-KACE, Mrs Dorothy Gordon, said that the continent awaits eagerly the outcome of the training session, especially since it affects the media empowerment.

She also expressed confidence that journalists on the continent would continue to support the crusade for an increased use of FOSS.

Equally speaking at the occasion, the ICT Programme Officer at the Open Source Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Mr. Ben Akoh, tasked African media practitioners to be committed to evolution of FOSS modules on the continent.

He also said that as far as he knows, OSIWA is 100 per cent in support of FOSS and that has been the driving energy behind support in the recent past and promised to sustain the tempo as FOSS and FOSSFA continue to evolve.

Speaking on how FOSS should be deployed in African educational institutions, Information Technology Specialist at KACE, Mr. Kwasi Kwakwa, said it has an advantage financially, openness and breadth of available tools.

He stressed that those who deploy FOSS would save money with open architecture to structure it the way they want it thus availing a long breadth for users development.

FOSSFA, HA partnership on new media award

At the workshop, it was gathered that FOSSFA and Highway Africa (HA) have advanced plans to partner in the introduction of a new continental award to be announced at this year’s edition of the African media practitioners assembly billed to hold in September, at the Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

Affirming this development, Director, Highway Africa, Mr. Chris Kabwato, said that his office would go the extra miles to ensure that FOSS is entrenched on the continent through media contributions, even as Highway Africa is interested in expanding its scope using FOSS platform.

According to him, media stands out as a veritable instrument to ensure this desire is carried out to the letter.

To this end, he disclosed that HA plans to collaborate with FOSS to set up a “FOSS newsroom” with all the Personal Computers (PCs) in that room to be driven by FOSS applications.

Corroborating this fact, chairperson, FOSSFA council, Ms Nwakanma, said that on her part, FOSSFA would do everything possible to ensure that this opportunity did not slip.

She noted that already, a top notcher of the FOSSFA council, Mr. Dapo Ladimeji, has been mandated to handle that plans by cooperating with HA management among stakeholders to ensure the success of the new award.

Also speaking, Mr. Ladimeji said the award would facilitate enrichment of the information on FOSS on the continent and from the media particularly, adding that details of the continental media award will be made open at the 11th session of HA conference.

Equally gathered was that the association sees the planned award as a means of engaging African media professionals on cogent FOSS issues.

The workshop leveraged on Desk Top Publishing (DTP) applications that are FOSS-based, including Scribus,, Inkscape and Mozila Firefox, among others, even as participants were drawn from across the continent with focus on hands-on training.

Challenges of FOSS in media:
Some challenges, however, were identified as militating against the growth of ICT generally and FOSS in the media.

For the council member, FOSSFA, Nhlanhla Mabaso, not many journalists are seen reporting ICT and for the few, they would be there for a little while and then got moved to another unit to cover.

HANA editor, Mr. Mongameli Jabavu, pointed out that the key issue in developing specialised journalism in Africa is poor remuneration and pouching by corporate entities with lucrative incentives.

“Having ICT journalists, for instance in South Africa is a challenge and some would prefer to be part of those attractive areas of coverage,” he lamented.

As for HA director, Mr. Kabwato, the pouching of trained ICT journalists by corporate organisations with a better pay, is disheartening, even as Ms Nwakanma noted that most ICT decisions are not made by journalists themselves, while suggesting that the usage of freelancers is another way of encouraging the media and insisted that ICT is the future and future is ICT.

“We must develop ICT journalism in Africa because one of the reasons behind this meeting is to help build this kind of society. Whatever we missed in Accra, would be getting right in September,” she declared.

Media can leverage on FOSS:
In his paper, “Media, Leveraging on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS): The Nigerian Perspective,” the Chairman, International Relations, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) and Secretary, International Relations, Joint Action Committee on ICT Awareness and Development (JACITAD), Mr. R.C. Nweke, described the formation of FOSSFA as historical.

He added that with FOSS, users if at all they have to pay, pay less than in the proprietary software of this world, like the Microsoft and Adobe packages such as Windows and Acrobat Reader, respectively.

He also said that the need for African media to leverage on FOSS has become imperative at this era of gathering efforts to downsize the ever-growing digital divide that exists between various sections of the society, which has actually given birth to the polarization of FOSS.

He pointed out that most media organisations especially on the continent are bereft of the economic wherewithal, and with the resolve to stand out in the society without basic political linen, thus essential for media to embrace Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

“So, developing economies as visible in Africa today stand the chance of benefiting immensely by embracing FOSS; because it will take away the worry of how much to be paid for licensing or authorisation and invariably vote such monies towards eradicating poverty and digital divide among other hindrances to development,” he asserted.

Hence, Mr. Nweke, who also is the ICT Editor, Champion Newspapers Limited, said, there is need for media practitioners to accept FOSS, get trained on its evolution, skills and acquaint themselves adequately with the believe they will make the difference both at work and society at large.

Essentials of leveraging on FOSS:
According to him, media entities could leverage on FOSS packages by way of deploying the Operating System (OS), databases, desktop, websites and collaborative applications, as well as development tools and personal productivity.

To achieve the aforementioned, he said, “It is essential that media practitioners endeavour to own some of this technology hardware to enable them maximise FOSS at various levels, lives and eventually impact positively on the society.”

He recalled that in Nigeria today, several media houses have embraced ICT, especially since the coming of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) following the liberalisation of the telecommunications market in year 2000 by the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

“Presently, it is rare to see any media practitioner no matter the level that does not have a mobile phone, be it GSM or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and given the continuous liberalisation of the industry, most telecom operators are now seeing data and content generally as the next level of competition,” he asserted.

Based on this, he said, most media organisations face some challenges, thus “every media organisation in Nigeria have gone computerised and therefore a challenge for individual computer users to also extend this skill to their personal lives and homes.”

The good news …
In addition, Nigerian media houses, he said, have embraced the Computer for All Nigerian Initiative (CANi) established in mid-2006 by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, as a Government Assisted PC Purchase programme (GAPP) designed to expand the usage of computers and information technology in the country.

“The good news is that most media houses are taking up this medium to empower their employees including journalists,” he said.

Additionally, in order to ensure that this dream is sustained, there exist a group; Joint Action Committee on ICT Awareness and Development (JACITAD) since 2003, stressing that a practical experience with FOSS once earned him a media prize in Nigeria, despite its merits and demerits.

Wrap up!
The truth is that African media can actually take advantage of FOSS applications to save money, but like the decision taken by HA and FOSSFA already to introduce media awards at the continental level, this initiative needs to be replicated at the country or regional levels.

Although it should have been right to keep up the momentum of the Accra meet by announcing soon after the continental prize and then award it at HA-07 as argued by some stakeholders, it is relevant to keep all hands on the deck to ensure that even its take off come September is on smooth footing alongside making funds available by the supporting international organisations.

This way, it would mean consolidating on the FOSSFA, media relationship developed from the Accra meet.

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