Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Idlelo 4: Exploring FOSS options for Africa


Ghana recently played host to a weeklong Free and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and Digital Commons conference tagged Idlelo 4. REMMY NWEKE who was there reports that various FOSS options were put on the table at the event.


The fourth conference of the Free and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and Digital Commons, recently ended at its Idlelo 4, at the Advanced Information Technology Institute (AITI) also known as Kofi Annan Centre for Excellent in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Accra, Ghana, with the theme “Development with ownership.”

The event declared open by the vice president, Republic of Ghana, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, who was represented by the Minister of Communications, Mr. Haruna Idrisu, enjoining participants to come up with how African governments could resolve the challenges between the proprietary and open source software to its own advantage.

“Find out how we can use open source to drive electronic learning (e-learning),” he said, urging African states to increase investment in ICT and mostly in development of Open Source (OS) application in fighting cybercrime.

Also, Mr. Idrisu said that the government’s plan is to leapfrog by using ICT advantage, asserting, “… We want to own our application. We cherish the passion of young people to take their place to position Africa to assume its rightful place in the world.” Pointing out that nowadays, Open Source has grown to become a key in mission critical applications, hence, Africa must recognise FOSS as a veritable option for accelerated development and maintenance in addition to advancing capacity.

In his address, the chairman of the occasion and Director, ICT at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Dr. Sola Afolabi, who stood in for the President, ECOWAS Commission, Amb. James Victor Gbeho, said, they were excited that Ghana, a member state is hosting the Idlelo 4 meeting, this year.

“Ghana is proud member of ECOWAS and ECOWAS is proud to be here,” he said, noting that ECOWAS is implementing some regional projects to transform the community from community of things to Ghanaian government has advanced plans to leapfrog its ICT industry with FOSS.

Therefore, Afolabi said that ECOWAS is interested in partnering with FOSSFA in implementing the outcome of the conference.

According to the chairperson, FOSSFA, Ms Nnenna Nwakanma, prior to the conference, her organisation put together pre-conference workshops for some selected media practitioners and stakeholders on the continent on Campware, FOSS business model and Internet Governance policy framework, which was in partnership with Diplo Foundation based in Malta.

With the theme ‘Development with ownership,’ Nwakanma said Idlelo 4, explored the use of open source technologies in all domains of African economy, and provided an in-depth assessment of FOSS investments and use in the education sector on the continent.

As said by her, specialized tracks discussed included, but not limited to FOSS in governance, business, health, media innovation, civil society, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and open education resources to name a few. Recalling that the knowledge creation and sharing event leveraged on the outcome of the 14th African Summit of Heads of State on ICT for Development of January 2010, to provide a forum for a ministerial roundtable on e-government practices, policies and trends.

The conference, she said, was planned for a community summit of users, especially women and the youth, and the software developer community, stressing this community forum will allow for an open consultation of global open source engineers, coders, geeks, and community managers with the end users of technology, while integrating user concerns and issues to the broader technological innovations, plans, strategies and trends.

Idlelo, she explained, is a Southern Africa word that means ‘a common grazing ground’ with technical hands-on trainings, a community summit, plenaries, panels, workshops, professional examinations, awards and high level roundtables.

The first edition (2004) of Idlelo held at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, the second (2006) at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya and the third (2008) at the Universite Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar Senegal.

She said that the first-ever African FOSS Reporter Award Competition 2010, introduced a few months ago was unveiled to recognizing outstanding reporting for a general audience and honours individuals for their coverage of FOSS, of which Remmy Nweke of Champion Newspapers emerged top in the prize. While Mr. George Yao of AI3L, won the Guido Sohne Fellowship and Mr. Modeste Messou, became the winner in logo design category.

The competition, she added is run in partnership with Deutsche Welle and supported by Open Source Institute for West Africa (OSIWA) as part of an initiative to raise public awareness on FOSS. The vice president through Minister Idrisu later unveiled the new FOSSFA logo.

Enlightening further, she said, Diplo Foundation’s capacity building programme for over 20 Africans under its ICT Policy and Internet Governance for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) initiative, underscored the plans to train over 300 ACP officials and other specialists of various professional backgrounds including engineering, economy, law, social sciences, languages and culture and media under the project.

The ACP-ICT programme is financed by the European Development Fund (EDF) with the aim of assisting ACP governments and institutions to design, implement and evaluate their national and regional ICT cum internet policies in addition to addressing intra-ACP needs in developing good practices in ICT policies as well as promoting greater stakeholder awareness.

During the weeklong Idlelo 4 in Accra, FOSSFA members seized the opportunity to visit Omatek factory in the city and to seek where they could plug-in to boost this African computer brand.

FOSSFA commended the management of Omatek Computer Plc during the visit for its effort in building capacity for the citizens of the continent, expressing delight on what they saw at Omatek and enlightenment gained thereof.

Nwakanma who led participants to the factory, appealed to Africans, mostly the government to look inward by patronize the likes of Omatek who provide employment for the citizens of Africa and help the continent to grow, economically. She advised Africans to forego the mentality of thinking that Africa and Africans because the only nation that can strive in this century are those who have something upstairs, that is intelligence.

Nwakanma further appealed to African women and youths to explore the advantages offered by open source and get exposed in Information Technology (IT), because according to her, it is only those who have knowledge that would survive in the coming centuries.

Welcoming FOSSFA members to the Accra Omatek factory, the General Manager, Mr. Nana Benneh, expressed delight for the opportunity by them to know what the company is doing and where the two could partner in advancing the African course in ICT.

Taking the group round the factory, the Production Manager, Omatek Ghana, Mr. Saied Onifade, revealed that they currently assemble about 200 Personal Computers (PCs) per day and has plans to delve into solar inverter in Accra, even as they do commercial assembling for people or companies who wish to have branded that are different from Omatek.

He explained that Omatek computers are tropically made to comply with the weather situation in this part of the world, thus, stands Omatek out among the foreign brands which do not conform to these additional features. He maintained that every PC after being assembled is sent into the burning room for several hours followed by a system report that would show the composition so as to ensure that every system complies with the Omatek standards.

He revealed that Omatek originated from Nigeria and has been in the market for over 20 years, although it has just been in Accra for about three years, noting that the Accra factory was set up to serve the Ghana market and other West Africa states.

Onifade further said that Omatek usually load both Microsoft and Open Source (OS) operating systems in every PC so as to give customers the choice, disclosing that Omatek has partnership with Madriva, an Open Source distributor to load its elearning package in some of the PCs meant for educational institutions in the bid to bridge the gap between the cities and rural communities in Africa.

Equally speaking, a member of FOSSFA council and director-general, Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT, Mrs. Dorothy Gordon, applauded participants for creating the time to visit Omatek. She called for the evaluation of FOSSFA members on the continent and to encourage new membership and grow awareness, saying “We need to find out where the user groups are in Africa and who are their contact points and keep in touch with them to drive the open source home,” she asserted.

Uniquely, part of Idlelo 4 was the election of new executive board for FOSSFA which preceded its Annual General Meeting (AGM) with the Nigerian-born Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) consultant based in Cote D’Ivoire, Ms Nnenna Nwakanma, retaining her position as the chairperson for the next two years.

Her election came unopposed followed the nomination of 21 council members from all regions in Africa, who constituted the electoral-college for the Executive Committee to emerge in line with the FOSSFA constitution.

These include Gambian Katim Touray as vice chairman, while Egyptian Samer Azmy of Geek2Live was elected secretary general, and Ugandan Milton Aineruhanga, Treasurer.
Nwakanma nomination came from a council member, Mr. Fred and seconded by Mrs. Dorothy Gordon for her to lead FOSSFA till Idlelo 5 in 2012, which Nigeria just won the hosting right.

The council also agreed to amend its constitution, especially in increasing the number of the exco members to accommodate the post of assistant secretary general and publicity secretary in the next election.

FOSSFA has its origin in the ICT Policy and Civil Society workshop held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in November 2002, convened by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, on the mandate of the Bamako Bureau established by the African Council of ICT ministers in the continent’s preparation towards the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), where it was unanimously resolved to create an interim civil society task force on open source tagged “Open Source Task Force for Africa (OSTA).”

The task force has since transformed into FOSSFA with the consent of its members to advocate for the use and implementation of open source solutions at the regional, national and local levels; urge donor governments that have already embraced open source at national levels such as Germany, Sweden, Norway and France to support Africa in this regard.

In addition, FOSSFA has the mandate to create a clearinghouse or knowledge factory - resources, database of local expertise on ‘Who is doing What’, website, CD-ROM, brochures among others and then define minimum standards, guidelines and advisory parameters for the foundation; building localized cum African capacity to work on software development; ensuring a discourse on open source during the National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) policy processes and addendum for the NICI processes that have already been completed.

The bottom line of Idlelo 4 was that it provided opportunity for communities and rural people required for Africa to grow.


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