Empowering African youth by leveraging Opensource community power


I did just discover your organization on eventbright looking for an inspiring event on eventbright. So I applied and now I’ll introduce myself :slight_smile:

Here I am. I am a French-Tunisian, living now in Tunisia, but always thinking about my peers (migrants and son of migrants in Europe). As such I’m very interested in empowering local communities from Africa.

I’m also Consultant in Digital Project Management. I’m currently working as independant consultant for the Tunisian government. I’m trying to make the difference in my day-to-day tasks. Some of my projects may involve healthcare but I can’t be too talkative about it… I like my job and being able to contribute for a better Tunisia using IT/Digital technologies. Yet, I feel too narrowed and some initiatives of mine are simply out of scope…

So let me tell you a story that make me start a new project on my spare time. There is digital divide between the North and Africa. In a few words, we’re still too passive consumers of goods even digital goods from the North. Everybody know about it but it’s blatant when you look on the statistics.

When some googler do some stats on opensource developers and contributors all around the world he doesn’t even dare talking about Africa. It’s only after some african guy ask him politely why Africa is absent from his work that he did publish a complementary article to adress this issue. Yet, Africa is on the margin of the global IT community.

Yet, poverty or lack of equipment doesn’t explain alone this divide. Digital goods are the easiest one we can produce from the South and the marginalized communities in the North. After all computers laptops are more cheaper than factories. And opensource softwares are free as in speech and most in the time as in lemonade (no beer thanks :wink: for God sake.

When I met some local opensource contributors I understood that our IT industry and education is either old-fashioned or focusing on subcontracting low-value jobs European don’t want to do. Worst, our youth seems to not be aware of their own skills and abilities and accept their fate. Their self-esteem is at a low level and most of them are dreaming about migration to the North. The more brilliant ones are connected to global communities (from the North) chatting with Eric and Irene (sorry guys). Yet, they don’t even know each other. They’ve barely heard about Muhammad or Aissatou who are doing the same exciting kind of stuff. The ironic part is that when they’ll get into the first world, they’ll still be subcontractor paid in Euros but still subcontractors from the South. I know it since I come from this context.

So my project is about empowering this untaped highly skilled bunch of women and men to become more connected to this global opensource community. First step, I’m creating an online tool that will gamify opensource contributions and create a sense of community. Second, still thinking about it needs more people input from the ground.



Hello there @baderdean. I am no IT expert, but I was trained as an economist. I am from Italy, and Italian economists tend to pay a lot of attention to development issues, because we have a large area in the south of the country that has been lagging behind the north since the early 19th century. As a result, Italy spends a lot of money trying to develop that area.

I am convinced that open source models are a very good fit for less developed areas. A great open source project is made of time. When time is expensive, it gets more difficult to develop it. For southern Italy, I imagined targeted investments, aimed at brewing a local community with very strong expertise in one or more of the staple projects: things like Drupal or Wordpress are more conducive to making simple websites for the local companies; things like MySQL or Apache, more to IT services for corporations. With open source, local companies do not need to bootstrap expertise all along the value chain: they can focus on getting very good at solving one or a few problems, and then deploy their solutions on top of off-the-shelf open source stacks.

If I were the government of a less developed country, I would totally do it. :slight_smile:

@alberto, you said something very important: “brewing a local community with very strong in one or more of the staple projects”

It’s actually the most difficult part. The governement is indeed trying to do it but is more focused on companies rather than local communities and on big business entreprise software rather than opensource ones. The reason of these choices are quite obvious. But as edgeryders, I think that another way more decentralized and more grassroots based is possible and complementary.

Anyway, this strategy difficult mainly for these 3 reasons:

  1. top-to-bottom strategy with opensource community members tends to fail because of resistance, misunderstanding and lack of enthusiasm. Local opensource developers tends to be like Western ones, they want to reinvent the wheel, learn an heterodox programming language, code an OS and other not very productive projects…
  2. if the chosen technology failed, you’ve put a lot of money in one basket… this seems to be the case in the past (OLPC, Firefox OS and some other projects). This leads to discouragement :sweat:
  3. it requires a lot of time and trust-building to funnel people to the same goal

That’s why I’m trying to build something step-by-step. The goal of the first one is to build a sense of community and funnel scattered people.

I was missing a word: I wanted to say [quote=“alberto, post:2, topic:6786”]
targeted investments, aimed at brewing a local community with very strong EXPERTISE in one or more of the staple projects

By “targeted investments” I mean stuff like: make a deal with (say) the Apache Foundation, get one or two of their top coders to (say) Tunisia to start (for example) a “school for making web servers and the ecosystem around them”. Then, make scholarships, fellowships etc. available. This means there is no top down at the individual level: people who want to do it can apply, but nobody has to. The whole system, however, is moving in the direction desired.

But above all: governments are major buyers of IT services. They can create a market simply by declaring that, from now on, every single computer in every public administration in the county is going to run FLOSS. So, they can power up local supply of IT services with one hand, and create a market by wielding their own demand for those services with the other hand. This is going to cost peanuts, because they would save money on Microsoft licenses (Australia’s govt spent over 350 million on Windows and Office licenses in 3 years).

So yes, some developers might make a bad call and invest time on an obsolete tech. And some might want to reinvent the wheel (which, never forget, can be fun). But in general, you would be moving money and power from buying licenses in Redmond to buying manpower locally.

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Actually I’m into something not far from what you proposed… It’s not the Apache Foundation but another opensource company. I won’t say more because the deal is far from closed…

I’m working for the governement so in one side I understand well its power as a buyer but in the meantime I can’t participate in any tender for obvious ethical reasons. Yet, I was thinking about how providing dedicated SaaS to city council could be the underlooked opportunity.

Fun is very important to build trust and team spirit, and happiness anyway :slight_smile:

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hey @baderdean ahlan beek :smiley:

I am follwing the discussion with interest, I am not also an IT expert, I am no opensource programmer ( but I respect them :slight_smile: - not sure if you got the joke, it’s a bit too Egyptian ) But I am more interested in the opensource community and community development in general.
as in many cases such communities where a lot of beneficial development is being made fail to connect with the “outer world” and having mediators or open source enthusiast is kinda helpful in getting the ideas used out there.

I agree with you in general, I come from Egypt, and for the past almost 4 years a I am in between Germany and Egypt and I meet a lot of IT people migrating to work in start ups in Berlin. that’s due to several reasons mainly economic or in search for a better life quality in general.
@alberto mentioned that [quote=“alberto, post:2, topic:6786”]
A great open source project is made of time. When time is expensive, it gets more difficult to develop it.
that’s true, may be one of the reasons that the open source community in Africa ( or the northern African region) is that people are busy with making a living, so as long as they don’t develop FLOSS at work, there is a limited time after ( very limited more than in Europe and there are not much options or alternatives as in Europe ) . so at this point communities take more time to grow.

I am interested to have a deeper look at the opensource communities in the Region, for example analyzing the African network on github ( check the whole analysis done by baak on civic hacking here ) the communities in Africa are divided some are close to the European groups and Ushahidi is not that connected to my surprise.
but it would be interesting to see the African- African communication and how is it done ? who is doing it ? how can we use this to get more into qualitative analysis and see what is needed to connect them together ?

I might be interested in the boring analysis part ! but I can see the need for the communities ( in general ) to look upon themselves and check their development through the data of their interactions lenses ( I believe edgeryders is a good example in looking upon oneself with different tools like open ethnography - check the documentation of the community call about the graphryder )

so what are you planing exactly, what is your strategy to connect and create a sense of community ? I didn’t follow this

and btw [quote=“baderdean, post:1, topic:6786”]
And opensource softwares are free as in speech and most in the time as in lemonade (no beer thanks :wink: for God sake.

:clap: nice one ( I should have used this joke in my thesis :smiley: )

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It seems that I’m not alone who’s interested in having a deeper look at the opensource communities in Africa.

I think that regarding IT, the best way to connect Africa to Africa, is to connect Africa to the global world first of all, and secondly to design and build products in Africa that suits more African context. This is a work in progress…

Anyway, thanks for the link and egyptian humour (bit tough for me to understand ;)). It’s a very interesting piece of work.

If you’re interested in the boring analysis part, you may be interested in the tool I’m building. For
the moment I didn’t dislose fully what is my strategy. Let’s say that the first step will to gamify opensource contributions and make local hackers more visible to their community.

As you point out, one of the main difficulty is that outside work, it’s pretty tough to code. I don’t think it’s only about time. I think this is also about social recognition and peer recognition. Without physical spaces and events to meet and no understanding by the local community or even by your family it could be somehow difficult to continue. Our society are way more driven by the collective than First-World ones. Hence, we need to make this activity valuable for them…

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@baderdean keep me updated :smiley: we can talk more also during a community call then.

@baderdean, but this should mean you guys would find it more natural to be open source contributors, not less? What am I missing?

You’re missing the fact that opensource communities are online communities… Most of the community we’re involved in are your classmate, familiy, neighborhood, coworkers, friends, sport clubs, church/mosquee, café and so on. In our societies, we’re so deeply involved in “traditional” “offline” communities that it’s sometime hard to save time to “virtual” “cyber” “online” communities. When you’re doing so, you’re kind of an outcastt.

People don’t understand the interest of chatting hours with some hacker in Estonia and contributing for free for a software that’s used by rich kids of California while your old oncle needs your help to help him in the olive field that funded the scholarship of your young sister. (almost no exageration in this example…)

Am I clearer ?


Understood and very interesting (“outcast”!).

However: I don’t see open source developers as using their own time so that some rich kid in California can use their software. I see them as developing stuff for their own use , and then releasing it as open source. FLOSS is not powered by altruism, simply by not being a jerk: once I have written the code, why not let you use it too? It’s not like I lose anything, my code will still work for me, no matter how many people use it. In some cases, people might coordinate a bit: if we both need some piece of code, you might take on a part of it, I might take on another, and we both end up having running code faster and at lower effort. And finally, for over 10 years large tech companies (IBM, for example) are main contributors to open source projects. Linux, for example: it’s cheaper to contribute to Linux than to develop their own proprietary OS.

So, I struggle to see a direct conflict between helping your uncle and writing open source code. You are going to write the code anyway, for your work. Writing it takes the same time. Question is only, will you let others use it.

Aside: in some projects ( Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap… but that’s not software) you have a minority of very committed people that enter a lot of the content. They do have a conflict with helping their uncle. But developers will typically only work on projects that they themselves need done.