Author: Ramata Soré
Affiliated organization: Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Site of publication : apc.org
Type of publication : Article
Date of publication : 31 May 2016
So as to play a part in the information society, free software could drive the computerisation of West Africa. But although migration to free software may be a development alternative, it first has to transit via organising the world of developers and navigate through the interests of governments and the private sector.
The appropriation of free software is proving to be a source of employment. It gives rise to competition and a mastery of technology by locals. In West Africa, the low level of free software production goes hand in hand with marginal usage. Nonetheless, free software is present in certain businesses, in education, etc.
Free software “corresponds to our culture of sharing in West Africa. This contributes towards the popularisation of free software because, with free software, the number of computers becomes irrelevant,” maintains Nenna Nmwakanma, Chairman of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA). However, there is mistrust, as a result of the fact that free software is developed rapidly and is proliferating.
Promotion of awareness and adoption
In West Africa, one of the difficulties in the expansion of free software is the lack of human resources. Training is costly, as is software design.
« The spirit of sharing has not yet been accepted. Which means that certain products remain unknown, » deplores Rasmata Compaoré, computer engineer and member of the Burkina Faso Association of Free Software Users (Association Burkinabè des Utilisateurs de Logiciels Libres).
This fear is supported by the fact that one member of the community may transform a free code into a proprietary code, and get rich. Poor connectivity slows down the work of the few rare developers. Added to these pitfalls is the relentlessness of the proprietary software publishers, who attempt to counter the proliferation of free software.
Attack of the giants
In Burkina, Mali and Senegal as well as in the Ivory Coast, Microsoft is increasing agreements with governments through development aid. “Windows computers are therefore provided with licences which have to be renewed every year, and this renewal requires enormous financial means which we often don’t have. This promotes pirating,” mentions Karim Koné.
Up against these multinationals, West Africa has not developed a project for the growth and popularisation of free software. The Asianux project, supported by the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean public authorities is funded up to billions of dollars. The Afrinux project, on the other hand, has still not been ‘unpacked’.
For researcher Seydina Ndiaye, the expansion of free software should not be “based on ideological or ‘political-antiglobalisation’ principles, but rather on an organisational and technical logic.” The absence of this logic means that the “slogans on free software as a tool of redemption for Africa are not convincing,” Ouédraogo believes.
For Seydina Ndiaye, free software cannot be the route to the computerisation of West Africa: “the best way to computerisation is via our software development companies, by helping them to extend their skills by supporting them with training courses to get up to date, a voluntarist policy, receive orders from government, the education system, banks, etc.”
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