CHAKULA Issue # 3

CHAKULA
Africa ICT Policy Monitor newsletter from the APC
Issue No. 3, October 2002

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Contents:

1. Editorial: How can open source software be used to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations in Africa?
2. What’s new on the website, http://africa.rights.apc.org?
3. Some open source software projects in Africa
4. World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Update

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1. Editorial: How can open source software be used to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations in Africa?

Open source is rapidly gaining ground in Africa as governments, civil society and the private sector begin to recognise the benefits and relevance of the movement to African Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development.

What is ‘open source’?

According to Webopedia.com, open source is ‘A certification standard issued by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) that indicates that the source code of a computer program is made available free of charge to the general public. The rationale for this movement is that a larger group of programmers not concerned with proprietary ownership or financial gain will produce a more useful and bug-free product for everyone to use. The concept relies on peer review to find and eliminate bugs in the program code, a process which commercially developed and packaged programs do not utilize. The process of eliminating bugs and improving the software happens at a much quicker rate than through the traditional development channels of commercial software as the information is shared throughout the open source community and does not originate and channel through a corporation’s research and development cogs.’

Open source products must meet the following criteria:

  • The author or holder of the license of the source code cannot collect royalties on the distribution of the program
  • The distributed program must make the source code accessible to the user
  • The author must allow modifications and derivations of the work under the program’s original name
  • No person, group or field of endeavor can be denied access to the program
  • The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution
  • The licensed software cannot place restrictions on other software that is distributed with it.

Some of the differences between proprietary and open source software:

Proprietary: The source code is secret so no one can make changes to it

Open source: The source code is made public so that anyone can make changes to it and share the changes

Proprietary: The programs are often not compatible with other programs developed by different companies, therefore it is difficult to exchange documents and communications between systems

Open source: The programs are often developed to be compatible with most other programs

Proprietary: A great deal of investment is needed to develop this software, and often companies charge high prices for
their products

Open source: Because the community develops the software as a group, the costs are much lower

International trends:

Many governments around the world are developing national policies to promote the use of open software because of its effectiveness as an essential, economic and sustainable solution in providing access to technology.

Brazil is one of the countries that has actively pursued the open source model. It was here that the first law regarding the use of open source software in the world was passed in March 2000 and where several states have actually made the adoption of cheap open source software by government agencies a matter of policy.

In September, the South African government released a policy framework document from the Open Source Workgroup of the Government Information Officers’ Council (GITO), recommending that government “explicitly” supports the adoption of open source software as part of its e-government strategy.

A previous study by the National Advisory Council on Innovation’s (NACI) Open Software Working Group document on ‘Open Software and Open Standards in South Africa’ also recommended ‘a commitment to open standards for interoperability in government use, together with a commitment to the use of non-proprietary formats for document exchange’
(NACI, January 2002).

This is in direct contrast to the South African government’s earlier acceptance of a Microsoft grant of software to schools in February of this year. Bridges.org criticized government’s acceptance of the grant, stating that Microsoft products are not appropriate technology for South African schools which often run older, recycled computers, and will not be able to afford the inevitable upgrades and new hardware that comes with a Microsoft license. ‘Microsoft products have rapid product cycles and quick obsolescence, along with expensive long-term maintenance and support implications. Open source software offers a more affordable and stable option, along with “thin-client” solutions that can be run on recycled computers’

The NACI document outlined the major benefits of open software and open standards as follows:

  • Reduced costs and less dependency on imported technology and skills
  • Affordable software for individuals, enterprise and government
  • Universal access through mass software rollout without costly licensing implications
  • Access to government data without barrier of proprietary software and data formats
  • Ability to freely customise software to local languages and cultures
  • Lowered barriers to entry for software businesses
  • Participation in global network of software development

“Reduced cost is obviously a great advantage in the African context but it is not the only issue. (Open source software)
promotes an environment for technical and systems development, as well as the ability to learn, innovate and invent,” says ISOC Benin chair, Pierre Dandjinou, “while stimulating the local software industry. More importantly, it promotes
independence from foreign software companies and reduces an outflow of funds from the country”
(http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=6049).

Why support open source?

There are two primary issues of relevance to civil society organisations with regards to open source:

1. The need for civil society organisations to enhance their understanding and capacity to use cheaper, more sustainable
open source solutions within their organisations; and
2. The need for civil society organisations in Africa to lobby governments to develop open source policies. By encouraging the use of open source software, governments encourage the development of an African software development community, save taxpayers’ money, and contribute to long-term sustainability.

More on open source software and its political importance can be found on the APC Internet Rights site

More about how to get hold and use open source software

And on open source software news and also visit http://www.opensource.org

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Workshop alert! ICT POLICY AND CIVIL SOCIETY WORKSHOP IN AFRICA

JOHANNESBURG ­ The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), ARTICLE 19 and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) will be holding a five-day information and communications technologies (ICT) policy and civil society workshop from November 6th to 10th, 2002 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Civil society groups have been at the forefront in advancing ICT applications in various sectors, and the purpose of this workshop is to build on the knowledge and expertise of civil society organizations to engage ICT policy processes in Africa.

For more information on the workshop, please see: http://www.apc.org/english/press/archive/apc_p022.shtml or contact Africa.workshop@apc.org.

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2. What’s new on the website, http://africa.rights.apc.org?

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Advocates of free computer software have expressed concern that Microsoft is engaged in tactics in poor countries that
will help it further entrench its dominant position in the industry. As free alternatives to proprietary software gain
credibility, Microsoft is preparing to give away its products to schools across the developing world. This comes as
education authorities in poorer countries are turning to the free Linux operating system because they are unable or
unwilling to pay for licences to use software from Microsoft and various other commercial vendors. Microsoft has already
announced it will give away its software to schools in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

A media awards programme has been launched to promote and encourage more informed and consistent reporting and analysis
of the information society and issues related to the development potential and impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The AISI Media Awards Programme was named after the African Information Society Initiative, a framework launched by the Economic Commission for Africa six years ago to help develop national information and communication infrastructure plans and to engender an information society in African countries.

Loss of professionals from Sub-Saharan Africa to developed countries has raised major concern, as it has become one of
the region’s greatest threats to economic development. Emigration of qualified manpower especially academics from
African universities was one of the central issues that was discussed during the recent World Summit on Sustainable
Development held in South Africa. The meeting heard that in less than two decades Sub-Saharan Africa has lost a third of
its skilled professionals and had to replace them with over 100,000 expatriates from the West at a cost of US$4 billion a year.

Dozens of journalists from both the state owned and private media marched through the streets of the Zambian capital,
Lusaka, to press for the enactment of a freedom of information, broadcasting and independent broadcasting authority bill. The march, which was staged to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the campaign for media law reforms in
Zambia, was used to introduce three information sheets summarising the contents of the proposed bills.

AllAfrica.com profiles Esther Dyson, former chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN),
who recently visited South Africa to participate in President Thabo Mbeki’s international ICT advisory board.

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Nancy Coulson, a communication researcher in South Africa, critically analyses the effective use of mass media in
addressing HIV/AIDS by focusing on 3 major public television programmes – LoveLife, Soul City and the Beyond Awareness II Campaign.

Over the last year, PIAC (The Project for Information Access and Connectivity produced “Rowing Upstream: Snapshots of
Pioneers of the Information Age in Africa”. Published in August 2002, Rowing Upstream captures the experiences of Ford
and Rockefeller grantees making innovative use of technology, assesses African utilization of the Web, and examines donor support of ICT. An Internet timeline takes you back to the beginning of email use on the Continent. In the last chapter, some of Africa’s pioneers tell their “Untold Stories”.

This report presents the research results of the electronic survey in the African region into information and communication needs among women’s organizations and women from other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

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3. Open source software projects in Africa

3.1 Sohne.net’s Telephone Billing Project

This project aims to ensure accuracy in telephone billing by Ghana Telecom through providing a way for consumers to cross- check their telephone bills. According to Sohne.net, ‘this project is West Africa’s first Open Source project’. The source code and project details are available and the company invites other programmers to join the initiative by using the source code as they see fit or to seek opportunities to profit and learn from the software and source code.

3.2 The Shuttleworth Foundation’s Translate.org.za Project

Translate.org.za is one of a number of open source projects run by the Shuttleworth Foundation
(http://www.tsf.org.za/projects.html) that has an ambitious vision of translating a core set of end-user software into
eleven official languages of South Africa.

Successes of the project to date include the set up of the translation lab and the translation of an operating system
called KDE (K Desktop Environment) into Xhosa, Zulu and Venda. KDE is a contemporary desktop environment for UNIX
workstations, part of the open source movement which competes with the more common commercial operating system platforms on the market. The project is also being recognised as official translators for KDE, Mozilla and OpenOffice, all major
producers of open source software.

The Shuttleworth Foundation is also inviting proposals for the further development of one of its projects called Schooltool, an open source management and administrative software system for schools in South Africa. Schooltool allows for effective timetabling, learner and staff tracking, learner performance evaluation and school budgeting facilities – in essence, a tool to enhance current school management. It will also facilitate better communication between schools and provincial or national education authorities.

3.3 The APC’s ActionApps Project

As part of our effort to build capacity, in 2001, APC released a free collaborative Web publishing software for not-
for-profits. The APC ActionApps were developed to offer a low cost solution for content sharing that both increases the
functionality of not-for-profit and NGO Websites and facilitates the creation of portal sites, improving the visibility of civil society information and at the same time, as a free software project.

APC ActionApps is an online content management system (CMS). All CMSs allow authorised users to easily update the content of a website using just a web browser like Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer. It’s easy to add, remove, or update information from a website anytime, from anywhere, with no HTML skills needed. Using the APC ActionApps website, administrators can automate the publishing of press releases, job listings, events and other types of information.

But the real power of APC ActionApps comes at the level of collective publishing and aggregation. Each news item or resource added to an individual organisation’s site can be automatically fed to a ‘community-wide’ portal. Spread-out coalitions can quickly put together a campaign site. The result is greater outreach, more speedily, to a wider audience.

By releasing the ActionApps, the APC is committing itself to open source software. The open source movement not only
encourages the free sharing of software but also encourages a collaborative, evolutionary approach to software development. A mailing list of interested technicians and developers provides a common workspace.

See: http://www.apc.org/actionapps for more information.

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4. World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Update:

The Civil Society Plenary Coordinating Group statement to the WSIS Informal Meeting on Content and Themes was delivered on the 16th of September this year, the only day of the three-day meeting that was open to civil society organisations. The aim of the meeting was to continue the discussion on content and themes that was started at the first preparatory committee meeting earlier this year.

Support for open source software is declared in this document, with the civil society plenary confirming the need for
‘continued support for open source technologies’ in order to build the infrastructure for equitable development of the future Information Society (Section 4.3.2 of the Statement to the Informal Meeting on Content and Themes, Geneva, 16-18
September 2002).

Read the report of the Chairman of Sub-Committee 2

Read the civil society plenary response

For more information, see the CRIS website and the official WSIS site

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Chakula: Africa ICT Policy Monitor newsletter
Contact chakula@apc.org with questions, comments and contributions.

Chakula is produced by the Africa ICT Policy Monitor Project of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
http://africa.rights.apc.org

APC: http://www.apc.org

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