CHAKULA Issue No. 3, October 2002

Newsletter of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) Africa Internet Rights ICT Policy Monitor to mobilize African Civil Society for ICT policy for development and social justice

The Case for Open Source Software in Africa




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,

3. Some open source software projects in Africa
4. World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Update

5. Open Source Events


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’?

‘Known as "open source" or "free software", these alternate types of computer programs are sometimes created by profit-making companies. It is more common, however, for open source programs to be created by a whole collection of people, usually volunteers, who collaborate over the Internet. The software is then made available for everyone to download and use for free. Occasionally, one of these programs will become so popular that companies and organizations as well as individuals contribute to its development’ (The Shuttleworth Foundation, (

Many African governments are following international trends by 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 ( Brazil is one country that has a few experiences regarding policies to adopt open source software that have been successful, notably in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Pernambuco. Also, the Brazilian Navy has been using open source software since last year.


In the wake of these developments, the South African government last month released a policy framework document by the open source workgroup of the Government Information Officers' Council (GITO), recommending that government "explicitly" support the adoption of open source software as part of its e-government strategy ( after a comprehensive study of the advantages and pitfalls of OSS for government requirements.


Its predecessor, National Advisory Council on Innovation’s (NACI) Open Software Working Group document on ‘Open Software and Open Standards in South Africa’ recommends ‘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:


The NACI document also outlines 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 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, according to Dakar (Senegal)-based, Pierre Dandjinou, is not the only issue. "I don't feel the cost (alone) is an issue. Of course, if you compare (the price of Open Source or Free Software products) with what we've been paying by using proprietary software packages, we have been paying really a lot of dollars. But more than price, what matters is the application development. The idea of the openness should be kept there. Openness and sharing... these are great values in themselves.

"(Open source software) promotes an environment for technical and systems development, as well as the ability to learn, innovate and invent, while stimulating the local software industry. More importantly, it promotes independence from foreign software companies and reduces an outflow of funds from the country," he added (

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 develop open source solutions within their own organisations; and

2.       The need for civil society organisations in Africa to lobby governments to develop open source policies that enhance open software ideals of indigenous software development, cost effectiveness and long-term sustainability.

If recent developments are anything to go by, then knowledge of open source software will become an essential skill as the global trend of adopting open source software continues to grow, especially in Africa where the movement offers a solution to the growing rifts between the technology haves and have-nots. African civil society organisations need to develop their knowledge of and skills in open source software in order to guide its development in a way that will benefit all people in Africa and assist our advancement in the global economy.

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

Internet Rights site:


More about the practical aspects of open source for use by organisations:


And on open source software news: and



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, however the purpose of this workshop is to build knowledge and expertise of civil society organizations to engage ICT policy processes in Africa.


According to Emmanuel Njenga Njuguna, APC’s project coordinator, “Few civil society organizations are aware of the policy developments taking place at the global, regional and national levels that can impact on their ability and potential to use ICTs as a tool in their work, let alone own or control the production and application of these technologies locally. This workshop will help build people’s awareness and capacity to understand ICT policy concepts, issues, and how these impact on their work and their communities.”


Says Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane of ECA, "increasing the participation of civil society in harnessing ICT for development in general and ICT policies in particular is one of the key objectives of the AISI and is considered a priority for ECA". Ms Bounemra further adds,“ECA is working with some thirty-two countries in Africa, assisting them develop national ICT policies. It is hoped that civil society in these countries will work with these governments in this regard”.


The workshop, which will bring together approximately seventy representatives from civil society organizations from all regions of Africa, is particularly timely, closely following a month-long discussion on the African Information Society Initiative forum on the role of civil society in promoting the use of ICTs to strengthen and stimulate participatory approaches to policy issues especially governance in Africa. The forum discussions will provide the basis for a strong African civil society input to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003 in Geneva, and then again in Tunis in 2005.


The workshop has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), HIVOS and the Open Society Institute (OSI).


For more information about the workshop, please contact Emmanuel Njenga Njuguna,



2. What’s new on the website




* Website for Informal Traders Launched

- Kenya, Local Content -

A commercial Internet service for small enterprises has been launched in

Kisii town. Oasis Information Service provides small-scale entrepreneurs with the latest news on how to run their businesses, improve skills and deal with customers. Targeted groups are hairdressers, dressmakers, metal workers and wood and soapstone carvers.


* Looking At Gift Computers in the Mouse

- South Africa, Open Source -,3523,1195833-6078-0,00.html

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 and the Middle East.


* New Media awards aim to promote African Information Society

- Ethiopia, Media -

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.


* Brain Drain Stunts Africa

- South Africa, Training -


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 were 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.


* MISA Communique

- Zambia, Media -


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 respectively. The march, which was staged to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the campaign for media law reforms in Zambia, was used to launch three fliers summarising the contents of the proposed bills. The fliers will be used during a nationwide campaign of workshops to popularise the bills, which are due to be tabled in parliament as private members bills.


* Profile of Esther Dyson who recently visited South Africa

- South Africa, Media - profiles Esther Dyson, who recently visited South Africa to participate in President Thabo Mbeki's international ICT advisory board.




* Developments on the use of mass media at the national level for HIV/AIDS prevention in South Africa

- South Africa, Media -

In "Developments on the use of mass media at the national level for HIV/AIDS prevention in South Africa", 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 programmes - LoveLife, Soul City and the Beyond Awareness II Campaign.


* Rowing Upstream: Snapshots of Pioneers of the Information Age in Africa

- Africa, Access -


In its last year, PIAC 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".


* African Women Speak on the Internet

- Africa, Gender -


Research report on an electronic survey done by WomenAction Africa and APC-Africa-Women.


* Reworking of the Dotforce Local Content Report

- International, Local content -


A summary and reworking of the original Dotforce Local Content Report, in response to comments from participants in the Chennai workshop, August 2002.




* The Innovation Hub

- South Africa, Training -


The Innovation Hub is helping young entrepreneurs from historically disadvantaged backgrounds to crack it in the tough world of information and communications technology. The Innovation Hub is part of the Gauteng government's R1.7 billion Blue IQ project, which is responsible for 10 major projects conducted under the auspices of the Strategic Economic Infrastructure Investment Programme (SEIIP). The 10-year project is aimed at creating a home for the hi-tech entrepreneur, and is the only project in the SEIIP focusing on technology development.


* AFRICOM - International Council of African Museums

- Kenya, Science and Technology -

AFRICOM seeks to contribute to the positive development of African societies by encouraging the role of Museums as generators of culture and as agents of cultural cohesion. AFRICOM seeks to develop Museum policies and networking on a continental and regional level, focusing on the cohesion of cultures beyond geographical and linguistic barriers.


* Hindley Enterprises

- International, Access -


Hindley Enterprises provides low-cost solutions to the Digital Divide and Information Communication Technology Divide throughout the world. The website offers recycled computers, refurbished computers, used computers, solar energy products, portable mini-cities, portable mini-clinics, software, simputers, and many more products.



- Uganda, Training -

CEEWA-Uganda is a non profit non government organisation whose mission

is to promote the economic empowerment in the development process.

CEEWA-Uganda has been implementing an Information Communication

Technologies (ICTs) project with the objective of enabling enterpreneurs and women’s organisations that promote enterprise development to explore ways and means of exploiting ICTs for community economic empowerment.


* African Women's Media Center

- Senegal, Gender -


Located in Dakar, Senegal, and directed by an advisory committee of African women in the media, the center is the only continent-wide organization working with and on behalf of African women in the media. Since the center's founding, more than 900 women journalists have taken part in 21 programs and workshops conducted by the AWMC. The AWMC has created a wide range of programs for women journalists throughout Africa with the goal of bringing the voices of African women more prominently into the media - as reporters, producers, managers, executives, CEOs and media experts. The AWMC offers a wide range of programs for women journalists throughout Africa and provides women journalists with the opportunity to network throughout the continent.


* CECS and Open Society Initiative of South Africa: Regional ICT Literacy Project

- Africa, Training -

CECS has signed an agreement with the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) for the development and implementation of a regional ICT literacy project in countries supported by OSISA (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe).


* ABANTU for Development

- Africa, Gender -

ABANTU for Development is an international non-governmental organisation established in 1991. ABANTU means people in different languages from 19 African countries and symbolises their people-centred philosophy. The focus of their work is on training, providing information and advice on mobilising resources towards sustainable development in Africa. ABANTU's approach to development is one that is participatory and people-centred.

It is based on a perspective that is both African and gender oriented.

3. Open source software projects in Africa

3.1’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. At this early stage of development, the software does not stand alone but relies on the presence of a computer PBX running Altigen software.

According to, ‘this project is West Africa's first Open Source project’. The source code and project details are available from and the company invites other programmers to join the initiative by using the source code as they see fit (provided they abide by the terms of the GNU General Public License) or seeking opportunities to profit and learn from the software and source code.

3.2 The Shuttleworth Foundation’s Project ( is one of a number of open source projects run by The Shuttleworth Foundation ( which 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, the translation of KDE 3.0 into Xhosa, Zulu and Venda, as well as the project being recognised as the official translators for KDE, Mozilla and OpenOffice.

The Shuttleworth Foundation is 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. The vision of Schooltool is that of an open source networked school management system that 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 allow for better communication between schools and provincial or national education authorities.

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.

This document contains the comments and contributions of the coordination of representatives from civil society organizations grouped into sub-committees, caucuses and working groups issued from the final civil society plenary formed during PrepCom1. This statement is an answer by the civil society plenary to the report presented by the Chairman of Sub-Committee 2 (Content and Themes), containing the two non-papers, on the “Principles guiding the preparatory work and the WSIS” and proposed “Themes for the WSIS”. 

Open source software support is entrenched 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).

The core document for the meeting is the report of the Chair of the PrepCom's Sub-Committeee on Content and Themes -

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

5. Open Source Events:

ICT Policy and Civil Society in Africa Workshop

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

November 6-10, 2002


Open Source Content Management

Berkeley, CA, USA

September 25-27, 2002


Advancing the Research Agenda on Open Source

Brussels, Belgium, EU

October 14, 2002


Open Source: A Case for e-Government

Washington, DC, USA

October 16-18, 2002

Chakula: Africa ICT Policy Monitor newsletter

Contact: for questions, comments and contributions Africa IR Policy Monitor Project
Africa IR Policy Monitor Project
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC)