“We are at a turning point”: Donatien Kangah Koffi tells us about the Wikimedia community in Côte d’Ivoire
By Diane Ranville
The GLAM Ivorian working group taking part in the Strategy Salon in July 2019 – CCbySA Modjou
Wikimedia in Côte d’Ivoire is a long story – and one that we don’t hear enough about! After a first part dedicated to the three Strategy Salons held in Abidjan, the second part of this interview leads you to discover more about the history of the Ivorian User Group, and about Donatien Kangah Koffi’s participation to one of the Strategy Process Working Groups, Capacity Building. His insights are a great way to understand how local and international stakes come together, through the lens of a singular experience.
Read or re-read the first part: Côte d’Ivoire imagines Wikimedia in 2030.
Diane Ranville (Strategy Liaison for the French language): You mentioned Côte d’Ivoire’s specific context. For those who might not know about it, can you tell us about your group’s history and its current challenges?
Donatien Kangah Koffi: Yes, sure. Historically, it was in 2005 that the first Wikipedians got interested in Projet:Côte d’Ivoire on the French Wikipedia.
Samuel Guebo presents Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire during a scientific seminar in 2016 – CCbySA Emmanuel Dabo
Then, around 2007-2008, there were the first in-person workshops, that were initiated by Zenman, who is somehow the dean of the movement here. At the time, this resulted in the creation of nearly 4000 articles about municipalities in Côte d’Ivoire, and four featured articles. But it was still very informal.
Of course there was a pause around 2010-2011 with the political situation we all know about (see Ivorian Crisis).
Then around 2012, activities progressively got back on track. My friends and I had organized an event around the use of digital technologies in Côte d’Ivoire. For this occasion, Samuel Guebo facilitated a workshop about Wikipedia which got us interested, and after that a dynamic started.
In 2013 we founded an association, and our User Group was officially recognized by the Foundation on November 28th 2014. Since there, we’ve been organizing activities that are more and more structured, including work on the Strategy Process.
Today I think we are at a turning point.
Eleonore KOFFI (representing “Les Amazones du web” association) and Dominique Éliane Yao Sigan (vice-president of the CIV UG), during a WikiMousso Wikidata workshop (“mousso” meaning “woman” in Bambara) – CCbySA Yasield.
Our organization has grown a lot: we have two local groups in cities inside the country, several clubs in universities, and several thematic working groups. We also have more and more regular partners : the Goethe Institute, the librarians’ network, the Association of professionals from documentation sciences ; not counting the new ones who are knocking on our door, like the Institut Français, including the world of academics that is looking to understand and welcome us.
So we are becoming a bit of a big machine, and we cannot continue to rely only on a small core group of volunteers. All the more so as this core group, until now, is made of people of “my generation”, so to say, who are less and less available over time due to family or work commitments.
That’s why we would like to succeed in a double transition: both passing on the baton to the next generation, and finding a better balance between volunteering and professionalization.
Donatien Kangah Koffi during Wikimédia Côte d’Ivoire’s General Assembly in 2016 – CCbySA Emmanuel Dabo
D.R.: Do these local challenges find echo in the Wikimedia 2030 Strategy conversations?
D.K.K.: Yes, of course. In fact, it’s precisely the reason why I chose to engage as a working group member in the Strategy Process. I though it was important to be present. Not only to be informed about the process and to bring our views to the discussions, but also to be able to articulate our local orientation with international issues.
D.R.: Indeed you have been a member of the Capacity Building Working Group. How did your participation go?
It wasn’t always easy for me because of the language barrier. I speak a little English, but I have some difficulties with “listening”, oral comprehension. It was also a huge engagement in terms of availability: we had online meetings every two weeks for several months. It was hard because in parallel I was studying for a remote-Masters degree, in addition to all my other activities… [as web consultant, entrepreneur and teacher – see Part 1 of this interview].
D.R.: Indeed, that’s a lot!
It is! [laughs] It was a lot of efforts. But in the end it was a positive experience. My friends and colleagues from the Working Group were very benevolent, always seeking to associate and include me. The epitome of this is what happened in Singapore.
The Capacity Building Working Group at Wikimedia Summit 2018, before Donatien joined in – CCbySA Jason Krüger.
So we had an in-person meeting that was going to happen in Singapore. I had made the trip all the way there, but in the airport I was denied access to the territory. It wasn’t about visa. There is no visa needed between Côte d’Ivoire and Singapore. The conclusion I drew afterwards is that they refused me for two reasons: first, they hadn’t heard about a Wikimedia meeting in the area, and second, I couldn’t prove I had enough financial means to be independent there.
After this failure, the reaction of the other members of the group was to send Nikki to Abidjan in order to collect my views on the various discussion points. This example is the most striking one, but that’s to say that all along this collaboration, they really made every they could to include me. The Core Team was also very attentive to my needs, and they tried, when possible, to have facilitators who could translate discussions for me.
Nikki Zeuner and Donatien Kangah Koffi in Abidjan – CCbySA Aman ADO
Now, when it comes to the content of the discussions itself, I noted that there was often common positioning between countries of the South, Africans and Latinos. In particular regarding the notion of volunteering.
But it wasn’t systematic either. For example, my position differed from Oscar’s, from Venezuela, on one important point. He thinks we should pay people for producing content. I don’t agree with that. However, I think that engagement on the associative level should in some cases be financially compensated, or even become a staff position, because otherwise, realities on the ground will refrain possibilities.
D.R.: Is there an idea in particular that you advocated for?
D.K.K.: Yes. One of the things I wanted to push for regarding Capacity Building is the importance of “mentoring”, of peer-support.
To me, it’s the most efficient method, nay the most relevant, because similar cultural contexts allow easier comprehension.
Strategy Salon on Capacity Building in N’Djamena, Chad, in July 2019 – CCbySA Abdallahbigboy
For example here, we received someone from Chad who came to Côte d’Ivoire for a “Wikipedian in Community” mission. And when he got back home after one year volunteering, he rapidly launched a local User Group, Wikimedia Tchad, which works now in a pretty interesting manner. Conversely, someone from Burkina-Faso went to France, but until now he hasn’t been able to create a User Group in Burkina.
But of course, the cultural criteria is not the only one. You can also consider similarities or differences in structural terms, for example. In fact, a “peer” can be defined according to various criteria, which can be cultural, structural or even thematic.
So I really supported this approach of peer-learning, which I think is more collaborative, more in phase with the open source philosophy, rather than vertical training formats.
Wikimedians of Côte d’Ivoire in 2017 – CCbySA Aman ADO.
D.R.: We’ve been talking for more than one hour already! Last question: what do you expect from the Strategy Process now?
Well, right now I am curious to know what the next steps will be in 2020, especially about how we will organize concretely the implementation of the strategic recommendations!
Since the day when this interview was made in October 2019, we now know a bit more about events to come. There will notably be a new consultation phase for the community around January-February. Then Wikimedia affiliates will all gather for the Wikimedia Summit in April, where implementation of the strategy will be the core topic of discussions!
To learn more, see the Strategy Timeline for 2020.