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Côte d’Ivoire imagines Wikimedia in 2030 : Interview with Donatien Kangah Koffi

Af Diane Ranville

Focus on Côte d’Ivoire – copyleft Rei-artur.

Founded in 2014, Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire is one of the most dynamic User Groups in French-speaking Africa. Workshops, trainings: volunteers on site are deeply engaged for free knowledge in a country where the digital transition is a huge challenge. No wonder then that this motivated group was eager to participate in the ongoing international reflections about the Wikimedia 2030 strategy. Their goal: share specific issues and concerns from the perspective of a country of the Global South, and thus contribute to shape a more inclusive Wikimedia movement for the future.

In this interview with Donatien Kangah Koffi, president of Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire, we talked about the strategy salons organised in Abidjan, and more generally about the challenges and hopes of the Ivorian community.

Diane Ranville (Strategy Liaison for the French language): Hi Donatien. As a start, can you introduce yourself? Who are you, both inside and outside Wikimedia?

Donatien Kangah Koffi, president of Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire – CC BY-SA 4.0 Aman ADO.

Donatien Kangah Koffi: I wear several hats “in real life”. I am the Director of a young digital communications agency, and simultaneously I work as a web consultant for organizations from civil society or from the media. For example I worked with the Panos Institute on a project for women’s rights promotion through social media. Lastly, I am also a lecturer at the School of Journalism of Abidjan at the ISTC Polytechnical Institute.

And of course I am a Wikipedian! I discovered Wikimedia in 2011-2012, then I took the plunge for good in 2013. After that, I helped to found our User Group in 2015 along with our first president, and when she left I took over the role until today.

D.R.: In Côte d’Ivoire you organized no less than 3 strategy-related events during this 2019 summer. Can you tell us how these events were born and how they differed from each other?

D.K.K.: Indeed we organized three distinct events, all at the beginning of July. It all started with the initiative of the Strategy Core Team, who offered all affiliates the possibility to host and finance two types of events: Strategy Salons and Youth Salons.

The idea of a Youth Salon immediately got us interested, because the Wikipedia community here in Côte d’Ivoire is essentially people under 30. I am 31 and I am already a veteran! [laughs] The elders provide moral support, but they are not active activists in the movement. So the Youth Salon was an obvious call.

For this event we chose to focus on Diversity as the central theme, because it seemed more accessible, and would allow including young people who were not already familiar with Wikimedia.

Strategy Salon gathering Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire members in Abidjan – CC BY-SA 4.0 Modjou.

Then we organized a regular Strategy Salon, which we directed more specifically towards our User Group members. There, we tackled more technical thematic areas (Roles and Responsibilities, Revenue Streams and Resource Allocation), for which it was necessary to be a little experienced with the Wikimedia movement to be able to understand the stakes.

And the third strategy event was what we called Meet Up with Nikki Zeuner.

Nikki Zeuner (on the right) and Samuel Guebo (on the left) – CC BY-SA 4.0 Aman ADO.

I happened to be a member of the Capacity Building Working Group, and Nikki Zeuner, who was the coordinator of this group, was visiting me for work in Abidjan. We felt it was logical to seize this opportunity to have a meet-up with the community. So we organized a meeting with the people who were most interested in Capacity Building issues – that is to say, both active members of our User Group, and also current or potential partners, like the Goethe Institute, the librarians’ network, or the freestyle rappers association L’École des Poètes.

So we really had three types of events: a nearly professional meeting with Nikki Zeuner, a Strategy Salon with our members, and a Youth Salon.

D.R.: These events were a success, with around 25 participants for each workshop. And contrary to other countries, it looks like in Côte d’Ivoire, you had no problem including female participants?

Colette Guebo (treasurer of Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire) – CC BY-SA 4.0 Aman ADO.

D.K.K.: It’s true that in terms of gender diversity, we had nearly a 40/60 ratio, with 30-40% women. I don’t know why, but naturally here we’ve always had very active women in the community.

From the start, before me, we had a female President. And now I have a female Vice-President, Dominique [Dominique Éliane Yao sigan]. And regularly, new young women join us quite easily. Maybe I should try and understand why! [laughs]

D.R.: Did participants find these events interesting? What did you get out of it as a community?

D.K.K.: Well first, there is a sense of pride. When we started talking about this project around us, people who were external to the movement were, let’s say, impressed, that we were already thinking about a strategy for 2030, and that we were part of a global consultation that seeks to be more and more inclusive. So this feeling of participating to a global initiative, which takes into account local perspectives, that was very appreciated.

Meet-up with Nikki Zeuner. T-shirt in the foreground reads “Wikimedia 2030 – I contributed” – CC BY-SA 4.0 Aman ADO.

Additionally, receiving someone like Nikki, who comes from the German Chapter Wikimedia Deutschland, about which we were all very curious, was really interesting in terms of cultural exchange, learning, discussions…

It was all a little stressful, because we organized three big events in a row within a 10 days span. But we came out of it happy, satisfied to have had the opportunity to bring our contribution to this international process.

And also, locally, these events were an opportunity to create a certain dynamic. It allowed us to invite over members from provincial cities, who don’t often have the opportunity to participate. Thanks to that, we were able to discuss all together about what we want to do in 2020 at the national scale, in particular regarding GLAMs.

So some suggestions were sent up for the global strategy, but we also kept some ideas internally to shape our local strategy.

Discussions during the strategy meet-up – CC BY-SA 4.0 Aman ADO.

D.R.: Are there subjects which came up frequently accross the various events?

D.K.K.: One of the concerns that came up a lot is decentralisation. Here in Côte d’Ivoire, we often feel like we are far away from the movement’s epicenter.

So for example, we suggested the idea that there could be regional offices of the Foundation in order to get communities closer to decision-making centers. This particular solution wasn’t unanimously approved, but decentralisation was considered important by everyone.

We also talked about the notion of volunteering. For us, editorial contribution needs to remain volunteer, because that is how the encyclopedia’s disinterest can be somehow guaranteed. But when it comes to real life activism, it’s different, especially in the African context, where the first concern of an individual is always to earn their daily bread.

D.R.: Maybe the subjects were a little different in the Youth Salon?

Ice-breaker through 1:1 presentation during Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire Youth Salon – CC BY-SA 4.0 Modjou.

D.K.K.: Yes indeed. The discussion revolved more around communication and the brand image of the Wikimedia movement.

The young participants expressed the necessity to be a little more aggressive regarding the visibility of Wikimedia projects and activities, so that we advertise more about the movement, the association and its values. They think we are too discreet, too unknown outside our usual circles, while there are a lot of people to whom our projects could be useful.

D.R.: Yes I remember the Youth Salon Report. I was surprised to see that their suggestions were a lot about visibility, social media… as if they were asking us to be more present on the market of attention economy of which they are a target!

D.K.K.: Yes, exactly. And even though their suggestions were not always realistic, they raised important issues, like the need to share our identity and values.

D.R.: For you, what vision of the future of the Wikimedia movement came out of these strategy events?

D.K.K.: I’ll speak for Côte d’Ivoire. As for us, we wish for a movement where power would be better distributed: either with decisions being shared, meaning that everyone would feel they have control on the movement’s choices; or with centers of power coming closer to communities, and so being more representative, more inclusive of communities like ours. That’s the vision we want to advocate for and that came out of the discussions.

Meet-up group photo – CC BY-SA 4.0 Aman ADO.

Speaking of decentralisation, that’s also a concern I have here at the national level. I’d like our association Wikimedia Côte d’Ivoire not to be concentrated only in Abidjan, in a certain digital-oriented social environment, but to be a movement that is sufficienlty open and sufficienlty present accross the whole country, so that we are able to reach all sectors and all layers of society.

And then at an intermediate scale, at the regional level, we hope for more convergence and cooperation between countries in the same geographical area. That’s precisely the vision I advocated for inside the Capacity Building Working Group in which I participated: we need more horizontal cooperation, more peer-learning. Because au fond, these principles are the foundation of our movement!

To learn more about Donatien’s experience as a Working Group member for Capacity Building, and about local history and challenges of Wikimedians in Côte d’Ivoire, look out for the 2nd part of this interview, coming soon!