Wiki In Africa/History

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The Problem Statement[edit]

Wikipedia, the world’s most used online encyclopedia, has become a reference point on any number of subjects for a global audience with 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month. It overarching ambition is to be the platform on which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Despite this global ambition however, the African continent remains the least covered and supported collective of cultures, histories, ideas and languages on Wikipedia. Africa also has the fewest contributors per capita of any other region.

Yet, as more people across the continent access the internet via mobile technology (Africa is now the world’s 2nd largest cell phone market with 600 million phones being used daily), it becomes increasingly important for Africans to take advantage of platforms where Africa’s contemporary issues, its history, people and initiatives may be freely published for universal access.

Wiki in Africa rises from the continental experiences of the WikiAfrica initiative. The organisation focuses on supporting projects that bridge two significant gaps on Wikimedia projects – African content and African contributors. More about the content and contributor gaps can be read in the article Mind The Gaps on the Wiki Loves Women website.

For a range of historic and other reasons, Africa is the least visible continent on the internet. What has been written about Africa has mainly been written by people from the West. This has created a paucity of information about an entire continent of around a billion people. This results in limiting our understanding of the complexities that exist on such a vast geographical space around such diverse issues as culture, economics, politics, history or contemporary entertainment. It perpetuates what the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” about Africa.

The real danger of this single story about Africa on the Internet is that as Africans start accessing the internet in their millions via mobile phones, they too will start to believe what they read. There are currently 650 million mobile users in Africa, far surpassing the number in the United States or Europe. In some African countries more people have access to a mobile phone than to clean water, a bank account or even electricity.

History of Wiki In Africa[edit]

A visualisation of the projects that have supported the WikiAfrica movement since 2014.
The WikiAfrica movement
WikiAfrica is an international movement that takes place on the African continent and beyond. It encourages individuals, interested groups and organisations to create, expand and enhance online content about Africa. This involves motivating for the representation of the continent’s contemporary realities and history, its peoples and its innovations on the world’s most used encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. WikiAfrica is not owned by one organisation and it belongs to all people and organisations contributing to its scope.
In its various guises and hosted at several institutions (including Lettera27, Africa Centre, Ynternet.org, and Wikimedia CH), the WikiAfrica movement has consistently instigated and led multi-faceted innovative projects. These projects have activated communities and driven content onto Wikipedia. Examples include Share Your Knowledge, #OpenAfrica training Courses and Toolkits, Kumusha Bus (in Ethiopia and Ghana), WikiEntrepreneur (in Ethiopia and Malawi), Kumusha Takes Wiki (Cote d’Ivoire and Uganda) and Wiki Loves Africa. The mouvement was started around 2006.
The organisations that have collaborated on or hosted WikiAfrica projects (from an administrative point of view)
The people active in the movement
Several dozen of people have been active as part of the WikiAfrica movement. Amongst those, Florence Devouard (user:Anthere), Isla Haddow-Flood, and Iolanda Pensa have been particularly active, through several projects, such as Wiki Loves Women, Wiki Loves Africa or WikiFundi. When running projects, they had not only to identify the volunteers to involve, the partnering organizations to work with, the funding... but also to find a host for each project.
Lessons learned
  1. For any project to have traction in Africa, it needs to start at the beginning with visibility for Wikipedia and to change the internet culture away from one of knowledge consumption (google) and connection (Facebook, What’s App) towards a culture of contribution.
  2. We must be culturally flexible and respectful of the many elements that challenge the adoption of projects on the continent. We must find solutions in collaboration rather than force our ideas. The development of WikiFundi is one such response.
  3. There are many different ways to work, and they are not all the “traditional” wiki way. Left of field and blue ocean thought must be adopted to make it work within the many layers of the African continent.
The hosting conundrum
The positive side of being hosted:
  • Working with another organisation’s systems: admin, existing organisational structure, bank account, etc.
  • Sharing communications across many different channels and networks.
The negative side of being hosted:
  • Finding the correct “fit”
  • Having to align each project’s goals and timelines to suit the host organisation
  • Navigating knowledge gaps and personalities
  • Being at the mercy of their understanding of “ownership”
  • Being insecure if the organisation’s focus changes or they have a financial crisis
The need for an association
The main reason behind setting up Wiki In Africa is for an organisation’s focus to be entirely devoted to the mission, and not just be a sideshow or viewed as a “project”. Other reasons behind setting up an association is to allow the NGO to grow and succeed as the work is successful and the Wikimedia volunteer communities and projects develop and mature. Wiki In Africa wishes to continue the work of the projects that its lead people have conceptualised and developed.
The key element behind setting up the voluntary association is to maintain the movement’s flexible nature. It is hoped and expected that the membership will expand and grow once the organisation is sustainable and the longer it matures.
In the first interim phase, it was our wish to maintain some of the WikiAfrica movement projects with the organisations that still maintain the movement’s mission (one example being working with ynternet.org on Wiki Loves Africa or collaborate with like minded organisations, such as Lettera27 in WikiAfrica Schools). This fluidity will be assessed as and when needed and appropriate and like-minded organisations wish to be involved.
It must be clearly stated, that Wiki In Africa entirely respects the CC-BY-SA licence of the WikiAfrica movement and does not have any desire to “own” the brand. If other organisations wish to create WikiAfrica movement based projects, we are entirely supportive of their right to do so, as long as the licencing conditions are similarly respected.