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Free Software In Africa
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  1. Free Software In Africa Wizards of OS 3 Guido Sohne <>

  2. Organizations & People • Pan African (FOSSFA) • Governments (CSIR, South Africa) • Non profits ( • Educational (SchoolNet Namibia, NetDay, DireqLearn, wizzy digital courier) • Corporate (linuxsolutions; Obsidian) • Individuals (Uwe Thiem, Neil Blakeley-Milner, Dwayne Bailey)

  3. Why Free Software? • Better Technology • Cost Reduction • Multiple Suppliers/Sources • Technology Transfer • Access to ‘Intellectual Property’ • Development of Indigenous Solutions • Employment

  4. Better Technology • Largest adoption of free software is driven by a few applications in particular domains • Sendmail / qmail / postfix: cheap and reliable mail servers (ISPs) • MySQL: cheap, reliable database server (web developers, software developers, ISPs) • BIND: standard for domain name resolution (ISPs) • Apache: cheap, reliable, ubiquitous web server (ISPs, web developers) • PHP: simple, low barrier to entry scripting (ISPs, web developers)

  5. Better Technology • Most use of free software is solely on servers. • Windows servers / development machines are preferred by most developers. MySQL, PHP, Apache are most often run on Windows. • Build on Windows. Deploy on Linux. • Linux on the desktop is relatively rare, even amongst developers. • Application advantages and availability drive choice (people use what gets the job done easiest and fastest)

  6. Cost Reduction • Source: License Fees and GDP/capita, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh • Ghana $269 GDP/capita $73,442 effective price (Windows/Office XP)24.98 months of GDP/capita • South Africa$2620 GDP/capita$7,541 effective price (Windows/Office XP)2.57 months of GDP/capita • From the above data, it would seem obvious that free software has enormous benefits and advantages when compared to proprietary software.

  7. Cost Reduction • Effective price of proprietary software == 0 • Given high and unrealistic prices for software, illegal copying becomes part of the culture of computing. • Sharing of software (but the software is not free) • GPL like behavior on non-GPL software • All web developers have Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Photoshop, MySQL, PHP, Apache • Less than 1% have paid for the proprietary bits • It therefore becomes clear that both proprietary and free software have equivalent cost reduction characteristics!

  8. Multiple Suppliers & Sources • A touted advantage of free software is the availability of a multitude of suppliers and sources that reduce or avoid vendor lock in. • Distributions like RedHat, SuSE, Mandrake, Debian, Gentoo each build on common ground yet find ways to differentiate their offerings. • On the other hand, companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, SAP etc each build a different product that has little in common with the competing products. The best scenario is that data import/export from one product to another is possible.

  9. Multiple Suppliers & Sources • The situation in Africa? • “Technology is something that comes in a box, not something that you build yourself” • Little to no presence of the Linux/OSS companies and distributors in sub-Saharan Africa • Many companies sell the same proprietary products • Antivirus software is especially popular. The market clearly sees the demand for such software, though this is again, massively copied. • For the average, under-informed and budget-challenged decision maker, it appears that proprietary software has more suppliers and more choice than free software.

  10. Technology Transfer • Free software can help African developers learn faster and better. • Challenges: Bandwidth, cost of computing devices and peripherals, availability of books and learning materials • Problems: Very few African developers, whether free or proprietary; generally low level of skill due to environmental challenges

  11. Challenges • Bandwidth costs a lot. $400/month to share 32k pipe with four other people. $0.66 per hour for café access. • Hardware markup is typically 100%-200%. What costs 500 euro here costs 1000 euro there. • No credit card. No Amazon. No books. • Due to credit card fraud, sellers won’t ship to the sub-region. • Learning and technology transfer are impeded.

  12. Problems • Poor educational base: University of Ghana has 6 PCs for 300 computer science students. 100 PCs for 12,000 students. • 40% literacy rate. For basic literacy. This is not advanced literacy. • By the time most people reach the age of 14, more than half of the potential developer pool has been lost – poor teaching and education, drop outs to sell dog chains by the traffic light, etc. • The few who reach university (total intake of 15,000 per year max out of population of 20 million) get to face the computers in universities problem.

  13. Those Who Make It • The few who manage to learn how to write software are marked more by the fact that they survived the system than anything else. • It is a miracle that they exist. They are not supposed to exist? • Few job choices. Exploitative employers. Low salaries (save 100% salary for fifteen years and you can afford to buy a car. House? 100 years) • African developers are extremely busy trying to make a living. They have no free time and no wish to share code, however are willing to ‘steal’ code. • Deep seated need to make money and proprietary software development is the only way now.

  14. Economic Freedom • Can one be said to be free if 100% of the time, one is concerned about survival? • Freedom is on different levels: political freedom, economic freedom, intellectual freedom. • Africa gained political freedom starting from 1957 (Ghana). • Within 25 years, export commodity prices dropped from around 2000 GBP per tonne to 800 GBP per tonne • Within this same time, the population grew by 25% • Within this same time, five military governments violently overthrew the previous government • Africa keeps getting poorer and poorer

  15. Roots of Poverty • Where does this poverty come from? • Near factors: Instability, poor governance, disease, war, famine • Far factors: Legacy bequeathed by Western intervention, greed and sheer callousness • Story starts with the exploration of Africa by Europe

  16. First Encounters • When Europe first encountered Africa, there were institutions of learning, renowned in those days such as Timbuktu • In order to trade, a game was played. You versus your enemies, we help you, you help us. • Seeds of internal conflict. Seeds of current wars and ethnic divisions. • Some collaborators made war on others, and sold these others into slavery. • Africa lost the best and the strongest, those who went to defend their people. • Today, America has some of the world best athletes. The best and strongest bred true.

  17. People To Resources • Somewhere in the 1800s?, not far from here, Europe met to decide how to share the resources of Africa. • The Partitioning of Africa • Africa was of course not consulted to determine what her voice would be. • Today, we have the G8. Africa is still not consulted though her leaders go to beg for money or negotiate for better terms. • Fundamentally, there is no negotiation going on.

  18. Use of Resources • Primary goods only bought from Africa. • Raw materials. Unprocessed agricultural goods. Crude oil. Tree trunks. • Taken to feed the industries and factories of Europe • Converted into finished goods. • Exported to the rest of the world. • Some material returns to Africa. 100% markup by local merchants added.

  19. Division of People • Result of partitioning of Africa and colonialism? • Language barriers and language divides • Several small, borderline viable countries. • Few large countries, wracked by war for resources. • Most importantly, natural forces keep these nations from ever joining together. • France does not favor collaboration within West Africa, since this would dilute its power. • Unspoken but this is a reality.

  20. Result? • Poverty. Lack of resources. Struggling to survive. 1000 PCs for 12,000 students. • Political freedom but no economic freedom. • No time to think. No time to relax and debate. • No social security. No health insurance. No safety net. • No Free Software. • The wealth and success of the West is inextricably linked to the poverty and failure of Africa.

  21. What Can Be Done? • Long term: Redistribute wealth and opportunity more fairly. Be fair and not greedy. • Medium term: Free software, representing the force for change for the better, the force removing the unreasonable greed, must win its struggle. • Short term: Developer by developer, we grow the community one at a time.

  22. Programmers Without Frontiers • This was an idea that was proposed earlier at the WSIS proceedings. • Needs support, funding, membership and energy of lots of developers. • Should mentor young African developers, help them improve skills • Help them learn the right path, the free path, the only path where they may have a future chance of prosperity.

  23. AfricanIntelligence • This was proposed at the first ever African developers meeting. • Aims to find the African developers and network them. • Aims to improve their quality of life and income by building the El-Dorado – the Project Pipeline • Needs formal support, needs to gain developer interest. • We have a vision. • We have the desire to increase developer numbers and skills • We want to enhance employment and employability. • We also have a logo. And not much else …