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Promoting the use of free software in Nigerian communities builds wealth

By Olga Tsafack-Koloko and Mallory Knodel for APCNews

06 October 2016

Every year since 2004, on the third Saturday in September, hundreds of events are organised in dozens of cities around the world to increase “awareness of Free Software and its virtues” and to encourage use of free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) in a global event called Software Freedom Day (SFD). Free, in this context, refers to free use and not “free of charge” (libre, not gratis, in Spanish, for example).

Since its establishment in 1990, The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has been committed to using and raising awareness aboutFLOSS, most notably as one of seven themes in the APC Internet Rights Charter developed in 2001. We believe that “Working with FLOSS is empowering, it builds skills, is more sustainable and it encourages local innovation.” Out of our network of 50 organisations and 24 individuals, it is safe to say that all APC members use FLOSS and several members focus on FLOSS development and adoption.

One of those members is the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) in Lagos, Nigeria. CITAD “sees technology as tool to promote sustainable development, good government and peaceful coexistence. It uses ICT to empower youth and women through access to information, skills and online mentoring opportunities.” And they celebrated Software Freedom Day 2016 with a half-day agenda for 58 attendees. They shared event outcomes with the hashtag #CITADsoftwarefreedomday.

Nigeria is dominated by proprietary software and universities do not provide opportunities for students to learn about FLOSS. However, according to Yanusa Ya’u, co-founder and executive director of CITAD, “of course there are many who use and even market free and open source software.” The Open Source Foundation for Nigeria (OSFON) supports local FLOSS activists and developers. OSFON is a member of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, a group founded in 1995 to “promote the use of free and open source software in Africa by bringing multi-stakeholder partners together for the development of African societies using open source software.”

CITAD’s theme for SFD 2016 was “Securing Your Freedom with FLOSS”. Like many SFD events, CITAD focused on practical, hands-on activities. Participants learned how to install Ubuntu, an operating system software that can substitute proprietary software like Windows or MacOS. They also devoted time to a “clinic” where FLOSS users could get help with questions, issues or problems from an expert in their community. Some presentations were geared to newcomers to FLOSS, such as “Understanding the Concept of FLOSS” and “An exploration into Open Source”.

Abdulaziz Yunusa is a final year student of computer science at Federal University Dutse and an intern at CITAD. When asked about FLOSSimproving the lives of Nigerians, he said, “Free software can be customised and can allow young people to develop local solutions for local problems, thus adding value to the software, creating products that are needed, saving cost for the country and the buyers and in the process creating jobs and wealth for the country. In this it will help to address the problem of unemployment and improve national wealth.”

For SFD 2016 there were 127 registered events on the official website, yet it is possible that there were many events like CITAD’s that were not featured on the map. According to another FLOSS expert in the APC community, Arun Madhavan from the India-based organisation the Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment, “The world is richer with free software today than it was two decades back.” It is thanks to efforts like these that free software communities continue to grow.

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