Why We Do It
Africa is the least visible continent on the internet. Whether we look at the past or present in terms of marking events, people, places of global importance, literature, science or art, Africa is virtually silent. Over 2 billion people now use the internet as their primary source for research, information and, more broadly, knowledge. It has become by far the most powerful global tool for shaping who and what we know about the world. Yet, a whole continent is grossly underrepresented.
Since its inception in 2001, Wikipedia has become the 5th most used website on the internet. It is a marvel of modern technology and the collective spirit of thousands of volunteers. Wikipedia hosts more than 11 million articles in 264 languages and has now surpassed the 600-year-old Chinese Yongle Encyclopedia as the largest collection of general knowledge ever compiled in the history of our planet. Because Wikipedia is the most popular online reference system, the most effective secondary source, the most edited and discussed encyclopedia online and one of the first entries on research engines, it serves as the ideal tool for addressing the lack of information and knowledge about Africa on the internet.
Despite Wikipedia’s noble aims, the fact remains that for a variety of reasons the African continent is the least covered and supported collective of cultures, histories, ideas and languages on Wikipedia, WikiNews and their sister projects. Africa also has the fewest contributors per capita of any territory in the world. These inherent problems in Wikipedia relating to Africa have been acknowledged in Wikimedia’s Strategic Plan published in February 2011, which includes the following:
“Large segments of the world’s population do not edit the Wikimedia projects proportionate to their real-world numbers. The people who write the Wikimedia projects are disproportionately male, young, and from countries in the Global North:
- Four out of five editors are male.
- Half are under the age of 22.
- Four out of five edits come from countries in the Global North.”
Beyond these issues, there are various barriers to entry in becoming a Wikipedia editor and a lack of training and technical assistance available. In addition, there has not been any campaign to date to introduce African information, led by an organisation on the continent with the ability to promote and sustain such an effort.
For these reasons WikiAfrica was conceived.
How We Do It
The WikiAfrica project at the Africa Centre is an international collaboration that supports the ideals of two organisations – Creative Commons and the Wikimedia Foundation – on the African continent. Its objectives are to leverage and use partnerships, support, technology and other tools to get significant and quality African content onto Wikipedia and its sister projects, and to foster a culture of contribution on the continent. WikiAfrica has three grand ambitions designed to aggregate and support the generation of content on Wikipedia that is relevant to and reflects the African continent.
These ambitions include:
- Activate, train and support a self-sustaining generation of dedicated and proactive Wikipedian editors from across the continent that are able to generate new articles and subjects relevant to contemporary Africa by changing online behaviour and offline attitudes to knowledge creation;
- Support the growth of new User Groups and Wikimedia Chapters across Africa to effectively organise, deploy and reward these new editors through national and continental activities; and
- Facilitate the donation, upload and expansion of content that already resides within heritage, culture, news-gathering and academic institutions across Africa onto Wikipedia.
WikiAfrica uses a multi-pronged approach to achieve these ambitions. Each initiative is designed to stand alone, but also function as part of a broader ecosystem to achieve the project’s wider aims. The project is Pan-African in scope and incorporates many cultures and languages. WikiAfrica initiatives currently include:
- WikiAfrica Incubator – gives new editors and contributors a safe, supported environment while they nurture and develop their articles and their skills as Wikipedians;
- #OpenAfrica14 – is both a physical and online course that can be adapted to local conditions, but gives a fully immersive insight into the possibilities of the Open Movement in Africa, and provides the skills to activate Open Movement interventions on the ground;
- Open Movement Toolkits – based online, these toolkits are being built and when complete will assist in building communities od African editors, users and contributors, and will encourage the implementation of Open Movement interventions across Africa. The toolkits are designed to be used by activists on the ground across the continent;
- Kumusha Bus – is a 6-day tour of a geographic area by Open Movement advocates to educate, train and activate schools, organisations, and individuals as to the many benefits and implications of the Open Movement.
- Kumusha Takes Wiki – actively encourages people from many different kinds of communities to upload and contribute their knowledge about their communities and unique aspects of their culture onto Wikipedia, and so allows for multi-layered insight into a divergent range of people and activities across Africa. Diverse collectives are being activated, and will range from geographic space (village, shanty town, market town, inner city suburb) to a shared interest or job function (music, taxi drivers, etc.). In 2014, this project is being piloted in Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda , and is supported by Foundation Orange ;
- Share Your Knowledge – encourages, supports and activates the upload of information that currently exists within specialist institutions (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums – GLAM) across the continent and beyond. This is augmented through the Wikipedian in Residence <http://www.wikiafrica.net/projects/wir/> project, as well as through one-on-one training with institutions. Over a hundred cultural institutions (based both in Africa and Europe) have begun to submit their collections and specialist research as part of this project. In 2014, two Wikipedians in Residence have been activated in Malawi and Ethiopia and are supported by the Prince Claus Fund; and
- Wiki Loves Africa – is a Continent-wide online competition that encourages people from across the Continent to contribute media – mainly photos, but could be video or audio of Africa – around an annual theme. The project will start in May 2014.
WikiAfrica is a proud partner of various Wikimedia South Africa Chapter projects, including Wiki Loves Monuments, Wiki Indaba and Wikimania Cape Town 2015 . It has also been working as a partner in the *Primary Project that aims to give African students, teachers and families access on Wikipedia to all the documentation required to obtain a primary school degree in their country, in the language of instruction.