A pupil using a Kio tablet during a class session in Kawangware, Nairobi on October 2015
(Originally published in ID4D)
African countries have never been faced with such decisive choices in the construction of a cyberspace that respects freedoms and meets the needs of their citizens. One of the continent’s main challenges for the future.
The first Internet connections in Africa arrived back in the late 1990s through geostationary satellites. Projects for satellite constellations were also set up during the same decade. At a later stage, submarine cables were installed around the continent, as well as terrestrial backbones. The first cables connecting Europe, Africa and Asia were put in service in 2002. Most recently, projects for drones and balloons have been tested and a number of submarine cables have been laid.
George Weah during the presidential inauguration ceremony
(Originally published in the Columbia/SIPA Journal of International Affairs)
A coastal, West African country, Liberia was once infamous for civil war, so-called “blood diamonds,” and public health crises like the recent Ebola humanitarian crisis. But, soon, Liberia will be known more for its data transparency, management, and sharing than any of its past ills.
Since 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa and a Nobel laureate, has presided over the restoration of constitutional government and the consolidation of a lasting peace. Soon after her election, she started in on her promise of transforming the country into a more open nation, accountable to its people. To this end, the Liberian Anti-Corruption Act and the Freedom of Information Act were introduced. New public institutions were established, such as the General Auditing Commission (GAC), to ensure that Government accounts for public resources, and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), to prevent corruption and promote good governance. In 2008, the Government of Liberia joined the Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative (EITI), bringing transparency over payments and revenues procedures to the mining, timber, agriculture, and nascent oil and gas sectors.
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro
(Originally published in the Columbia/SIPA Journal of International Affairs)
Today Brazil is the ninth largest economy in the world and the largest in Latin America. With an Internet penetration rate of almost 60%, including 42 million inhabitants with 4G connections. Brazil is definitely a digital leader in the region.
Despite good urban Internet access, Brazil faces challenges such as connectivity in remote areas, provision of universal eServices and accessible education to all of its citizens.
In this past decade the Brazilian government launched numerous digital initiatives, based on open source software, but few of them have been successful. Indeed, no national strategies or action plans have been deployed to outline the role of each stakeholder. Defining a clear strategy, based on open source software, could be the foundation of an open knowledge society. The strategy should support innovations, create a more efficient nation, empower citizens and boost the economy.
Government as a Platform
Building a Centralized Web Platform
Today, most of governmental bodies are online to provide information and services for their citizens. In most countries, citizens can pay taxes, request passports, birth certificates and ID cards using dedicated eServices. They can also access laws, legal notices or public datasets online.
Usually, public bodies, such as Ministries, Agencies and Commissions, have their own websites and eServices driven and maintain by their own IT or Information Department. Sometimes, they don’t have enough ressources to acquire skilled talents and buy proper infrastructures to work on their digitalization. Thus, how public bodies can handle websites and eServices development without in-house technical competencies?
A Centralized Web Platform will be an option for public institutions, which have a little web presence, to offer a common framework and hosting solution to these underprivileged institutions. This solution should help to increase security, visibility, accessibility and data processing in Governments while providing visitors with an improved online experience.
The e-Liberia office at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT)
I spent 6 weeks in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, in November and December 2015 to design the eGovernment Web Development Strategy for the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT). Liberia Faced 14 years of civil war until 2003 then they faced an Ebola epidemic in 2014 and 2015. Peace Nobel Prize President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf worked hard to put Liberia on the good tracks with the support of the international community and she is still in the office until 2017. There is not metropolitan fiber yet in Liberia or national fiber connecting key cities, but the ACE submarine cable is reaching Monrovia and should help to bridge the digital divide in this country.
The AfriBox Initiative
During my last trip to Mali, fellow technologists and I decided to create an adapted computer named Afribox, based on a single-board microcontroller such as Arduino or Raspberry pi, to bring digital educational content and games to kids. Indeed, access to education is still a big issue in West Africa and we saw the promise of inventing a kind of « old school » Nintendo Entertainment System for rural Africa. This computer could be played with pads, and used on a TV screen or a pico-projector. Below is the concept note of the AfriBox Initiative.
Mauritian National Computer Board reception
I have been lucky enough to spend six weeks in the beautiful island of Mauritius to work on their National Open Source Policy, Strategy and Action Plan. My colleague, Andrej Kositer, and I were based at the National Computer Board (NCB) in Port Louis. The NCB was set up in 1988 to promote the development of ICT in Mauritius and they expect to be the key enabler in transforming Mauritius into a cyber island and a regional ICT hub. Continue reading
Computer center of the university of Quisqueya
I worked for three months on designing the digital Education Plan for Higher Education and Research in Haiti named PENDHA (Plan d’enseignement numérique à distance en Haïti). This program was intended to provide significant support in the reconstruction of Haitian higher education and research system. Indeed, Haitian universities welcomed 60,000 students and 2,000 teachers before the earthquake and these people need to keep going in their academic activities. Continue reading
La Source at the Bamako main market
I spent two years in Mali from 2005 to 2007 such as the Country Director of Geekcorps which is a non-profit organization that sends people with technical skills to developing countries to assist in ICT infrastructure development. At Geekcorps, we built a couple of innovative technical solutions such as an open FM transmitter, a CanTV, an offline wikipedia, a bottleNet, DIY solar panels, a rural information center named Cybertigi or a digital kiosk named la Source. We had a nice office located in the Bamako hippodrome district with a lab and six rooms to welcome fellow geeks. I was lucky enough to run the office after Ian Howard and Matt Berg who had already built amazing adapted ICT solutions for Mali. Continue reading
The ADEN project
The French government has been working on a six millions € project named ADEN (Appui au Désenclavement Numérique) to provide about 60 Public Internet Access Points in 13 African countries. These Access Points work on Open Source Software. Continue reading