Africa's first Regional Conference gathers Wikimedians in Johannesburg
This June, Wikimedia South Africa hosted over 35 Wikimedians in Johannesburg for the first ever Wiki Indaba Regional Conference. All four regions in Africa were represented by at least 1 country, with West Africa having the lion's share. For three days, we talked about the need, challenges and solutions for activating wikipedia editing communities in the continent, in order to fulfill our vision of sharing the sum of all human knowledge with the world.
We left with a renewed sense of purpose and united goal to create wikipedia editing communities in our respective countries, through clear communication channels and co-operation plans, even while being reminded that we don’t have a magic wand to accomplish these goals overnight.
The first day was spent listening to delegates, recount the state of community efforts in their home countries, the unique challenges they face as well as future plans. We learned how group dynamics and diversity helped Tunisia acquire the status of being the Newly recognised African user group, and from Egypt we learned how universities are responding to Wikipedia. From Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, we learned of the local efforts of WiR at Africa Centre and how they are linking up with local academia and Art to expose the public to Wikipedia. We learned of grass roots efforts from Ghana and Nigeria, in reaching out to schools and the public in general. We heard how difficult it is to arrange events without the approval of local authorities. From Cameroon we learned how Wiki Loves Monuments improved acceptance of Wikipedia through the competition. From Ethiopia we learned about the dangers faced by bloggers and how Wikipedia is often mistaken to Wikileaks. We learned how some wikipedians have actually been incarcerated for blogging. From Malawi and Tanzania we learned how Wikipedians are fusing their entrepreneurial skills with open knowledge. From Kenya we learned of efforts to regroup and pursue chapter status again. We learned of the efforts of university students to build a community in Botswana. From Namibia we learned of a renewed effort to experiment on oral citations as a way to create acceptance of local and indigenous knowledge into Wikipedia. We learned of community efforts in South Africa, which still hsa the only chapter in the continent. At the end of the day, we reviewed statistics of African language wikipedias and the insights that can be drawn from these. The day was rounded up by a presentation on Wikimedia Foundation's global south strategy and how it is poised to assit communities in the continent.
After a refreshing social event in the heart of Johannesburg, We were back to Day 2 and onto business. Delegates got a chance to interact with the Wikimedia Foundation grants team (Anasuya and Asaf) and to ask important questions about available funding opportunities to enable them to run outreach events in their countries. Many misconceptions were dispelled and delegates gained confidence in planning future projects with the assurance that funding and support will be available when they eventually need them. The Wikipedia Zero presentation (Adele) was awe inspiring and instilled a sense of excitement when delegates learned about recent developments in their own countries. Deeper understanding on the technology and its potential impact in the continent was shared with delegates. The afternoon session was divided into two tracks running concurently, where insights on exceptional local projects in Education and copy right issues were discussed. We learned how mission aligned thematic organizations can complement local community efforts in increasing Wikipedia's reach and understanding. The day was capped by a social event hosted by Creative Commons ZA, where a movie on copy right highlighted issues brought to the fore by The Pirate Bay and the European Law suit against their Peer to Peer online content sharing.
The third and final day of the conference saw exhausted delegates wrap-up the conference with two track session in the morning. Local success stories such as Omaheke - Namibia's Outreach and Research Sandbox; Wikipedia Primary Education; Wikipedia Education Program in Egypt; The Siyavula Open Education portal in South Africa as well as Mesh Sayada, a Free Community Network for Open Data and Free Culture in Tunisia. A show case of Wiki Loves Monuments successes in South Africa was also shared. The session culminated with the announcement of Wiki Loves Africa project which will be a photographic competition modelled on WLM concept.
At the close of the conference, delegates were requested to write down personal pledges on how they plan to continue and escalate their efforts in building editing communities in their countries. These were collected for capturing and will be sent back to delegates to remind them of their personal pledges. Delegates also deliberated on the best ways to stay connected as a group through discussions on Meta, in social networks as well as the creation of an African-Mailing list.
As captured by the program director in closing, There are no expectations that this conference will magically result in super active editing communities in Africa, However there is now hope that an organised group of fire lighters will work together to spark the much needed wikipedia editing communities in the continent. One step at a time.
(Watch videos from the conference participants on Youtube here. Complete conference documentation is available on Meta-wiki and more picture of the conference can be seen on commons. Many thanks to our wonderful hosts at Wikimedia South Africa in Johannesburg for a well-organized event, and to all participants for sharing their knowledge and experiences at this conference. We look forward to continuing this conversation in the coming months.)
Dumisani Ndubane, Project lead, Wikimedia ZA