More than a decade ago, in the face of rapidly changing technological advancement, and exorbitant cost of proprietary hardware, desktop and server software solutions stifling the use of information and communications technologies in Africa, there was a de facto development need for open source solutions on the continent. There was also an concurrent global trend toward affordable and practicable open source solutions which were becoming viable, cost effective and sustainable ‘alternatives’ to conventional proprietary solutions.
It is against this background that the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) was formed. FOSSFA has its origin in the ICT Policy and Civil Society Workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia held between 6th and 8th November 2002.It is here that the need for developing a framework for open source solutions emerged strongly. On 21 February 2003 FOSSFA was launched in Geneva, Switzerland during the second preparatory meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
Since those formative days of the global Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement, things have changed dramatically. Africa has been experiencing substantial growth in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. And FLOSS has become a viable software alternative to the high cost and increase in unauthorised software usage in traditional sectors where Proprietary Software remains a standard.
Software development is, and will continue to be, a knowledge- and people-intensive activity. Given the significant penetration by FLOSS in the mobile and desktop virtualization industry, such software is no longer seen as an uncomfortably poor cousin of the proprietary giants, and is increasingly seen as an effective business opportunity and important resource. Africa has the opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, this open software movement.
The mobile and virtual desktop worlds are very much in play, with Google Android steamrolling Microsoft, with other Linux variants such as Intel’s MeeGo, Samsung’s Bada and Canonical’s Ubuntu also gaining ground. In short, there’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in the development and growth of operating systems and their apps. As we prepare a strategic / action plan for FOSSFA, almost all of Microsoft’s OEM partners have abandoned Microsoft exclusivity, and Microsoft’s next-generation operating system has abandoned Intel exclusivity for the first time, and FLOSS is raising considerable interest worldwide, especially in countries such as China, Brazil and India. As we are about to enter the mobile post-PC world, humanity will collectively experience a diversification of mobile apps. The more people that use the mobile platform, the more value it generates for platform participants. It would therefore seem inevitable that FLOSS will continue to help propel development in Africa.
So what role should FOSSFA continue to play in Africa?
FOSSFA is Africa’s premier Non-Governmental FLOSS organisation on the continent. The vision of FOSSFA is to promote the use of FLOSS and the FLOSS model in African development. FOSSFA supports the integration of FLOSS in national policies, coordinates, promotes and adds value to African FLOSS initiatives, creativity, industry, expertise, efforts and activities at all levels.
FOSSFA partners with development organizations who share these goals towards a participatory and gender-mainstreamed sustainable development and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.
to be continued.