Linux in Africa
Linux Key to IT Education and Development in Africa
by Mark Rais
propose technology education in Africa? The outsider mentality is
that much of Africa is an untamed realm of economic depression and
social disintegration. Few venture capitalists identify Africa as a
location for growth or gain.
But to those knowledgeable enough to identify the major shift that is
occurring on the African continent, the opportunity to now make a
productive impact for the future is immeasurable.
Political unrest and
economic and social issues make the news headlines. However, the
unique stabilization of many African nations, an emphasis on
infrastructure, with many countries now investing heavily, and technology advances combine to form a core
Key African nations are
ready to break free from centuries of socio/political struggles to
For those who have a
heart to see revitalization progress, this is the time to seize the
moment and participate in helping these nations. The effect will
benefit generations to come.
There is no better
platform to help revitalize Africa than through technological
empowerment. Technology can empower Africans to take hold of their economic and
social future. To do so requires giving them the tools and the
autonomy to move ahead.
Africa is being
readied for a major change. The fulcrum for change is technology.
"Africa is being
readied for a major change.
The fulcrum for change is technology."
A Unique Landscape
Something very unusual
is occurring in Africa and it is vital that those committed to humanitarian assistance and
Africa is a place where
two distinct worlds meet; centuries of tradition meeting the ultra
modern. Technological training can beneficially influence the work
and effort of organizations and educational institutions in these
Today, new technology
is arriving at Africa's doorstep en mass. In many nations the
often vulnerable world of wired is meeting the wireless. Africa is a
continent where farmers can be seen tending their herds while using
cell phones to communicate. Africa is a place where students learn
server technology so they can find technology jobs in Europe and
other regions, and Linux has become synonymous for opportunities in the server engineering roles. It is also a place where major computer hardware
vendors have setup shop and availability of business infrastructure
is now a comprehensive reality in most cities.
of Information Technology Education
There are many examples
of how access to information technology training has strengthened a
community, created new economic programs, and influenced future
leaders. From my personal experiences, helping with YMCA and other organizations, OpenSource solutions including Linux are making a substantive impact.
In South Africa, the
technology tycoon Mr. Shuttleworth (www.shuttleworthfoundation.org)
established a foundation that has successfully brought computer
training labs to over 80 schools. The positive impact this has on
children and their future development and ability to influence is
Consider this. In
India, ten years ago, Information Technology was a unique word only
for a select few. Today, India is the leading IT exporter on earth.
The unique industry and growth has granted India's industry
billions of new dollars. Imagine now the same powerful platform
granted in the hands of the world's many needy in Africa. The paradigm shift
and massive growth in India as well as in Dublin, Ireland began with
one simple concept: train a handful of individuals who in turn will
train others or begin their own technology ventures.
With such an example in mind, the numerous OpenSource experts should consider one question. What are the overt
benefits of beginning a prototype Information Technology lab
in an African nation?
platform for gifted teachers and talented individuals from other
nations to infuse that experience and knowledge to Africans.
development of micro-businesses, empowering the local people with
new tools to run existing organizations, and encouraging vital
The plan may include:
prototype training labs that teach computer skills for business
mechanism for new investments to be made for a specific community.
development in people to break the economic divide.
next generation of African workers and leaders.
The first and most
important aspect of developing information technology training in a
nation is to establish a strong and mutually beneficial relationship
with an existing organization or the regional government.
Many nations have already established a number of avenues for organizations
to develop this relationship.
Relationship with leaders will
enable rapid identification of the most opportune location
for a prototype training lab, ease the working relationship with local leaders and help develop a clear structure for
funding future projects.
The stages of such a
prototype development would be:
Key persons travel
to the region and interact with national leadership.
Funding groups are
identified and included in the process.
Location for a
prototype lab is identified and all necessary paperwork addressed.
approach is used to create the physical lab facility. This includes
placing theft deterrent devices, constructing the tables.
necessary computer technology to the location and installing it.
initial curriculum based on a prototype group from the region.
success of the initial lab for funding the next lab.
Factor for Success
Almost everyone who
agrees that technology training would benefit African society, also
presumes that success is predicated upon significant funding.
However, in recent
years the advent of a new technology ensures that the start up costs
for such a training facility are far lower than ever before.
a term for the development of software that is free and open to the
world, is the key factor. Where in the past for every computer you
also needed to pay for software licensing and maintenance, the new model removes
licensing costs and reduces maintenance.
"The OpenSource model removes
licensing costs and reduces maintenance."
The core ingredient is
Linux. This is a free computer operating system, similar to
Microsoft Windows but available in a unique way as OpenSource. That
means that the code and its use are not dictated by anyone, and that
it is a tool of maximum flexibility for African nations.
Most importantly, one
single reasonably new computer using Linux can serve as many as fifty
workstations. Details regarding establishing a Linux Lab are included
this article on Reallylinux.com.
The workstations themselves can be extremely
antiquated personal computers, often donated, or purchased for very
low price. Since the "brain" or power of the computer lab comes
from the single server, costs for the workstations are minimal. More
importantly, there are no fees for software.
You can add additional workstations without paying any additional costs
in terms of initial software fees, maintenance and upgrade fees, or
scaling (buying additional licenses for more systems).
For the first time in
history of technology, the power of today's computers
combined with the OpenSource software result in solutions that apply
directly to Africa's situation and needs.
"The new OpenSource paradigm frees organizations from focusing on the economics
of a plan."
Most importantly, this
new paradigm also frees organizations from focusing on the economics
of a plan. Instead, they are freed to concentrate on using their
resources for encouraging growth. It is also a plan that grants all
authority and autonomy to the people.
Finally, the methods
described have already been well implemented in other nations.
These methods can
ensure that today's generation have far more opportunity and
empowerment to impact Africa and the world for good.
Mark Rais serves as a Linux integration consultant and is Sr. Editor for reallylinux.com. He also authored the book Linux for the Rest of Us 2nd Edition and has written a number of articles including Linux in the Classroom, Moving to Linux, Killing the Five Myths Against Linux and others.
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