The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) is urging African countries to embrace open source software, in a bid to develop indigenous software development.
There have been a number of open-source initiatives on the continent, including for example Impi Linux, a South African project. However, open-source technology is not that widely used in the region, according to Abel Chambeshi, Zambia’s minister of Transport and Communications.
Chambeshi, after helping to kick off an international workshop on free and open source software last week, told the IDG News Service that NEPAD has issued guidelines on open-source usage to try boost the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in Africa. NEPAD is based in Johannesburg and is chartered to finance development projects in Africa.
Open-source software is especially attractive because it does not entail the license costs that commercial software requires, Chambeshi said.
“A number of developing countries, including Korea and Argentina, have decided to move their entire government system on free and open source software. So why can’t Africa do the same? This is why NEPAD has come in: to make sure that Africa adopts open-source technology,” Chambeshi said.
According to Chambeshi, NEPAD has contacted African governments through their respective countries’ communications ministers, urging them to consider adopting open source software. By saving on license costs, governments might then be free to initiate more community ICT projects, and have a greater possibility of attracting private funding for some of them, he said.
NEPAD has been trying to spur the development of science and technology by improving ICT infrastructure via the e-Africa Commission. Established four years ago, e-Africa is based in Pretoria, South Africa, and operates under the auspices of NEPAD.
Kenyan Minister of Communication Raphael Tuju told the IDG News Service that Kenya is encouraged by NEPAD’s directive and that a number of organizations in Kenya are already using open source software in various projects.
The Computer Society of Zambia (CSZ), an organization representing IT experts, said it welcomes the directive since the organization already has been campaigning for the use of open source software in Africa to enhance economic growth.
“The directive therefore gives us strength to further our campaign,” said Milner Makuni, president of CSZ.
Zambian Communications Deputy Minister Harrigan Mazimba agreed that open-source technology could contribute to growth in the economy. But since many government officials in Africa are familiar only with proprietary, commercial software, some education may be necessary, he said.
By Michael Malakata, IDG News Service