The African Commons Project is blacked out

There’s a political campaign spreading across the internet, one that is ‘turning out the lights‘ on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter profile pictures, and throwing a dark shadow on blogs around the world. It’s all because of an unfair amendment to the Copyright Act in New Zealand that will threaten the rights to privacy and access to information in that country.

According to Creative Freedom Foundation, who is running this campaign, “Section 92 of the Copyright Amendment Act assumes Guilt Upon Accusation and forces the termination of internet connections and websites without evidence, without a fair trial, and without punishment for any false accusations of copyright infringement.”

This is an outrageous amendment, but why does this matter to us South Africans (and Africans), not quite on the other side of the world, but quite a distance away at least? It matters because this issue is about a broader problem within modern society – people in power not understanding that technology is an opportunity and not a threat, how copyright needs to be reinterpreted to match technological progress, and how reactive responses to piracy will simply lead to a public outcry. This issue highlights how South Africa need public education and effective lobbying on new and innovative approaches to copyright in preparation for our Copyright Act amendment. As the CFF states, “Laws like this will keep being proposed unless there is wide understanding within the [art] community of what’s being done in our name. The long-term solution is for you to help fellow artists understand the issues.”

On a different note, we’ve been thinking about creating and implementing effective internet ‘meme’s’ and have been marveling at the success of this campaign. In our opinion this has been really effective because of the powerful message behind the campaign that really fires people up because this law will have a tangible effect on how they use the internet in the future. We like the simplicity of the campaign (all you really need to do is right click, save as and then replace your profile pic – three easy steps!) and the ‘many pronged approach’ they have undertaken – the very least you can do is follow the three easy steps, tweet it, or change your Facebook profile – or if you’re more enthusiastic – you can email government, add banners to your site, sign the petition, attend a rally and more. It’s all about providing a variety of platforms for people to be involved ‘on their own terms’ with easy ways to pass the message on.

We congratulate Creative Freedom Foundation and wish them well in the last eight days of their countdown to 28 February.

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Whatever have we been doing?

Well, this blogpost comes rather late in the day and the team – much reduced in numbers – at The African Commons Project had better have a good excuse for not updating their blog.  (Especially as social media and blogging are one of the topics that we teach the non-profit community and knowledge managers!)

The TACP team now consists of two full-time staff members with additional partners brought on board when the need arises.  The team was six-strong a couple of years ago, but we bade au revoir last year to three of the gals who have gone overseas; Anna Berthold to return to her hometown in the US, and Heather Ford and Rebecca Kahn to do their Masters in the US and UK respectively.  We are proud to say that they are all doing fabulously.  Heather is now an ethnographer with Ushahidiand Rebecca is sweating through the final lap of her Masters – with sense of humour intact!  We said goodbye to Dani White earlier this year, when she moved to a digital and mobile agency to test her mettle in the corporate environment.  That leaves Kerryn (me!) and Rosanne, still supported by our great board members.

Despite the reduction in numbers we have been busy this year, assisting projects and partners with their communication strategies:  SAFIPA is the South African-Finland Partnership which has been a successful initiative that has sought to build capacity around local ICT4D and innovation in the fields of health informatics, education, rural development, mobile applications and entrepreneurship.  The goal has also been to develop a people-network and to share knowledge between South Africa and Finland.  The project winds down in the next few months, leaving behind a strong and vibrant community that will continue to thrive and build new partnerships.  TACP has assisted SAFIPA with upgrading and relaunching their website, as well as producing a quarterly newsletter over the past year, which highlights project progress, news, events and happenings.

TACP has also been doing work for Chisimba, which is an open source rapid application development framework.  Managed by a team at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), this project has the goal of building capacity in South Africa and Africa on Chisimba in particular and FOSS in general.   The Chisimba team have been involved in a bunch of initiatives that have seen them undertaking training in the provinces of South Africa, following a partnership having been established with the Department of Communication, as well as taking the training to institutions in Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania.  The latter was undertaken through a partnership with the German Development Agency GIZ.  TACP has helped the Chisimba team with their communications through the development of a quarterly newsletter and production of bi-monthly podcasts.

We have also been involved on a task team, headed up by Jace Nair, from the South African National Council for the Blind, which aim is to lobby government and create awareness around the TVI Treaty (full name:  Treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons).  Added to this we have been assisting with the establishment of the first-ever African Wikimedia Chapter, and putting together a bid to host the 2012 Wikimania Conference in South Africa.  Although we didn’t win the bid, we were one of the top two countries to make it to the final shortlist.  The bid was awarded to Washington, United States.

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Wikipedia Academies

Boosting South African language Wikipedias

The 10th of November commemorated the first Wikipedia Academy held a year ago, an event that aimed to stimulate awareness and foster a community around local language Wikipedias in South Africa. Organised by the TACP team, the workshop was attended by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and was run by a group of dedicated enthusiasts who are active in building the Swahili, German and Afrikaans language Wikipedias.

Students from Cida City Campus were taught to edit Wikipedia entries in their own languages – and a year after the event, the impact they have made is already showing. The following is a list of South African language Wikipedias, and the growth they have seen in the months after the Wikipedia Academy:

  • Afrikaans – 6,900 to 11,192 articles
  • Sesotho – 38 to 67 articles
  • Tsonga – 3 to 150 articles
  • Swati – 11 to 146 articles
  • Setswana – 19 to 102 articles
  • Venda – 33 to 120 articles
  • Xhosa – 33 to 109 articles
  • Zulu – 90 to 182 articles

The TACP team hope to run further Wikipedia Academies in 2009, though we are looking for any volunteers who are familiar with editing Wikipedia to help us out and are also open to suggestions for schools, colleges and community centres who would benefit from this training. Please leave a comment to this blog post if you’d like to get involved!

And if you need any more inspiring, watch this video documenting the first Wikipedia Academy event, which includes an interview with Jimmy Wales and highlights from the day.

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Social media that help grow communities

Social media that help grow communities from the inside out

In the last month, the team at African Commons has developed two proposals for innovative use of new media tools to serve different communities in South Africa.

The first is called The Jozi Learning Network – a project using mobile phones to connect people who want to learn with people who want to teach. A mixture between for the mobile phone and the Japanese Shibuya University Network, The Jozi Learning Network will enable people to flag subjects that they’re willing to teach or wanting to learn, scheduling informal and formal learning sessions, and also organising local learning events where we advertise for new ‘teachers’ and learning concepts. In a country with scarce skills, mobile can have great potential to connect the vast majority of this country who have something to learn/teach – and to build a learning network that is self-reliant and independent.

Another local project, The Humm is a citizen journalism platform for South African theatre – enabling audiences to gain access to user-generated theatre reviews via mobile phones and the web. The Humm aims to break current monopolies in theatrical review in favour of audience-driven perspectives, thereby building a communication system between audiences and theatre producers that is more genuine, more democratic and that favors innovation in South African theatre. Other than myself and African Commons editor, Rebecca Kahn, We also have the fabulous James Cairns working with us on this project, as well as film director, David Hickson, most famous for directing the film Beat the Drum.

Both these projects are aimed at showing how social media and citizen journalism tools can be developed and managed in a way that emphasises community participation and independence, and works with communities of practice to develop their own solutions to problems, recognising that problem-solving expertise needs to be local to be truly effective. There are very few projects in Africa that marry the organising power of new technology with principles for community development. We think that there is incredible expertise in South Africa and that the African Commons is a great org to facilitate and steer this expertise towards achieving goals that we can all benefit from – whether it’s a better skilled citizenry or a connected theatre community.

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