Open source projects are Africa’s missing ingredient to leapfrog challenges

Open source projects are Africa’s missing ingredient to leapfrog challenges

People love stories. They really do. It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t have a favourite author, songwriter, director or actor. Our craving for a good story is the reason we celebrate the best storytellers, rewarding them with our money, our time and our hearts. Unfortunately, good storytelling usually adopts exaggeration to deliver an

People love stories.

They really do. It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t have a favourite author, songwriter, director or actor. Our craving for a good story is the reason we celebrate the best storytellers, rewarding them with our money, our time and our hearts.

Unfortunately, good storytelling usually adopts exaggeration to deliver an engaging emotional experience. So it’s no surprise that the concept of “entrepreneur” usually generates images of one man/woman against the odds, trying to build something that would outlive him/her. While this may make for an amazing Netflix flick, it is far from the truth.

The “closer to reality” truth is that, thriving entrepreneurship is fostered in tight-knit networks. The summary of the article at the link is that governments around the world have tried to create entrepreneurship hives in various parts of the world, all with underwhelming success. They discovered that for an entrepreneurial ecosystem to thrive, there has to be unprecedented collaboration across board.

Which brings to fore the issue of open source projects. If anything, open source projects have a way of rallying a community around a particular vision. And that kind of collaboration produces rapid development of solutions. Google understands this, which is why their Artificial Intelligence programme got the the greenlight to go open source. According to experts at Wired, by open-sourcing the AI program, Google sped up the rate of Artificial Intelligence by at least six years. Imagine that.

A lot of talk goes on about tech helping Africa to leapfrog its challenges and accelerate development. If African entrepreneurs, especially techpreneurs, are going to benefit from that promise and build profitable businesses, make no mistakes about it, open source projects have a huge role to play.

There are so many challenges in African tech that the cost of tackling it individually is impossible for just a single player. Maybe even two players. It also makes the barrier to entry rather impossible for small time players. And for a budding ecosystem, the big guys and little guys need to be on the playground.   

In Nigeria for example, logistics alone is the bane of ecommerce. Bad roads and poor addressing systems all contribute to the pain of delivering affordable logistics and fulfilment solutions. The problem now is, it seems ecommerce companies and logistics providers are all going it alone. I can’t help but wonder how much good an open source project would benefit all stakeholders in the ecommerce sector. It’s not just about knowledge sharing.

A codified address system using Google maps’ API would do wonders, sort of like what locname is doing. The solution is not capital intensive neither does it require so many resources (seeing as the community shares the burden with the project initiators). Same goes for solving online transactions, payment gateways and so on.

So, it’s obvious. One of Africa’s problems, which has nothing to do with bad government or “several decades of colonial rule”, is the lack of collaboration. We can’t pin that on external forces.

Africa’s relatively budding ecosystem highlights the need for a lot of such open source projects. And until major and minor players pull down their “iron curtain”, the African technology ecosystem will keep trudging along slowly.

Ibukun Taiwo
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