This week, it was reported, that Kenya’s President, H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to a pact by the Software Giant, Microsoft, through their Microsoft International, to provide, among other things, 260,000 Computers for children in Kenyan Schools.
In only 48hours, the news of this had spread like a wild fire, among Africa’s premier FOSS community – FOSSFA Members Forum – and has elicited a continent wide bag of mixed reactions. Coley Zephania did not mince his words “Microsoft has struck the Head. FOSS is dead in Kenya!”, he urges a mode direct approach, asking FOSSFA to make immediate plans to meet with the Kenyan Government over this matter. Juma Lungo from Tanzania was more optimistic, “I believe FOSS Kenya will forge its way. There is always an opportunity window” .” Lets unite and support FOSS in Kenya”, is his plea.
One of Kenya’s beacon for the success of FOSS is Strathmore University, where FOSSFA Council Members John Matogo and Dr. Joseph Sevilla have moved swiftly to announce a forum on the Presidential deal with Microsoft – If you are in Nairobi, 18th June is the Date. Accra based AITI-KACE Director, Dorothy Gordon is a woman who is as graceful as the African gazelle, and her wisdom, echoed by Uganda’s James Wire, was diplomatically clinical: Establish the facts, Seek out for Openness on the entire deal, and then Use Kenya’s strong social and traditional media to help alert the public on the long term effects of this deal.
Alex Gakuru, is home grown, and has been around FOSS for a long time. He is a man of many words, but this time, he chose only 10 “I beg to differ. It is trauma, way beyond panic.”
So on and on, the reactions come, from Malawi, Uganda, Togo and Zimbabwe. One thing is for sure, everyone keeps wondering how best to react to this.
Why does this bother FOSSFA Members?
Simple, because Uhuru means Freedom. Its a powerful name to have. Its been a country’s slogan for decades, and its a word understood by anyone in the East African Community. You see, Free and Open Source Software is really about Freedom. Whereas Kenyans should be grateful about the technology influx, they should be worried about the freedom such a Vendor takes away, perhaps not now, but in the long run.
Microsoft will appear to (and indeed give) Free Computers, BUT these computers will need to run Software! Microsoft may, for publicity’s sake, even give the Software for free, but we sure know that this giant has not made money over the years through philanthropy, they have sold Software Licences, among other things.
And lets not forget that Microsoft Operating Systems are not “self contained” – soon you will have to buy an Office Suite, Adobe, Anti-Virus and other such tools. In effect, unless Microsoft can guarantee life-time FREE COSTS upfront, for all software requirements, there will be some kind of payment, sooner or later. But you see Free Beer is one simplistic (yes – but in Africa, very vital) way of looking at this.
At FOSSFA, we think about this Freedom, not as Free Beer (exclusively, or only) but as Free Speech. As such, we subscribe to GNU’s popular definition of Free Software: Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.
More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
These are not just your run-of-the-mill freedoms, these are fundamental to how we view Software. This is UHURU – in the world of Software. These freedoms guarantee far much more than well packaged goodies from Proprietary vendors. If Microsoft can guarantee these freedoms, then, perhaps all is well. My experiences tell me otherwise.
You see, these computers, 260,000 of them, are not just going to help Kenyan students get online, they are also going to be the first place that innovation and other tech inventions are envisioned. Am glad the President is quoted to have mentioned that “…his government is ready to enter into partnerships that will facilitate the implementation of ICT programmes in the country in a cost-effective manner” and that “…his government will provide all the facilitation needed to roll out the partnership in line with the existing laws and regulations”
We, at FOSSFA, mean well, as hundreds of FOSS Users in the world, such as the French association, helping Students get back refunds over Microsoft Software sales, and telling you about the uncanny features of Windows 8, and why it may not be a wise upgrade.
In March 2014, FOSSFA will hold its flagship African FOSS Conference – IDLELO – in Nairobi, Kenya. We hope to have H. E. Uhuru Kenyatta, so that, together with the Kenyan FOSS Community, and the wider African FOSS Community, we can advocate for a Software environment that encourages Freedom, afterall, Uhuru means Freedom.