The EACOS Initiative

The Open Source movement, incorporating free and open source software (FOSS), open source technologies and hardware and the creative commons have grown in maturity over the years to take the pride of place in all spheres of modern life. The term “open source” refers to something people can freely use, modify and share because it’s design is publicly accessible.

The term originated in the context of software development to designate a specific approach to creating computer programs. Today, however, “open source” designates a broader set of values—what we call “the open source way.” Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.

Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) is a type of computer software whose source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner.

A 2008 report by the Standish Group states that adoption of open-source software models had resulted in savings of about $60 billion (£48 billion) per year to consumers.

But it is not just cost savings that make adoption of open source a critical and urgent need. Open source by it’s very nature creates an opportunity for the development of local technical capacities. Since open source products are developed in a collaborative manner and the entire “blue print” or design of products is open and freely available to everybody, then local communities are able to participate in the development of technology or other creative commons, becoming co-developers and not just mere consumers. Local industries can thrive, creating high value jobs and stemming the migration of Africa’s youth to western countries in search of greener pastures.

What are the practical examples of Open Source?

Recently, it was reported that IBM, one of the largest and oldest technology firms, has acquired Red Hat for a reported $22B. With this acquisition, IBM has set itself up as the largest Cloud computing company. Red Hat is the company behind Red Hat Linux, which is the most widely used Linux distribution on the Enterprise. Linux in its different flavors like Ubuntu, SUSE, Debian, RedHat etc, is the most successful open source project in the world. Linux powers over 75% of the of the world’s servers, including 100% of the world’s Top500 super computers in the world. Other key facts about Linux are:

  • Android, which runs about 80% of the world’s smart phones, is based on the Linux Kernel. This gives Linux the largest install base of all general purpose operating systems.
  • Linux powers over 95% of the top one million domains, playing a dominant role on the Internet and the world wide web.
  • Leading stock exchanges like NASDAQ, NYSE, London Stock Exchange, Tokyo stock Exchange and the Nairobi Securities  Exchange (NSE), run on Linux
  • Linux supports the world’s leading e-commerce companies such as Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Walmart etc.
  • The most interesting projects in the world such as NASA Mars Curiosity Rover, SpaceX, US Air Traffic Control, The Internet archive, International Space Station, the largest Hollywood animation studios, all rely on Linux.
  • Most of the leading companies in Kenya, including Telecoms to Government agencies, rely on Linux to drive their mission critical enterprise solutions.

In a nutshell, today’s world runs on Linux.

There are many other open source and creative commons success stories. For instance, Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free encyclopedia based on a model of openly editable content, a wiki. It is the largest and most popular general reference work on the World Wide Web, and is one of the most popular websites in the world.

Open Source and African Development

African countries in particular are faced with immense challenges and opportunities. In Kenya for instance, the Government has set out to implement The Big Four Agenda, as well as the Kenya Vision 2030. The Big 4 Agenda encompasses  Affordable and decent housing, affordable healthcare, food and nutritional security and employment creation through manufacturing. The Kenya Vision 2030 is a long term initiative to ensure that Kenya attains middle income country status by the year 2030.

The situation in other African countries is no different. We are all struggling with similar problems albeit at different levels. But what is the place of open source in the attainment of development in Africa?

One of the key challenges that Africa faces is the growing unemployment. We are blessed with a young and vibrant population which unfortunately is faced with growing unemployment. The adoption of the open source model can play a big role in liberating African countries from this problem and turning it’s youth into the engine for development. Open source puts the tools that are required to take advantage of the modern economy into the hands of users, regardless of where one is located. With these tools, we can take advantage of the modern technological developments to ensure that we do not get left behind.

Where Africa was left behind in the last 3 industrial revolutions, we have an opportunity to play a leading role in the 4th Industrial Revolution and improve our economies and the living standards of our populations. Open source presents us with an immense opportunity to achieve this.