This is the tenth conversation of the 100+ Conversations to Inspire Our New Direction (#OKFN100) project.

Since 2023, we are meeting with more than 100 people to discuss the future of open knowledge, shaped by a diverse set of visions from artists, activists, scholars, archivists, thinkers, policymakers, data scientists, educators, and community leaders from everywhere.

The Open Knowledge Foundation team wants to identify and discuss issues sensitive to our movement and use this effort to constantly shape our actions and business strategies to deliver best what the community expects of us and our network, a pioneering organisation that has been defining the standards of the open movement for two decades.

Another goal is to include the perspectives of people of diverse backgrounds, especially those from marginalised communities, dissident identities, and whose geographic location is outside of the world’s major financial powers.

How openness can accelerate and strengthen the struggles against the complex challenges of our time? This is the key question behind conversations like the one you can read below.


This time we did something different, a collective conversation. Last week we had the chance to bring together several members of the Open Knowledge Network to talk about the current context, opportunities and challenges for open knowledge in Africa.

The conversation took place online in English on 4 June 2024, with the participation of Romeo Ronald Lomora (South Sudan), Justine Msechu (Tanzania), Oluseun Onigbinde (Nigeria) and Maxwell Beganim (Ghana), moderated by Lucas Pretti, OKFN’s Communications & Advocacy Director.

One of the important contexts of this conversation is precisely Maxwell’s incorporation as regional coordinator of the Network’s Anglophone Africa Hub. With this piece of content, we also aim to facilitate regional integration and find common points of collaboration for shared work within the Network. That’s why we started by asking him to introduce himself in his own words. 

We hope you enjoy reading it.


Maxwell Beganim: My name is Max, and I currently serve as the Anglophone Africa Coordinator for the Open Knowledge Network. My primary focus is to consolidate efforts and collaborate with other Anglophone countries to advance the conversation around open knowledge in our region. I’ve been deeply involved in the open ecosystem for the past six years, starting initially with Wikimedia projects like Wikipedia and later expanding into OpenStreetMap and Creative Commons activities through the recently established Ghana chapter.

One of my significant projects is the Kiwix project in Ghana, where we address the digital divide by providing offline educational resources to senior high schools. This initiative is crucial as it bridges the gap between basic and tertiary education, ensuring access to essential information even in areas with limited connectivity.

As a language activist, I co-founded the Ghanaian Language Wikimedia Community and the Ghanaian Pidgin Wikimedia Community to promote linguistic diversity and knowledge sharing in local languages. 

Recently, I’ve been involved in launching the Open Goes COP coalition, stemming from my experience at international conferences like COP, where I observed a gap in integrating open technologies with climate discussions. This project brings together climate activists and open knowledge enthusiasts to amplify our impact during global environmental conversations.

In summary, my journey in the open knowledge and tech space revolves around promoting educational equity, linguistic diversity, and environmental sustainability across Anglophone Africa. I’m passionate about leveraging open licensing and collaborative efforts to empower communities and drive positive change on multiple fronts.

Romeo Ronald Lomora: First, congratulations on establishing the Ghana chapter. 

In my country, South Sudan, we face significant challenges, particularly in terms of digital literacy. For example, only about 10% of our population is digitally literate. When I tried to implement a Kiwix project here, I realised that it couldn’t be as effective as in Ghana because most students don’t even know how to use computers.

I’ve started with basic ICT literacy for many young people. I saw a great project on Open Knowledge about storing government archives, but I wonder if these solutions are viable if citizens don’t understand the structures to access this information. My biggest question is about the new African Hub. Is there a space to share knowledge, exchange experiences, discuss resources and build on these initiatives to solve our challenges?

Maxwell Beganim: Thank you Romeo. I remember working with you and appreciate the incredible work you’re doing in the open ecosystem. I agree that while we share some common issues, our challenges can be quite different. Let me respond to your questions with an example.

In Ghana, during our Kiwix implementation, we had to visit schools and install Kiwix on their computers. However, many schools only had two working computers. So we shifted our focus to digital citizenship, teaching media and information literacy and digital etiquette. This prepares students to understand the digital ecosystem in theory.

Once they’re comfortable with digital citizenship, we train them to use Kiwix, which mimics the internet without the need for a connection. We found that students didn’t know about YouTube or Wikipedia, but they were using their phones to place bets. So we taught them about valuable resources like Wikipedia and showed them how to translate and write articles.

We also identified a digital literacy gap between teachers and students. We trained teachers and provided them with offline content so that they could use it for learning and teaching.

In terms of knowledge sharing, we’ve started mapping the ecosystem and planning information sessions to explain the structures and the Open Knowledge Global Directory. We’ll continue to bring in experts to share best practice and initiatives.

In the climate field, we’ve identified people working in the open and climate fields and will host webinars to share their work. My aim as Regional Coordinator is to support grassroots projects in an inclusive way. I welcome your ideas to co-curate this process and make us proud of our collective achievements. Let’s use our experience with Wikipedia and grassroots mobilisation to adapt and improve our initiatives.

Justine Msechu: You mentioned that while spaces for free access to knowledge are being created, the availability of resources remains a challenge. We can’t provide resources to everyone who needs access to information immediately; it’s a long way to go. My question is, how does the Open Knowledge Network support organisations in creating spaces for access to knowledge? What resources do you provide to help them share information with those who need it?

Maxwell Beganim: One critical point to note is that when I started with Kiwix, it quickly gained traction because it was a low-cost solution. Initially I just had Kiwix as a platform and used it as a starting point. Now we’re working on a toolbox model in Ghana to pool resources.

The goal is to scale this model within the open ecosystem and train representatives to use this information in the classroom and beyond. As regional coordinator, I’m co-curating this effort. If there’s something interesting, we’re open to incorporating it. For example, I recently received an email from the Reading Wikipedia in the Classroom project, where I’m a certified trainer. There’s also an Open Learning Collective that wants to help, and I’m planning to get in touch with them.

We’re doing a mapping exercise to find out who, where and what resources are available. This collaborative approach involves everyone, like you, Justine, to understand and gather resources for the grassroots.

The two main initiatives are offline learning with open and learning collectives, and the Ghana Model Box project. I’m doing a six-month training with Sabier to develop the Ghana Moodle toolbox. Once equipped, I will be able to train others in our community to implement these projects locally. For now, these are the resources and strategies we’re focusing on.

Oluseun Onigbinde: Congratulations, Max, on this new role and the chapter in Ghana. I hope at some point Nigeria will be up to speed. 

I would just like to say that I think we might need an Anglophone Africa strategy to clarify our objectives. For example, there are projects like electoral initiatives and data commons systems, but we need to think about what is important to us in Africa. Is it bridging the digital divide, accountability issues or something else? The Open Knowledge Foundation has done a lot of work on open spending in the past, working on budgets and more.

It’s important to identify what we’re going to focus on so that in a year’s time we can look back and see our achievements in countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. We need joint strategies and projects. Perhaps we could have an Anglophone Africa Day to host events and discuss what data we want to liberate and what ecosystems we want to stimulate. We should explore joint programming, peer learning and sharing. What do you think?

Maxwell Beganim: Thanks, I completely agree with the points you’ve raised about having a common strategy. Going forward, we should have regular meetings to update each other and learn from best practices. A unified strategy is crucial and I’ll discuss this idea with the main team. We’ve started with a Telegram platform for Anglophone Africa where we can share information and brainstorm together.

Co-curation is essential because shared ownership makes everyone feel involved. We could have a meeting for Anglophone Africa where you share your experiences and we define our goals together. For example, Open Goes COP, an initiative of Open Knowledge Ghana, can be a starting point. After the launch, we can identify thematic areas such as elections and leverage knowledge sharing and capacity building.

Lucas Pretti: What about resources? How do you mobilise them? Is there support from the government, public authorities, CSOs and foundations? How do you manage funding for initiatives in Africa, especially in your countries?

Maxwell Beganim: In my experience, openness initiatives are often supported by organisations such as Creative Commons, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Open Society Foundation (OSF). Government support is rare, but there are working partnerships. For example, we’re working with the National Folklore Board in Ghana on the Wiki Loves Living Heritage project.

Another big problem is that people don’t even know what openness is. When you start talking about openness, people just sit down and look at you and say “what are you talking about?” So the onus is on us as civil society organisations to start looking at ways in which people can build their skills when it comes to the whole open ecosystem.

In Ghana, government funding for openness projects is minimal, but we’re trying to integrate these initiatives gradually. Most of the funding comes from external sources like the Wikimedia Foundation, as local government systems are not always transparent or supportive.

What about you, Romeo? How do you mobilise resources in South Sudan?

Romeo Ronald Lomora: In my country, direct government support is rare, but there are funds available for certain ICT initiatives. However, accessing these funds is complex and often requires connections, who you know in the government. It’s not very systematic. For example, the National Communications Authority supports some initiatives, but the process isn’t yet clear to the public.

External sources that understand the role of open knowledge, such as the Wikimedia Foundation or Open Society, are more reliable. We often work in silos, disconnected from government and the public, which makes it difficult to explain the importance of our work and secure local support.

So while government funding is available, it is difficult to access and we rely primarily on external organisations that understand the importance of open knowledge and society.

I am curious to hear from you, Justine, about the reality of funding in Tanzania.

Justine Msechu: It’s very similar to what Romeo described. Often the funding comes from external donors and not from the government. Even when we receive funding from donors outside the country, government officials sometimes expect a share of that funding.

For example, there was a case where an organisation provided computers to local government schools. But when these computers arrived at the airport, it became a big problem. Customs officials wanted to inspect everything and insisted that someone pay for the transport, even though the computers had been donated to government schools. This highlights the lack of support from the government, as they create additional hurdles rather than facilitating the process.

As in other countries, we rely heavily on external organisations such as the Wikimedia Foundation and others for support. So we need to focus on how we can support each other within our network. Perhaps we can create a platform to present our needs to the government and seek their support more systematically.

Oluseun Onigbinde: Let me move on to research. Much of our research still relies heavily on academic sources, often from foreign journals, which are seen as a form of validation. However, these journals tend to be very expensive to access and publish in, especially with the recent exchange rate devaluations making it even more expensive. This is a significant barrier.

If we want to be a respected hub for open knowledge resources, making research more accessible would be highly beneficial. We often underestimate the value of the research repositories we already have. For example, in our work at BudgIT, researchers are the primary users of our content, even more so than the general public. This suggests a strong demand for accessible, high quality research.

Perhaps we should think about creating an open knowledge space dedicated to research. Current platforms often have paywalls that restrict access.

Lucas Pretti: Do you all think that there’s at least a willingness on the part of governments or organisations to become more transparent and open, especially in terms of public policy, digital public infrastructure (DPI), free software and so on? Is there a public discourse about it?

Oluseun Onigbinde: There seems to be some discursive adoption of these ideas by governments and organisations, but the practical implementation is still lacking. First of all, we need to understand the specific ecosystem we’re dealing with. Are we focusing on universities, the general public, development agencies or development institutions? Once we’ve identified our audience, we need to clearly communicate what ‘open’ means and what the benefits are for them.

It’s important to frame this in terms of incentives. We should ask ourselves: what do these stakeholders gain by being open? For example, are they contributing to a larger ecosystem? Do they increase the visibility of their work? Do they facilitate the exploitation of knowledge? Early on, we developed a thesis around these incentives to encourage participation in an open knowledge environment.

To make openness a more prominent public statement, we must first identify our target audience and the major sources of knowledge within the continent. From there, we can define specific incentives that resonate with them and clearly communicate the benefits of being part of an open, transparent ecosystem.

Romeo Ronald Lomora: Recently a university from the UK came to South Sudan to do research on the heritage and tribes of the country. They documented a lot, including songs and photographs, and did a lot of work. But the concern is that all the products of this research are being taken back to London and are not available to the local people.

In our discussions, we noted a duplication of existing research content on certain issues. Researchers come with resources and carry out studies, but the results are not accessible to the local community. This raises the question: what does access to these resources mean for us? Should there be laws to ensure that research results are available locally?

In South Sudan, our academia does not focus much on research or policy development. For example, at the National Bureau of Statistics, as we approach an election, we’re relying on outdated statistics from over 30 years ago due to budget constraints. This highlights the complexity of the problem, which goes beyond a lack of access to resources or academic focus.

Oluseun mentioned that as part of our strategy we need to define what open access to information means for us. This could include creating shared resources and doing specific research in our country that can be made openly accessible to help people make better policy decisions.

Maxwell suggested that we map our resources in more detail. We need to be clear about what we are mapping and what we want to discuss in our meetings. These discussions should lead to the development of specific services or products that can help us build our structure.

Finally, we need to consider the broader framework of open knowledge in Africa. What does open knowledge mean to us as the Open Knowledge Network? How can we adapt these principles to our context? By redefining existing factors and finding meaningful solutions, we can develop a robust open knowledge structure. I’m glad that we are addressing these questions together. 

Lucas Pretti: Does everyone here agree with Max’s statement that access is the main issue in Africa as a whole? 

Oluseun Onigbinde: That’s an important point. But we might also need to redefine access in some way. When you say access, it might just be about what platform is there for us to publish. That’s a big point for us to diagnose. When we publish, what is the distribution of these works? Are people able to find these documents easily? And once they find them, can they reuse them properly? 

In this age of AI and fluid governance of digital publishing, we need to take that context to discuss the rules that govern access to those publishing platforms.

Justine Msechu: Access is still a big challenge here in Tanzania. For example, we don’t have a common platform where researchers or academics can put things up and everyone can read them. I know of some universities that even tell students not to use Wikipedia because it’s not a good source of information. There are a lot of people trying to put content on Wikipedia using the Swahili language and prove that it’s a free and safe space for people to share their knowledge and access it for free.

Romeo Ronald Lomora: Let me say this. The government of South Sudan has published a budget for this year and it’s open. It is there. People will get it. But then the big question is: do people even understand this budget? Do they understand how it relates to them? Do they understand how that information is there? 

The challenge for me is to understand the barriers that are really associated with access, rather than just looking at access itself. To redefine access, we need to go back to the basics and identify digital literacy as the biggest problem. Most people don’t really understand how to use a computer, so imagine the whole digital ecosystem. The information is there, it’s open, but they’re not going to access it. So if you ask me, is access still a challenge? I would say yes, but to what extent can we go back and redefine it as a broader educational challenge?

In South Sudan, there’s a huge information gap between the people and the government. People don’t really seem to trust or care about what’s happening and what the government is doing. So my question is, what are the small steps to make people understand? I like what your organisation is doing, Oluseun, to simplify very complex ideas into simple visualisations. Like with budgets, breaking it down into infographics, getting people to understand and really relate to these huge numbers. That’s the first step before you can think about taking action or reacting to it. 

Justine Msechu: I think this meeting is very important because I think it’s time to start within ourselves and our organisations and the small community that we are forming. We are building links and a platform to come together and share resources. For example, maybe I’ll start working on an education project where Romeo could come and teach my community what to do with computers and so on. We can definitely start our own community.

Oluseun Onigbinde: Yes, as well as the feedback about the need to help with data visualisation, breaking down information, simplification and so on. That would be a real resource that we could help the community with. Just ping me when we do the first info sessions and I will get myself and my team to show a little bit of what we have done over the years and tell you about our guiding principles.

Maxwell Beganim: Thank you, everyone. I think we have a common understanding emerging here. We are identifying where we can start in terms of education, media information literacy and digital citizenship.

I’ve really enjoyed the conversation and I don’t want this to be a one-off. We should find ways to reconnect and then start having some of these conversations to help the Network.

My vision is to strengthen our Anglophone African Hub, build a sustainability plan and really start to have the impact that we want. Those are just my closing remarks. Thank you very much for your respect and for helping us to work together and co-curate this together.