In a BBC interview in November, Jimmy Wales, the American founder of Wikipedia, talked about the state of development of the participatory online encyclopedia in Africa. He expressed his wish to develop Wikipedia in more African languages. He believes it is necessary to ensure that more people have access to knowledge and culture. According to him, the progressive expansion of the Internet in Africa should create a dynamic to attract more Africans online.
The primary goal of providing all individuals around the globe with a free access to knowledge in their own language is being achieved. Though this objective is yet to be reached on the African continent, Jimmy Wales is confident that the situation will evolve.
In terms of the use of African languages on Wikipedia, few of them “have a substantial size at all,” regrets Jimmy Wales. For instance, Swahili (widely spoken in the Eastern and Central African regions) “has around 10,000 entries [14,650 on 16 November, editor’s note], but that’s quite tiny compared to what we think of as a successful project with 200,000 entries.” Alone, the English edition of Wikipedia has received over 3.1 million entries.
The founder indicates that his team is focused on reaching a wider audience in Africa. But the focus is how to encourage people who are educated in English or French in these areas to participate in Wikipedia in their home language “to help people who can neither read English nor French.”
In 2005, Kasper Souren from the Netherlands took the initiative of donating one dollar per article to those who write for the Bambara (Mali) edition of Wikipedia. However, The New York Times highly criticized the project, due to the supposed ‘free’ culture of Wikipedia. From a few hundred articles in August 2006, the Bambara edition went down to 280 articles in November 2009.
On the question of the number of participants in Africa, Jimmy Wales says “the figures are so low that they are too difficult to measure. “The core reason being,” he explains, that “the number of people connected to the Internet in Africa is quite small, even in developed areas of Africa.” The price of broadband in a country like South Africa, for instance “is quite exorbitant.”
However, the situation on the continent is taking a positive turn and Jimmy Wales is hopeful for the future. Most recently, the bandwith in Western Africa was increased. “That” according to him “trickles down eventually to Internet cafés” as it allows them to get a better connection, but also buy new computers, creating a greater availability.
Jimmy Wales affirms that things will change in the next 5 to 10 years. While we are currently limited by the uneven broadcasting of information, the greater availability of the Internet worldwide will soon allow everyone to have “cultural influences from places we know almost nothing about today.”