Notes from Senegal
By William on Monday, May 16 2011, 18:05 - Permalink
I've recently come back from a trip to Dakar, Senegal, where I took part in the first ever Mozilla Tech Tour in French-speaking Africa. Describing the week I spent in Senegal as "intense" would be an understatement. Distilling everything i've seen, heard, discovered and observed during this trip would require one very long summary blog post and i'm hesitant to run the risk of scaring away the few loyal readers I have who have already braved my marathon Kenya blog post :) Rather, I'll give a simple summary and will delve in particular take-aways and observations in future blog posts (and of course encourage folks to read Mounir and Anthony’s updates as well).
The idea of the Mozilla Tech Tour in Senegal took root several months ago, when Sonny Piers, a fellow Mozillian based in Belgium, pointed me to a blog post written by a certain Mouhamadou Moustapha Camara, a Dakar-based freelance developer and passionate FOSS advocate. Camara's blog post eloquently talked about the importance of FOSS in Africa and how Dakar has become the tech hub of French-speaking Africa, attracting talented FOSS developers from across the region. While Firefox market share is generally high in this part of the world (>50% in Senegal), it remains relatively uncharted territory in terms of Mozilla community engagement, let alone developer engagement. Hence Senegal was the logical starting point in the region for Mozilla to engage with local community. I immediately got in touch with Camara and quickly realised I was speaking to someone very passionate about Mozilla’s mission and extremely keen to get involved in the project.
Later, over some beers one evening with my fellow colleagues Mounir, Anthony, Vivien and Mozillian extraordinaire Claire Corgnou (who manages in her spare time Bonjour Mozilla among other things..), I floated the idea of organizing a series of presentations and workshops in different universities in Dakar. Everyone enthusiastically offered to help and we set up a wiki page, drafted a rough schedule and Camara started reaching out to universities. This was Mozilla magic at work: staff and volunteers brainstorming and collaborating together to help push the project forward in Senegal.
Soon, Camara had successfully secured 6 different technical universities in and around Dakar for us to present the Mozilla project and lead workshops around open web technologies. Camara also introduced us to Karim Sy, founder of Jokkolabs, a Dakar-based working space and 'action tank' that promotes open source and social enterprise. Karim and his amazing crew joined in on the effort and offered some logistical muscle both for the workshops , meetings with seasoned Senegalese technologists and last but not least, a memorable Firefox 4 party we decided to organize to close out our tour on a festive note.
And so, the last week of April, the five of us flew to Dakar to meet up with Camara and Karim and embark on our first West African tech tour. Over the span of 5 days, we presented the project and led worskhops to packed rooms of hundreds of engaged students and professors too. Claire inspried attentive audiences by speaking about her experience as a volunteer and about the power of community at Mozilla. Mounir and Vivien mostly led add-ons workshops to teach students how to develop their first JetPack, and accompanying them along the way, whether they were experienced coders or not. Anthony spoke mainly about HTML5 and gave an "under-the-hood" tour of the web 'o wonder demos. Camara and I spoke about setting a local Mozilla community in Senegal.
Turnout far exceeded what we had hoped for, and the response from the students, from the professors, from the various institutions and NGOs we met along the way was phenomenal. We came home last week with hundreds of new supporters of the Mozilla project, a host of new contacts, many potential collaborative projects and initiatives with local like-minded organizations, and last but not least, a dozen new Mozillians eager to join Camara in his effor to build a Mozilla Senegal community, with some committed to start work on a Firefox build in Wolof, the national language. Looking back at what we've accomplished, I feel extremely proud of what we pulled off as a team in a relatively short period of time. I'm very grateful to Mounir, Vivien and Anthony for agreeing to embark on this adventure with me and for doing such an awesome job as tech evangelizers, especially since, giving hour-long talks and workshops in packed lecture rooms with frequent power outages is not something they’re very accustomed to doing :) I really hope their experience will compel more Mozilla developers to do the same.
A very special thanks goes out to Claire and to Camara, who epitomize the power and richness of the Mozilla community. Claire gave some truly inspiring talks, often working til late in the evening to touch up her slides (but still finding time to publish regular updates on bonjourmozilla.fr !). Camara worked tirelessly to reach out to universities, to draft a robust schedule that worked for technical and non-technical people alike, and engaged with the amazing members of Dakar Linux User Group to create promises to be a vibrant Mozilla Senegal community. Last but not least, a huge thank you to Karim, Emmanuelle and to the entire Jokkolabs and AUF crew for helping make our stay a most memorable one, looking out for us every step of the way and making sure that we maximized our short stay by introducing to officials, local entrepreneurs and different NGOs all interested in promoting open source software in schools, in the enterprise and in government administrations.
More than anything though, this tech tour shed a bright light on what makes Mozilla such a unique and successful public-benefit organization: the collaborative, participative and open nature of our organization, where staff, volunteers, and open web advocates are empowered to join forces and collaborate as members of one passionate community: one Mozilla in Senegal, in Africa and in the world.
NB: to see all Mozilla tech Tour Senegal photos, click here.
(blog post photo by nd1mbee)