open:fora showcases how open source can foster peacebuilding and sustainable development
An event report by Sara Shedden.
The first time it happened to her, she stored it as an anecdote. When it happened again, she sensed a pattern. She spoke it out. Returning home from a business trip, Kudzai Mubaiwa stopped by to buy some tomatoes at the market. She transferred the saleswoman the money with her smartphone and looked astonished at the screen. – Are you Michael? The vendor looked at her with shyness in her eyes. – That is my husband, he takes care of the finances. – Do you actually get to use that money?- Kudzai replied. – Well, we settle accounts at the end of the month.
If you were told that there is a place in the world where almost every financial transaction is made digitally and mostly with a smartphone, which country would come first to your mind? Well, this scene happened in Africa. Facing an economic crisis and after going through hyperinflation in 2008, Zimbabwe is today nearly cashless and 96 % of financial transactions are done electronically. Indeed, Africa is the global leader of mobile money. Pioneering the industry is M-Pesa, used by more than half of Kenya’s population, which makes about 25 million people. Although the use of electronic payments was the outcome of cash shortages, people have found in technology a way to cope better with the economical turmoil the country is facing and Zimbabwe is in the avant-garde of countries pursuing to build cashless societies.
Kudzai Mubaiwa (investorsaint.co.zw) believes there is no real empowerment without an own economy, which is, the ability to sustain oneself. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Zimbabwe has an agrarian economy in which women comprise 70% of the labor force. However, family systems are mainly patriarchal and women usually play subordinate roles in the communities: they serve and work for their husbands, take care of the household, raise children and rarely manage the finances. So even though in Zimbabwe wealth is mostly created by women, as in many African countries, they are seldom socialized to see themselves as entrepreneurs. Moreover, the general access to technology and knowledge in vulnerable communities and rapidly transforming regions can’t be yet taken for granted. However, this link matters.
To show how and why this is so and inspired by the rapidly shrinking sense of an open ‘res publica’, the imperilment of pluralistic European societies, and the witness of a global wave of right-wing politics that fuels fear, hatred and xenophobic attitudes, the open
The r0g_agency was founded in 2013, when Stephen Kovats and Susanne Bellinghausen became aware of a salient inconsistency in the field of development aid and thus decided to take action. This flaw has been masterfully illustrated by the multi-award winning documentary Poverty, Inc. in 2014. The film depicts through several real-world case studies how the multibillion dollar poverty industry the West has raised has proven to be ineffective and has created more aid dependency. Moreover, it challenges the paternalistic approach underpinning charity and calls for entrepreneurship and the overcoming of imposed victimhood towards agency in order to alleviate world poverty. This implies that people should be helped when asked for help, and be able to decide what they want and need.
The entrepreneurs acknowledged this reality and further realized there was a lack of use and understanding of open source technologies and public domain information in the international development industry, which could enact real knowledge transfer and self-determination in sustainable development. In this light, they decided to fill the gap with meaningful work in the field. Functioning as an actor in a global network of organizations, r0g collaborates with young generations on the ground in countries like South Sudan, Uganda, Cameroon, Pakistan, Nepal and Indonesia, supporting communities to access information and training in open technologies. They have developed several projects that link peacebuilding with media literacy, social empowerment, education, life skills training and entrepreneurship.
The open:fora was conceived by r0g_agency & OSEG both as an artistic action and as an open street meet welcoming the whole neighborhood. The event was funded by Guerrilla Foundation, a Berlin based organization that supports activists and grassroots movements in Europe. The organizers sought with this event to open the doors to grassroots change actors in Berlin and across all continents. In a multicultural setting, folks from the open tech and open culture communities, critical artists, social activists and people interested in the subject, came together to zoom in on specific projects and stories and later zoom out to link them to more complex societal phenomena. Working towards an alternative narrative about Africa, the event promoted the participation of the attendees (with formats such as the World Café) to foster direct action. The program was divided into different cross-cutting themes: open source knowledge and hardware; open cities; gender equality; migrant peacebuilding; and artistic activism.
Within a Migrant Media Network Café hosted by the r0g diaspora and migration strategist Thomas G. Kalunge, he asked the participants to reflect on and discuss
In South Sudan, hate speech through different forms of communication (like private conversations, phone calls, text messages, public speeches or social media platforms), often originated by the diaspora in other countries, has contributed to an outburst of the conflict in 2013. #Defyhatenow was established to enhance peacebuilding by countering the spread of online hatred to mitigate violence in South Sudan. With workshops on the ground, the initiative gives insights on the impact of hate speech on fueling conflict and offers training on the use of social media to promote peace and identify fake news.
The main project within the theme of open source knowledge and hardware was #ASKotec (Access to Skills and Knowledge – Open Tech Emergency Case). The #ASKotec case is a multi-functional toolkit which contains over 40 items, including tools, booklets, basic electronic materials
Another project related to open knowledge was the Africa Open Science and Hardware Summit (Africa OSH), presented by the trainer and consultant on open science Dr. Johanna Havemann. The summit was designed as a grassroots effort to bring together researchers, entrepreneurs, technologists, educators and government officials around the world. One of the outcomes from the first summit in Kumasi, Ghana last year is the preprint repository AfricArxiv, which is now a fully functional repository for the free and open dissemination of research results from and about Africa. Thereby, it functions as an alternative to the Western-centered production and distribution of scientific knowledge.
In the field of gender, the Feminist Café – the Personal is Political, which will be hereafter held on a monthly basis, enhanced debate about gender equality issues and brought together women entrepreneurs from Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Sudan, Australia
The consultant, researcher and project manager in the areas of International Relations, cultural diplomacy, culture and sustainable development, Pedro Alfonso, opened the theme of ‘open cities’. He invited the participants to reflect and discuss critically both about the benefits and challenges faced by smart
In order to link arts and activism, the speaker, activist and r0g partner in South Sudan, Jaiksana Jambu, introduced several music for peace initiatives in his country, such as the #Kifaya (Enough) Project in refugee camps. He also offered background insights about how the youth in this country, which makes 72% of the population, is using different artistic expressions, such as music and poetry, to disseminate peace messages, influence decision-making processes by the government and bring healing and reconciliation to communities. In addition, Ivan March from the Guerrilla Foundation explored how parties and protests can learn from one another. He covered the role different media and cultural products like art, music and literature have played in social movements and protests since the 1960s, and what new forms are emerging today, to debunk the myth that changing the world has to be, necessarily, another form of work.
If we look at the numbers, from the 68,5 million displaced people worldwide, 40 million are Internally Displaced People (IDP). These are people who have been displaced within their own country. Ongoing conflicts, poverty