Think Globally, Act (and employ) Locally

idlelo5I was recently in Nigeria for the first time, at the fifth edition of a meeting named Idlelo: the fifth African Conference on FOSS and the Digital Commons. Idlelo is an Southern African word for “common grazing ground”, and is a meeting held every two years in some country of Africa, and I have been to several Idlelo conferences.

This year Idlelo was held in Abuja, Nigeria. Idlelo 5 was hosted by the Open Source Foundation of Nigeria (OSFON) and the various national partners under the umbrella leadership of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA).  (Editor's Note: LPI-Nigeria and LPI-East Africa also assisted with the organization of Idlelo this year.)I was asked to speak on economic effects of Free Software, which I have often done, but I went a little more specific on this event and looked at some of the issues of Nigeria.

Nnenna Nwakanma, FOSSFA chair, maddog and Ola from LPI Nigeria

Leaning on the research of the Business Software Alliance (BSA) an organization funded by closed source companies, I read that Nigeria “pirates” more than 82% of their “PC” software every year. The BSA estimates the value of this “pirated” software at 225 million U.S. Dollars (USD). This is not surprising, since my experience has shown that in general the lower the per capital GDP, the higher the piracy rate. Countries where the general population make about four to five US dollars a day have some of the highest piracy rates, and the United States (one of the highest per capita GDP ) has a PC piracy rate of 34 per cent. Nigeria's per capita GDP is about 2500 USD.

If you do the math you can extrapolate that the total market for “PC” software is about 274 million USD, and again, these numbers do not reflect software that is purchased for server systems. I heard a figure of 2 billion USD as the amount of money that Nigeria spends on software licenses every year. Now most of this software is closed source software that flows out of Nigeria to places in Europe and the United States. Nigeria does have programmers, and those programmers (I am told) make about 6000 USD to start, 12000 USD for intermediate programmers and 24000 to 32400 USD every year, well above the per capita GDP of the average person, yet Nigeria still can not generate the number of trained programmers they need due to lack of sophisticated programming jobs. Their best programmers are often lured away to countries like the United States, Europe and even Asia.

My message to the Nigerians (and the rest of the delegates of Africa), is that FOSS moves the money spent on software from buying closed source, proprietary software to local tailoring of FOSS to meet the needs of local businesses. For the same money that would be spent on buying proprietary license fees, they could employ 22,800 Nigerian “average” programmers, who in turn would buy local food, local housing and pay local taxes. If you accept the 2 billion USD number, then those programmer numbers jump to 166,000 “average” programmers.

Of course a large amount of software written is not written for “packaged software”. Software written by academics, special purpose software and system administration software is often never “packaged” for sale on the “PC” store shelf, and a few years ago this typically accounted for about 80% of the software written on a line-by-line basis. It is probably more today.

Therefore increasing the number of trained and knowledgeable FOSS users and systems administrators is critical to increasing the market for FOSS software, which will lead African solution designers to create solutions for local African (and other) customers using FOSS. However, a lot of the people in Nigeria can not afford, or do not have access to expensive "training classes" to prepare them for a job. 

Self-training, or apprenticeship programs can allow these people alternative methods of learning, for example by using LPI objectives as a guide and LPI certification to indicate to employers their skill level. What is true of Nigeria is true of many countries in Africa and around the world. FOSS allows you to “think globally, act locally!”