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Foundation Empowers Africans to Write and Edit Wikipedia Articles


As the 10th most visited website on Earth and the largest repository of human knowledge in existence, school curricula and even worldviews can be formed simply by reading Wikipedia.

However, when the city of Paris has more information contained in Wikipedia than the entire African continent, there is a significant risk that young Africans will begin to perceive the home as a “unique story”.

Wikimedia’s Bobby Shabangu at WikiAfrica’s AfroCuration Editing Marathon, Johannesburg, 2019 / Adama Sanneh

In addition, Westerners write a huge amount of content on Africa’s culture, languages, geography and more on Wikipedia. The inevitable lack of cultural context inherent in the everyday experiences of Africans can lead to the creation of stereotypes, turning a small part of African history back into the whole story.

the WikiAfrica education program, founded by the Moleskine Foundation, is an effort to foster creativity and interest in culture in African school curricula by teaching students how to prepare and submit, as well as edit, Wikipedia articles.

Since 2006, the WikiAfrica Program has led students to contribute 40,000 submissions, including articles, as well as audio clips, editions, photos, and more. In particular, many of the more detailed presentations were in African languages ​​such as Xhosa.

Co-founder of the Moleskine FoundationAdama Sanneh, the Italian-born son of a Gambian / Senegalese father, understands that creativity creates culture, and culture is the force that changes society.

A self-proclaimed nerdy boy drawn to culture, art, and philosophy during his childhood and growing up outside of Milan, he founded the Moleskine Foundation in an effort to try to push Africans to change the dynamics of power on the internet and in their daily lives. .

“Our goal is to inspire young people across the continent and beyond, and especially African language speakers, to transform from passive consumers of knowledge to active producers of knowledge,” says Sanneh, who then explained the alarming information gap. between Paris and Africa.

“When we look at the entries in African languages, the situation is even bleaker. So obviously the idea is to do something about it, and with this cultural and bottom-up approach the idea is really to inspire young people to become knowledge producers, to talk about their environment, to talk about their knowledge and, especially, to do it in their languages, “he said GNN.

Not erased from history

Adama Sanneh (far left)

Disenchanted by the traditional NGO approach to development and aid in Africa, which made Sanneh feel he was on the “wrong side of history,” his work with Moleskine embodies the widespread belief that African problems must be addressed. by Africans, and that African history should be written for Africans.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings on the African continent,” says Sanneh.

In 2019, the Moleskine Foundation partnered with the Constitution Hill Trust in Johannesburg to organize a Wikipedia edit-a-thon called “AfroCuration”, where, after a presentation on the history of South Africa’s constitution, Sanneh and his team he had 200 computers waiting for the students.

“We had over 300 young people gathered on Constitution Hill at the museum, so it was really inspiring and full of history,” he said.. “They could choose from 100 different hero entries, various aspects of the Constitution, and then write those articles in their own languages, that is, isiZulu, Xhosa, Zenda, and so on. They wrote more than 200 entries, in one day, on Wikipedia. “

“The best thing was that those entries, either about Winnie Mandela (Nelson’s second wife), or about specific moments in South African history, that were missing in their own language … in the following month, those entries were collectively viewed more than 250,000 times. “

At another AfroCuration event, also on Constitution Hill, but with the AfroPunk Army Initiative, 12 black South African historical figures essentially returned to the historical record, with their names and facts finally on the internet record.

“Now you can find an article on Joy Seroke, who is a super important figure in South African history in the fight against apartheid and who is never mentioned,” says Sanneh. “Now you can find it on Wiki at isiZulu, Xhosa, Zenda.”

Education = life

The importance of African languages ​​to the WikiAfrica Education Program cannot be underestimated, because a culture cannot fully express itself without its language. For example, Chinese Confucian theology would never be complete without Chinese words.

This was never more important than after the onset of the pandemic, when virtually no information, guidelines or policies were translated into African languages. Sanneh saw a need and an opportunity.

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“When we started the situation was very gloomy, there was only one article in Luba, or something like that,” he said. GNN. “We launched a campaign to ask people to translate … ten articles on COVID-19 that would lead to creative solutions.”

“In a couple of months we went from one to more than 300 articles in more than 20 different African languages. That gave access to more than 300 million people when we looked at the composition of the languages, ”he said.

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Now that the WikiAfrica Education Program is working with schools across the continent to incorporate Wikipedia skills into school curricula, Sanneh has time to turn her attention to other projects.

Host of the Creativity Pioneers Podcast, which looks at how creativity can bring about social change, not just in Africa, but around the world, Sanneh interviews creatives, social activists and more: people like Uzodinma Iweala, the Nigerian-American novelist who wrote the best-selling novel Beasts of no nation.

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You can find new episodes every Thursday and meet the entrepreneurs, artists, activists and scientists who make Africa, in Sanneh’s opinion, the most creative continent in the world.

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