Innovation Week in Africa – Young business innovators are making money with Open Source.

All through last week, I spent my time in Ghana at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Center for Excellence in ICT ( AITI-KACE ) in Accra. It has been an incredibly refreshing experience for me, personally, and for the hundreds of students, developers, businesses, bankers and educators that are participating in the forum.

The I-Week has drawn participants from all parts of Africa and Europe. The program is specifically designed to cater to the needs of government, businesses, academia, developers and even venture capitalists. I am attending on behalf of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa – FOSSFA. Coming from a FOSS advocacy foundation, I am pleasantly surprised by the level of networking among participants. This proves us right… Open Source in Africa has come of age.

The Ghanaian Minister of State, Finance and Economic Planning stressed that “whereas some believe that we should continue to develop our agricultural base since it is the area with the highest resources and probably easier to accomplish, others strongly believe that a complete shift in paradigm to embark on service delivery to other markets will be a gold mine for our nations prosperity. The way forward, I believe, is to embrace both approaches by redeveloping our agro-industries using technology base to provide value-added service on the same.”

On Open Source and ICTs, he says that “by empowering our entire society in the appropriate use of technology, we will be able to maintain social and economic lifestyle of all our communities, both urban and rural and improve the conditions of living of the same. … they have proven to be right instruments needed to propel this growth by enabling us convert data into information, which is needed for appropriate decisions, industrial development, value-added production”

The Ghanaian Minister also informed the audience of the Presidential Special Initiative on Distance Learning, the Ghana Investment Fund for Telecommunication (GIFTEL), the e-Ghana and several other important ICT projects. It was refreshing to listen to Sam Somuah of the Ghana Information and Communication Technology Directorate (GICTeD) lay out the country’s e-GIF electronic government platform based in open standards.

The folks at Ghana’s Rancard made waves. Their startup has made leaps in a very short time and their FOSS business plan for mobile solutions did win admiration from participants. Impressive also was Linux Solutions of Uganda, Future Software Resourcesof Nigeria and ASSIST of the Ivory Coast. I am encouraged by the efforts of Nkem Uwaje, James Lunghabo Wire, Christian Roland and these other young Africans who are building not just businesses but values for the generation next.

The Director General of the AITI-KACE, Ms Dorothy Gordon, has pulled off a great challenge. How do I know? Here is how. Generally, there is a big crowd on the opening ceremony of events, generally because the Minister is speaking and the TV will be there. Then after Day 1, the crowd fizzles. But no, this has not been the case here.. the crowd did come to stay and increased..

The I-Week is running its third edition this year. It is being recorded and will be webcast. Next year promises to be hotter, bigger, better and richer!