Developer Roadshow - West Africa

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An event for software developers in West Africa on collaborating to meet civil society needs.

The West Africa Developer Roadshow was held from 8th to 13th of August 2006 at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana.

The ultimate aim of the Traveling Developer Road Show project is to link software developers in Africa with civil society in order to meet sustainable development needs, whilst at the same time enhancing the pool of relevant software development skills in the regions. The theme Education and Localization was selected for sustainability (building on existing resources and energy in the education sector).

The first Developer road show was organized in South Africa. The vision for West Africa matches that for Southern Africa, building on the theme Education and Localisation.

Theme and Aim

The theme of the West Africa developer road show was Education and Localisation, and the aim was to provide an opportunity for educators and developers of free/libre software to interact, understand needs, and assess existing free/libre software for use to support education delivery in West Africa.


In 2006, the challenge was to convene the event relatively early in the year, preferably before the end of June, at a time when the labs and relevant people would all be available. This proved more difficult than expected. Debates ensued on the theme and the agenda, and the event was postponed more than once, until finally being held from 8 - 13 August 2006, when the Advanced Information Technology Institute took the initiative and drove the process determinedly (and admirably under the circumstances) to make the event happen.

A mailing list was established and participants invited, while the web site reflected the objectives and programme under discussion, providing an opportunity for participants to engage in pre-event activities.

Pre-event activities were designed to streamline the work at the event.

In essence, the number of tracks was reduced over time, and the intention was to shift as much work as possible into pre-event activities (see Tracks below).



The West African Developer Roadshow organised at the University of Education, Winneba brought together participants from 10 different countries. Despite having a majority of delegates from West Africa, there were representatives from Uganda, South Africa and even New Zealand.

It has long been realised that the educational challenges facing most African counties especially those in the same sub-regions were consistently similar. The roadshow was thus a welcomed event that brought together educators and developers to solve some of these identified challenges.

The week long programme provided a learning opportunity for the delegates as they developed new skills, shared experiences and exchanged ideas. Co-operation between African developers was also increased as new networks were made and old ones re-affirmed.

The facilitators included:

  • Matthew Sherborne, the lead developer of the eXe project from the University of Auckland in New Zealand,
  • Megan Watson from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa (Kewl Track),
  • George Appiah (who recently returned from Uganda where he was working with SchoolNet Africa (Digital Resources Database track),
  • Rokhaya Ndiour of e-Riders in Senegal, Kim Tucker of the Meraka Institute/ CSIR in South Africa and Hillar Addo (Education out of the Box Navigation track).
  • Bob Jolliffe of the Meraka Institute/ CSIR in South Africa (School Management System track).

All tracks included enthusiastic participants willing to take initiative and lead where required.

Event Description

The first day of the programme was dedicated to presentations with highlights including:

  • The Genesis of the Travelling Developer Roadshow
  • Free and Open source software
  • The Challenges of IT Education in West Africa
  • Free and Open Source in Education for Africa
  • Presentation on the eXe project
  • Presentation on Kewl project
  • Contribution of educationist to the development of instructional software
  • Challenges of Education delivery in west Africa

The rest of the time was dedicated to the Tracks, though a few presentations were given on Day 2, and on the last day leading up to the closing session. An overview of the tracks' outputs is provided below and further details under the Tracks link.


  1. Development of a school management system for West Africa schools
    • The school management system track investigated existing free/libre open source options, decided that none of them were entirely suitable for West Africa, and took time out to meet with district education authorities and teachers to identify key requirements. For a school management system we have the basis for a full project potentially involving AITI, UEW, UCC and the Meraka institute.
  2. Localization of the eXe tool ( )
    • The eXe Localization track (link for eXe: was highly productive with several teachers and linguists learning the general skills of software localization using standard tools. It proved quite challenging to translate technical educational terms into local languages. About 60% of the 900 strings were translated into two local Ghanaian languages (Twi and Ewe).
  3. Design a structure navigation scheme for the Education-out-of-the-box collection
    • The navigation track started with an exploration of possible tools and content suggested at the first roadshow in South Africa and extended at Africa Source 2 in January this year. Some educators explored relevant software included in Edubuntu and OpenLab, while the rest designed a structured navigation scheme for the content deemed most suitable for the collection. The track produced a prototype for educators at primary, secondary and tertiary level, for end users of productivity software, for GNU/Linux users/administrators, and for developers. The idea is to be able to hand out a set of CDs with usable free/libre and open source software and content, and tools for relevant communities to be able to develop these further.
  4. Assess and customize Kewl.NextGen for West Africa ( )
    • The Kewl track was split into an educator group and a developer group. The educators were given the opportunity to interact with the system both as lecturers and as students. The participants were highly impressed with the capabilities of Kewl and at least one new deployment is under consideration. The developers were given an overview of Kewl from the users perspective before launching into the crash course on the software architecture and how to work with the code.

      Between the developers and educators several features were identified for enhancements of Kewl including customization of the interface for different institutions, auto-saving and spellchecking while creating course content, ability to provide feedback and comments between students and educators, and caching of online references so that students can view them when the internet connections are unavailable.
  5. Creation of a Digital Resource Bank for schools in West Africa
    • The Digital Resource Bank track was based on an existing project which is running in Uganda successfully under the SchoolNet program. The project was started with the aim of getting content into schools’ ICT centers. It works using a simple idea. Students, teachers and other individuals collect digital learning material (video, audio, image, text etc.) and store it in a repository in their local network. The repository was an ftp site running on the resource server in the local area network. The core team collects the submitted digital material from all schools participating in Resource Bank program. Participating schools and organizations contribute content to the bank, and the bank makes the contributed content available to participants. During the roadshow, members of the track learned about the processes involved in setting up the Resource Bank, and explored the use of open-source software to enable easier management and use of the digital content available. The goal was to eventually set up such a program in Ghana and other countries.
More on the Tracks


Thanks to the enthusiasm of the participants for free/libre software, in a very short time the teams were able to produce useful results. Participants worked deep into the night to achieve these results. We regret they saw so little of Ghana.

Although all the original objectives were not met, we do have a firmer foundation for taking things forward. Within the 5 day period:

  • Participants developed a better understanding of the needs in West Africa in respect of school management systems and made some relevant contacts.
  • Some educators are now familiar with Kewl and a potential new installation is in the pipeline in Ghana.
  • A few developers have been exposed to the Kinky framework and are ready to build new functionality into Kewl.NextGen.
  • A foundation for a West African Digital Resource Bank has been initiated.
  • Some educators were exposed to eXe and are now knowledgeable about localising software using open source tools and
  • A new navigation scheme was developed for Education out of the Box.

The West African Travelling Developer Roadshow, which sought to address ICT issues from a civil society and education perspective, achieved success in bringing together and enhancing the pool of software developers, and in deepening mutual understanding among developers and educators. Such events establish a strong basis for future collaboration, and enhancing this with face-to-face events when the teams and projects are sufficiently mature and ready to derive maximum benefit from such meetings.

It is the hope of the participants and organisers that donor agencies, ICT companies and other stakeholders will support similar events on the continent, and that projects that will emerge to fulfill the mission of making available software that is appropriate, affordable, adaptable and valuable to African communities. The intention is to continue this good work through the Africa wide networks built through the travelling developer roadshow process. The parties are all committed to supporting this process, and look forward to future local and regional events towards empowering African developers to meet the software needs on the continent.


One of the key insights was to hold a Developer Roadshow (or similar event) only when the on-line community around a specific project is sufficiently mature. In this way, the participants will be coming together with a solid foundation and some background of on-line interaction. The event serves to grow the social network and strengthen the community around each project.

Place stronger emphasis on making decisions early, and driving the pre-event programme pro-actively and strongly.

Communicate, communicate and communicate to ensure that all parties are well informed of objectives, dates, planning process, pre-event activities and that expectations are met on all levels.

Set up a learning resource which describes what has been done and what we have learned to help others pick up the momentum and convene similar events.

The developer roadshows concept needs revival - champions in a position to take up the challenge and pro-actively network developers and users with real needs in Africa, to establish projects to fulfill the mission of making available software that is appropriate, affordable, adaptable, relevant and valuable to African communities. It is hoped that this WikiEducator resource on Developer Roadshows will inspire collaborative action.

Acknowledgements (West Africa)

Ideas for Revival