Africa is the least covered and supported collective of cultures, histories, ideas and languages on Wikipedia, the encyclopaedia that caters for a global audience with 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month. The African continent also has the fewest Wikipedia contributors per capita than any other continent. This is the consequence of several factors, including a lack of access to technology and the internet in Africa, systemic bias, and power imbalances in the geographies of knowledge.
Most content relating to Africa has been written by editors who have no connection to Africa – creating a paucity of authentic, contextual information about an entire continent of around one billion people. This limits our understanding of the complexities that exist on such a vast geographical space around such diverse issues as culture, economics, politics, history or contemporary entertainment.
Africa is vulnerable to what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” on the internet; and as more citizens access the internet via mobile technology, this danger increases. In 2016, there were approximately 650 million mobile users in Africa, far surpassing the number in the United States or Europe. By 2020, Africa’s community of mobile users is expected to swell to 725 million. With so many Africans being exposed to a “single story” about their continent – will they, too, believe that this narrative is true?
It’s therefore increasingly important for Africans to add authenticity to the knowledge shared about their continent, by taking advantage of open knowledge platforms like Wikipedia where Africa’s contemporary issues, history, people and initiatives may be freely published for universal access.
This will help to ensure that as the demand for free knowledge grows – by both the expanding mobile user community and teachers seeking free information resources in a changing educational landscape – Africans have access to true and fair knowledge about themselves.
Truthful, contextual information has the power to alter how people view, believe in, and interact with themselves, each other, their communities, countries and their continent. Balanced information allows for understanding and compassion; and can place small, but potentially volatile issues within a larger context. Knowledge can diffuse a crisis and heal wounds – both real and perceived. Thus, truthful information, correctly placed on a platform that is open and accessible to all, can fundamentally change how people both within and outside Africa view and interact with the continent.
The geography of knowledge
The deficiencies within Wikipedia relating to geographic representation and participation need to be addressed. Most of the knowledge available today is still created by the privileged class and is not representative of the world’s knowledge.
According to Wikimedia, the people who write the Wikimedia projects are disproportionately male, young, and from countries in the Global North.
- 91% of editors are male, compared with 53% of all internet users
- Half are under the age of 22
- Four out of five edits come from countries in the Global North
Considering that between 2015 and 2030, most of the world’s population growth will be in Africa (490 million more people, accounting for 42% growth) and Asia (500 million more people, accounting for 12% growth), the knowledge originating from these regions needs to be fairly represented online.
Increasing both the total number of editors and their diversity are key priorities. The WikiAfrica movement is working towards this goal by encouraging a welcoming environment on the Wikimedia projects and supporting community leaders who are eager to serve as recruiters, guides and mentors for newer volunteers.