Challenges and Opportunities of Wiki Loves Earth in Africa

With input from Mermoze Adodo, Joy Agyepong, Mohammed Bachounda, Georges Fodouop, and Olaniyan Olushola

This year, Wiki Loves Earth in Africa and particularly Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly diverse. More African countries participate in the contest in 2019 than ever before, with four countries having joined WLE for the first time. So far, African local contests have helped bring more than four thousands of new free photos of natural heritage to Wikimedia Commons. We looked at the representation of Africa in this year’s contest and asked volunteers who lead local WLE competitions in Africa to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for the contest in their country.

WLE in Africa: Who, Where, and When

First, let’s take a look at who is participating in Wiki Loves Earth from Africa this year. Overall, eight countries from Africa take part in the contest in 2019. Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda make up around 20% of all 37 countries participating this year.

Map of WLE 2019 participating countries (Dario Crespi, CC BY-SA 4.0)

As this list makes clear, the presence of Sub-Saharan Africa is especially visible this year. Seven out of eight African countries participating in WLE are from this region, including all four countries which joined for the first time (Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Tanzania, and Uganda).

As of June 17th, participants of these eight national competitions have uploaded almost 4,400 images. Given that the local contests in seven African countries will run until June 30th (the contest in Ghana has just ended), this number will, of course, rise significantly.

Wiki Loves Earth as an Opportunity to Show African Natural Beauty

The astonishing beauty of African nature is often underrepresented on the Internet and specifically on the Wikimedia projects, particularly in comparison with prominent natural heritage sites from Europe and North America. Thus, one of the key motivators for African Wikimedia communities to organize Wiki Loves Earth is to help show the beauty of Africa to the world.

For example, the Ghanaian team notes that “Ghana has a lot of natural heritage which hasn’t been well represented on Wikipedia. Regarded as the gateway to Africa, the country has scenic views of its forest reserves, waterfalls, mountains, wildlife sanctuaries, caves, rivers, rocks, and gardens in almost all of its regions. Hence the importance to participate in this competition as a medium to showcase the beauty of Ghana to the world”.

Tassili n’Ajjer National Park, Algeria. This photo won the 2018 edition of Wiki Loves Earth in Algeria (Chettouh Nabil, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Nigerian team adds that Wiki Loves Earth is so important the country because of “the contest’s potent symbols of opportunities and visibility to many obscured places in Nigeria”. The Algerian organizers remind that, “according to the World Organization for the Protection of the Environment and World Wide Fund for Nature, Algeria is among the best 10 countries in the world in terms of natural beauty and diversity” — and Wiki Loves Earth allows to showcase this natural richness.

Common and Unique Challenges

Each local team faces its unique set of problems, which is defined by local cultural, social, economic, and sometimes political peculiarities. Yet, the most common challenges Wikimedia communities face are gathering media attention and increasing participation in general, as well as funding their projects.

Other themes which have emerged in the organizers’ comments include:

  • getting a list of nature protected areas from the government (Benin);
  • lack of geographic diversity within the country and the need to travel in order to reach a wider audience (Cameroon);
  • low quality of photos due to the unwillingness of people to release their hard-earned photos under a free license and insufficient participation of photographers (Nigeria).

Paths for Development: Building Partnerships and Attracting Media Attention

Group photo of the official launch of Wiki Loves Earth in Nigeria (Kaizenify, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Despite the challenges, each African team has found its way to overcome them and successfully set up Wiki Loves Earth this year. Their approaches are as unique as the challenges, but it is clear that one of the most effective ways is to build partnerships with photographers, business, and the government.

This year, the Nigerian team has done a big job securing just that. As they put it, “we have decided to partner with more photographers, media houses, organizations, and businesses in the field of environmental conservation. Also, we have received the support of the Nigerian Tourism and Development Corporation, which is the key government agency in charge of tourism management. Its Director General Mr. Folorunsho Coker has volunteered to support the launching of the event in prime places in Nigeria and also ensure some of the important sites for the contest are open free of charge to participants across the federation”.

In a similar vein, the Cameroonian team has been working closely with associations of photographers. “It is the fruit of this collaboration that several photographers will take part in the first edition”, and this approach has also helped reach other regions of the country. The Beninese organizers highlight their contacts with media, both printed outlets and radio, as part of their strategy. Holding upload sessions and other offline events, like, for example, the Ghanian team did, also helps attract attention to Wiki Loves Earth.

Wiki Loves Earth Upload session organized by Open Foundation for West Africa (Ohene okai, CC BY-SA 4.0)

We are grateful to Mohammed Bachounda from Algeria, Mermoze Adodo from Benin, Georges Fodouop from Cameroon, Joy Agyepong from Ghana, and Olaniyan Olushola from Nigeria for sharing their experience. And, of course, big thanks to all organizers and participants of African WLE competitions for helping build a comprehensive database of free-licensed natural heritage photos.

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