White House goes Open Source

Last weekend, the White House announced that whitehouse.gov now runs on Drupal a widely used open source content management system. Until now, the Obama administration has continued to use tools purchased during the previous administration. These tools severely limited what the administration could do with the website, limiting opportunities for interaction with users. In switching to Drupal, the White House hopes to not only harness improved security, but also the power that is Drupalís crazy-flexible module system. The White House team will be able to take advantage of the enormous Drupal community to add features and improve the way users interact with the website.

via Theresa Carpenter Sondjo at Appfrica

If  it’s good enough for the White House …

Rwanda trains its own developers for e-Health Programme

The Rwandan Ministry of Health, has  unveiled its first batch of software programmers who will be in charge of developing and implementing the Open Medical Record System (OpenMRS). OpenMRS is  a community-developed, open-source, enterprise electronic medical record system platform which is being implemented in Rwanda to nationally track patient-level medical information, connecting over 500 health facilities.

The programmers underwent 11-month training in software development which was conducted by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Rwanda Development Board/IT (RITA)Partners in Health and TRAC Plus. Speaking during the programmers’ graduation ceremony Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Agnes Binagwaho said  “This targeted training is part of a bigger health sector puzzle. We have the vision of developing an integrated e-Health system and trained programmers will help us achieve that.”

from Peninnah Gathoni in The New Times via  allAfrica.com

This, in my view, is the ultimate model for the development of public information systems: create local capacity to develop bespoke systems using open source software or semi-built generic applications.

OSS: Free software – Good. Free support – Bad

Open Source Software – from the Linux operating system through a range of SQL database engines to SQL/PHP based web development /content management environments – has much to offer. There are far too many systems in Africa running unnecessarily on expensive proprietary licences that require similarly exorbitant support contracts.

Open Source is being delivered in two varieties: “community based” – free software with no support; and “professional” – free (or nearly free) software with professional support.

The argument against community based OSS is put very strongly in an article on South Africa’s ITWeb today by Muggie van Staden, MD of Obsidian Systems, a company specialising in the professional delivery of OSS. Although it focusses on South Africa I think it is directly relevant to all African governments and is worth quoting in full:

No sign of the Africa e-Governance Academy

The Africa e-Governance Academy was opened in Accra in July. Three months on there is very little sign of it (3 months to develop a little web site for the e-side?). It is hosted by the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, whose website seems to have disappeared. And no mention of it at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa site, which together with the UNDP has sponsored the academy.

Nor is it really an African academy. According to a UN job description for a programme coordinator, “Its primary geographical focus is on ECOWAS countries including Chad and Cameroon.”

COMESA meanwhile has plans for its own regional academy.

Health Informatics grants

The Fogarty International Center, part of the US National Institutes of Health, today announced it will award more than $9.23 million to eight global health informatics programs over the next five years – two of them from Africa.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa will use its new award to develop research and training capacity in informatics through a Pan-African collaborative initiative involving institutions in Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The funds will allow the UKZN to continue to offer postgraduate programs in informatics while assisting other universities in Africa to establish their own medical informatics training programs.

And a grant will support the development of an East African Center of Excellence in Health Informatics. The center will be a major resource for improving local human capacity for health informatics and clinical research in sub-Saharan Africa, building upon an almost two-decade collaboration between Indiana University and Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya.

via National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Delays and overspend on SA Id project

The South African Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) controversial project to distribute access to its Identity and fingerprint databases is running into overspend and late delivery problems.

The project could potentially revolutionise the DHA by providing access to two core systems to branch offices and field teams. The national population register (NPR) and the Home Affairs National Information System (Hanis) have, to date, only been accessible to officials at the DHA’s Watloo, Pretoria, head office.

Ghana report exposes Vodafone rip-off

by Bismark Bebli in The Chronicle via allAfrica.com (see also BBC)

Contrary to reports that UK Company, Vodafone Plc bought 70% of Ghana Telecom (GT) for $900 million, it has been revealed that the country received a paltry Two Hundred and Sixty-six Million, Five Hundred and Seventy Dollars ($266.57m) in payment.

Former President John Agyekum Kufuor, whose government sold off the national telecommunications company, according to details in the report of the inter-Ministerial review committee on Vodafone, worked against the interest of Ghanaians.