The Missing Wikipedians

This essay <download below> is being published as part of the ‘Critical Point of View: Wikipedia Research Initiative’ Reader. Thank you to Geert and Nathaniel and the rest of the folks at the Amsterdam-based Institute of Network Cultures (INC) and the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society for making me realise that you can love something and be critical about it – and that sometimes you have to love it to be truly so.

Much has been said of the future of Wikipedia. Some have prophesied that the online encyclopaedia will fail due to increasing spam. Others have said that, as large parts of the world go online, Wikipedia might see a wave of new editors as countries from Zambia to Indonesia begin to fill in Wikipedia’s blank spots. In a project that aims to ‘make all human knowledge accessible’, those blank spots can mean many things: the hundreds of thousands of places that aren’t talked about on Wikipedia, the thousands of languages that either don’t have their own encyclopaedia or are struggling to build one, and the countless things that people know about their world but aren’t in written form.

This essay is concerned, not so much with the future of the English version of Wikipedia (about which much of the prophesying occurs) but with the 277 other language Wikipedias. Will this number shrink as editors grow tired of their lonely pursuits, or will it grow as more of the world goes online? As large parts of Africa go online, it is expected that they will start to edit Wikipedia and that they will edit it in their own language. Both of these assumptions may be incorrect. Firstly, there are a number of external and internal limitations to this new wave of editors joining Wikipedia, and secondly, the scale of smaller Wikipedias may mean that they are over-shadowed by stronger motivations to edit the larger, more powerful English version.

‘The Missing Wikipedians’ in Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz (eds), Critical Point of View: A Wikpedia Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. ISBN: 978-90-78146-13-1. Download PDF

The “value” of “protest”

The biggest debates from the day was between those who think that this protest was ‘pointless’ and ‘stupid’ vs those who think that it is ‘important’ and ‘worthy’. I’m fascinated about this question – about strategies for bringing about change, and the enormous gaps between how the debate is framed by both kinds of people.

Two-year old beaten to get his mother to confess in Zimbabwe prison

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A search result from Afrigator for the two-year old yields 3 results. Why aren't we talking about this?

This morning I woke up to a story on Global Voices about two-year old Nigel Mutemagau who was abducted with his parents three months ago and taken to Zimbabwe’s most notorious prison, Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison where he was held in solitary confinement with his mother and beaten to get his mother to confess. I had just signed a petition on Denford Magora’s blog for the release of two-year old when I read in the Zimbabwe Times that he has just been released.

The release of Nigel follows last month’s order by High Court Judge Justice Yunus Omerjee ordering the release of the child, as well as various MDC members and human rights activists who were abducted from various locations over the past three months

They include former newscaster Jestina Mukoko who was abducted from her home in the town of Norton, 40 kilometres west of Harare.

Although Omerjee ruled that Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, and eight MDC members must be released to a private hospital for medical examination after alleged torture, the state has defied the ruling.

According to ‘This is Zimbabwe Blog‘:

As Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina is viewed as the most high-profile person to be abducted by the State to date. Her role as a human rights activist, and her work in documenting the range of human rights violations and atrocities by the Zanu PF regime, made her a threat to a despotic regime intent on holding onto power at all costs.

The site also gives a list of recommended actions from Amnesty International (download PDF version of appeal here) which includes:

  • expressing grave concern over the abduction or arrest of Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who was forcibly taken from her home by people believed to be state security agents on 3 December 2008;
  • stating that Amnesty International considers that Jestina Mukoko is solely detained for expressing her views, without advocating violence, and considers her a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International therefore calls for her immediate and unconditional release;
  • calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to immediately end its practice of enforced disappearances and follow international standards on arrest and detention for persons under criminal investigation;
  • expressing concern about continued harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and political activists by the Zimbabwean security forces;

and a list of fax numbers and contacts to send your appeals to.

I have avoided researching the Zimbabwe situation for too long – it had seemed so hopeless in the past. But stories like this make me realise how important it is to add my voice to this campaign. As an activist myself, I know how tenuous my own situation has been in the past, and how important it is for me to be able to say in the future that I didn’t stand by and let those brave enough to be living in and speaking out in Zimbabwe be tortured and assaulted in this way.

We can’t stay silent any longer.

‘Our stories are singular but our destiny is shared’

Last Christmas, I read Barack Obama’s memoirs: Dreams of my father – an autobiographical narrative about his life growing up in the U.S., trying to make sense of his identity as the child of a black Kenyan father and white mother from Wichita, Kansas.

Reading about his experiences as a community organiser in Chicago helped me to question my own contributions, and gave me a deeper sense of what it means to be a global citizen.

This morning, I watched his speech with a lump in my throat. He seemed to be speaking to me when he said, ‘To all those watching beyond our shores: Our stories are singular but our destiny is shared.’ I don’t think we realise just what the implications are of this victory – not just for America, but for the world.

I listened to Talk Radio 702 this morning and heard John Robbie asking whether we were all being too hopeful about the change that can come from this one man. But when I look at the Obama website and recognise how much his campaign was about getting people to really understand how they needed to stand up and take action as a community with a common purpose in order to make the change they want to see in the world really happen, I know that even after the victory celebrations are over, America will be a more active, more engaged, more hopeful place. And that is what will make the difference.

His acceptance speech echoed this. He talked about the tremendous work that still needs to be done and how ‘a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice’ is the only thing that will make the long road ahead victorious. I really, really hope that there continues after this election to be a focus on community collaboration and action. I, for one, will be making my own contribution where I can. And perhaps I will say to my children: ‘you know, when Obama won the election, I wasn’t even allowed to vote!’