Africa should make better use of free and open source software, a group of African information experts in Addis Ababa heard at a session of ECA's Committee on Development Information (CODI).

Speaking at the opening session last Sunday, Ms. Aida Opoku-Mensah, Officer in Charge at ECA's Development Information Services Division (DISD) said that free and open source software ( FOSS) is attracting a lot of attention from the media, academia and policy-makers. There is an urgent need, she said, to promote the cost-effectiveness of FOSS in Africa's socio-economic development.

FOSS is non-proprietary "open" software that attracts no license fees, allows enhancements to be shared with all users and can be customised for the user's purposes without major financial outlay.

"Several developing countries including Korea, China and Argentina have decided to move their entire government systems to Open Source Software," Ms. Opoku-Mensah noted.

"ECA believes that open source software is an especially useful tool to allow developing countries to leapfrog into the information age," she added.

ECA is leading by example, she said, detailing a joint project with Addis Ababa University to develop a multilingual e-government platform based on FOSS. She also noted other partnerships forged with ECA's Information Technology Centre for Africa (ITCA) that focus on FOSS advocacy, technical capacity and awareness among policy makers.

Also addressing the meeting, Ambassador Makan Moussa Camara of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) noted commitments by his organisation to promote and adopt the use of FOSS, particularly in supporting the participation of African FOSS champions in regional and international fora.

He also urged FOSS advocates to support the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF), an initiative of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, as a mechanism that can fund and promote content creation in the context of cultural and language diversity.

Many governments in Asia and Latin America now support FOSS applications in day-to-day government operations, viewing these applications as viable and less expensive alternatives to proprietary software. Participants were therefore keen to see CODI-IV make concrete recommendations on the economic value and benefits of FOSS development in Africa.