Wikipedia, an online site for sharing knowledge, is celebrating the 20th anniversary since its inception in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. The site, which is widely described as the online encyclopedia, has more than 56 million articles in 321 languages.
This year’s anniversary has been marked by highlighting one of the biggest criticisms of the site; The lack of information about Africa.
To address this problem, Wikipedia has worked with Adama Sanneh, co-founder and CEO of the Moleskine Foundation, and thousands of young people across the continent to add more information about the dozens of countries and cultures across Africa.
Speaking during an interview, Sanneh explained that there are more entries about the City of Paris than about the entire African continent. He added that young Africans are now creating, expanding and enhancing Wikipedia content about Africa into more than 17 African languages including Swahili, Igbo and Yoruba. Much of this new information includes lifesaving COVID-19 content related to vaccination and social distancing.
The Moleskine Foundation’s WikiAfrica Education initiative immerses young people in experiences that combine knowledge and activism, inspiring them to participate in the production of knowledge, rather than just its consumption.
Sanneh said that since helping to launch WikiAfrica in 2006 with a number of different groups, it has generated over 40,000 Wikipedia contributions, and over 200 articles in 18 languages about COVID-19 in the past year alone. Sanneh, the son of an Italian mother and a Senegalese/Gambian father, has lived on both continents, and said misconceptions and misinformation about Africa shape the way the world sees the continent, and even how Africans see themselves.
“We’re missing a tremendous opportunity to tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist and really develop more language, more possibilities, more imagination. People on the continent don’t see themselves reflected online,” Sanneh said.
Sanneh further explained that one of the first events the organization held was a workshop in South Africa with the museum complex Constitution Hill.
At the workshop, dozens of young people convened to work on 12 Wikipedia entries or profiles on Black women that were erased by history. The articles garnered more than 200,000 views within a few days.
Sanneh has focused the Foundation’s work on empowering a new generation of Wikipedia editors based in Africa.
Perry Mason Adams, a student of the Moleskine Foundation, joined the organization’s latest online campaign on COVID-19, aiming to write articles about the pandemic on Wikipedia in African languages.
“I collaborated with my mom to write the articles, and she did the proofreading and I did the translation of the base article in English to IsiXhosa and IsiZulu. The process was so enriching and eye-opening for the both of us. Being a part of this program means that I can be a part of the solution to bridging the knowledge gap on the internet, promoting the use and perseveration of our indigenous languages and doing such important work from a fresh perspective.”
The organization has also started a new podcast titled Creativity Pioneers that focuses on solving inequality and racial injustice through creativity.
“We are a process-oriented organization and we believe that if we create this content, if we support young people to develop those tools, if we create spaces where these young people can thrive and can exercise their criticality imagination, then we can really have the possibility to create some change,” he said.