WIKIPEDIA, the free online encyclopedia edited by its readers, has embarked on a project to increase content emanating from Africa.
Wikipedia is the sixth-most popular website and generates 15% of all internet traffic.
Data show that more than 80% of entries and edits originate in Europe and North America. Countries such as the US, Germany, the UK and France have an average of more than a million edits every quarter, and Africa manages only a few thousand.
A project called WikiAfrica is set to change that. It will try to Africanise Wikipedia by generating and expanding 30,000 articles over the next two years. Wikipedia project manager Isla Haddow-Flood says this will be done by activating communities and individuals to contribute their stories and knowledge to Wikipedia.
"The majority of entries on Wiki — even about Africa — have been written by people in Europe and America. They write their entries based on their knowledge and the media that they consume. Most foreign media on Africa tend to perpetuate a negative image and this doesn’t serve the continent well," she said.
Last week, a Wikipedia Wordathon was held to improve South Africa’s digital imprint on the site. Additions were made to entries on Gugulethu, malva pudding, and the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards entries — all in isiXhosa.
Prof Robert Thornton, from the University of Witwatersrand’s anthropology department, says more coverage is needed on issues such as indigenous knowledge. " You won’t find much information about South Africa on Wikipedia. Making an entry is quite a difficult process ... but it is a worthwhile experience. People worldwide use Wikipedia and it’s the best way to promote ourselves ."
Ms Haddow-Flood says millions of eyes peruse the website.
"Knowing this, it becomes even more important for South African and African voices to tell their stories. Even if you’re reading about Shaka Zulu, it’s from the position of the British — which is one version of the story. An edit from the Zulu perspective will add the balance where right now it’s skewed. African stories need to be truthfully told and who better to tell them than those living them?"