Visiting the coders of Ayiyikoh in Abidjan, who have been defending open source since 2014 for the autonomy of economics in Africa. The fablab is training the young in code and entrepreneurship.
Abidjan, special envoy
It’s 11am, and here I am stuck in a traffic jam in a taxi, zouglou music playing, at a standstill on a bridge in a moist heat early on in the rain season: welcome to the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan.
An hour later, I arrive in Yopougon, working-class district full of life in the north-west of the city. The taxi drops me off in front of Saint-Augustin junior high school where I am met by Loulou Beugré, computer engineer and president of the Ayiyikoh fablab (meaning “let’s join forces” in godié, vernacular language in the Ivory Coast).
The friends, supporters of free software
The story begins in 2014, at university and in IT clubs. From tech events to the discovery of Linux, a group of friends is formed, who find the desire to create their own lab. Since the school lacks technological practice and they do not have the settings to develop their projects, Loulou Beugré and Pacôme Kouakou N’dri get together to launch “@yiyokoh, incubator and fablab”.
For two years, the twenty or so young with varied profiles who form the Ayiyikoh community get together in premises lent by the family. On the day of my visit, about ten heads can be seen behind the screens. I sit down in the meeting room. On the walls, the tone has been set: logos of the large free software communities have been hand-painted.
— AYIYIKOH (@ayiyikoh) March 27, 2017
The guidelines from the open source supporter Florent Youzon are applied here. In fact, the uncle of free software in Africa never ceases to inspire these young and supports them with enthusiasm.
For the most part self-taught, the Ayiyikoh coders show a high level in computing and networks. It is no coincidence that the gang of Ivorian geeks set themselves as a major line of projects for the lab the creation of frameworks, this application base that will allow them to stop “being consumers but rather producers,” explains Moussa Coulibaly, computer graphics designer. The first prototype being developed is called Soutra, understand “you need to help me” in nouchi (the Ivorian jargon so cherished in the country).
“We want to instill the culture of the free, share this philosophy that brings together our values and is adapted to our African context.”
Loulou Beugré, co-founder of Ayiyikoh
The fablab chose the association status. Its economic model? Ayiyikoh provides services for website and mobile application development. The latest project was born during the Revenue generating activities promotion festival (FePro AGR): Blikoto (“finished palaver”) is an application for the management of land conflicts, very sensitive subject in Africa where they are the source of numerous quarrels and frauds. The Yopougon fablab also takes part in hackathons and in fact were twice laureates of the Africa Web Festival.
This economic model allows them to partly finance the purchase of equipment and offer trainings to the young of Yopougon in Arduino, in computer security, etc. Most of the workshops are based on learning code up to advanced levels. This doesn’t stop the makers taking an interest in the assembly of 3D printers and printing circuit boards to develop new skills. A Jerry-cyber project is also being considered. In short, there is no lack of desires and ideas.
Restore the confidence of the young
About a hundred young from the district and the neighborhood are frequent visitors of the lab, aged 20 to 30. Ayiyikoh defends self-teaching with fervor and has a goal in mind: local development through skill improvement of the young.
“The lab is taking on a very important educational role, in the continuity of the junior high school, explains Loulou Beugré. Here, we want to ban the spirit of competition and teach the young to work together, to pool and share to progress together. We work a lot in collaboration with other Ivorian and African labs, IT clubs of prestigious schools. Developing a self-taught attitude is essential because, facing our problems, who better than ourselves to find pertinent solutions? We have the answers but lack confidence in our potentials.”
Giving the young confidence, encouraging them to undertake things is one of the preoccupations of the lab. Trainings to learn to express oneself in public are thus in preparation, to create an incubator further down the line.
A springboard for professional integration
The social role of the lab has proven its worth. Ivorian companies have indeed identified the fablab as a competence center, a pool of dynamic, motivated, self-taught and high leveled young people. “The lab changed the lives of some people who came through here,” says Josué Romba, systems administrator. Around the unavoidable garba, a convivial culinary tradition of the community to seal the end of the discussion, the makers of Ayoyokoh are having fun: “The lab is being plundered! We are starting to lack labor force because people are ramping up their skills and companies are recruiting them! They still come back to reinvest their knowledge in the lab. And if they don’t come, after three weeks, we tell them off!”