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An Empty Gift? Free Wikipedia Access for Orange Kenya and Uganda Subscribers

By Wayan Vota on August 31, 2012


Now any subscriber with an Orange Kenya or Orange Uganda SIM will be able to access Wikipedia through their mobile phone browser without data charges, according to The Star. While I think this is a much better use of free access than Facebook Zero, I am wondering how beneficial this gesture will be to African users for 3 reasons:

  1. As we noted before, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the fifty-three countries in Africa.
  2. The Kiswahili Wikipedia only has 24,135 articles for the 60 million East Africans who speak it.
  3. These stats are not without efforts to promote article creation in Kiswahili and on African topics of interest.

So I applaud Orange for creating the “Free Wikipedia” experience for its 70 million subscribers in Africa and the Middle East, I just wish there was more for them to look at.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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8 Comments to “An Empty Gift? Free Wikipedia Access for Orange Kenya and Uganda Subscribers”

  1. Kyle Spencer says:

    Free Wikipedia might do more harm than good. Read my blog post about it: http://stormzero.blogspot.com/2012/07/net-neutrality-knee-deep-in-internet.html

  2. Nathan says:

    It’s a volunteer written encyclopedia – free mobile data access means that more people will be able to author articles as well as read them.

    Why can’t we just pat the operator on the back for letting people get access for free (it’s not their job to make the content better, and when you step back it’s AMAZING that anyone can get an encyclopedia of any kind for free on a mobile device). The whole thing is just sort of mind blowing. People are volunteering their knowledge on millions of subjects in hundreds of languages, and giant companies are volunteering their expensive tech to let anyone have access. Bravo.

    Do we have to find ways to rain on every mobiles for development parade just to prove that we aren’t techno-utopians?

  3. Wayan Vota says:


    As Kyle writes, “users only get free access to the mobile version of the site which lacks the functionality required to contribute“, which doesn’t sound like they’ll be able the author the Wikipedia for free. Now had that added the free editing access, and promoted adding content, I would be cheering unconditionally.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like this is more of a marketing gimmick than anything else that will not cost the company too much because of the reasons’s Wayan states. Oh well, I should be less cynical and hope there is increased traffic which promotes knowledge creation and management. I wonder how the company will then react to increased data use- may change its mind completely or increase terms of use….

  5. iLearn4Free says:

    This is a great initiative that deserve encouragements. It takes time and dedication to create content and people will enjoy content even if it’s not in their native language, since the audience of Wikipedia is an adult population… saying that I am a huge native language supporter currently working on building a database of images and words in mp3 to help developers create more apps in multiple languages – http://www.art4apps.org . iLearn4Free will be launching a App Challenge shortly to encourage the development of apps in multiple languages… http://www.educationappsforall.org

  6. Nada Andersen says:

    I meet lack of knowledge end exposure on a daily basis, and I applaud Orange for providing free access to Wikipedia. In Uganda, mobile operators are cruel in their gimmicks to attract and retain customers. At least the youthful Orange customers, mainly university students, can now be able to get information, research and do much more through this offer. Sharing knowledge is the most generous thing anyone can do, so thumbs up Orange Kenya and Uganda, we really needed this and thank you for giving.

  7. Joel Selanikio says:

    I think it’s funny how quickly technology has given us the idea that we must all be creators and editors and contributors, by lowering the boundaries to making contributions to things like encyclopedias. While it is wonderful without question, I can’t help remembering ancient times — before the last ten or fifteen years — when people thought the Encyclopedia Britannica was pretty amazing and useful, and no one criticized it just because it didn’t let everyone in the world contribute.

    Back then, providing everyone in East Africa with a free copy of the Britannica would have been seen as an astonishingly, unimaginably good thing. To provide a free copy that could be kept in our pockets would have been Nobel Peace Prize material.

    Now? it’s “an empty gift”.

    I suppose it is natural that our expectations are rising just slightly faster than our capacity to meet them. 🙂

  8. Anonymous says:

    When people volunteer their knowledge on millions of subjects isn’t that blogging and what makes this different is still unclear or is it the fact that we don’t get charged for the data access?
    Who controls what knowledge is to be shared on this site in all the languages?

    I find that there will be people with domineering ideologies. We take for example Kenya with its diverse culture and how a common language is still an issue and every community thinks they have better ideas than the other. This could be disastrous or is that what the media war is all about. I am not entirely against it and I am taking an extreme example but factual.

    The 70 million mentioned in most of the articles of the population I can vouch only 12% would have the knowhow and understanding of the knowledge shared how does that benefit the illetrate one would ask?