They “blacken” Wikipedia to “have a library in the image of the world”

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The home page of the Wikipedia collaborative encyclopedia.

When Mahuton Bienvenue is done with his job as a software developer, a second day begins for him on the Internet. Since 2015, the 30-something has been part of the community of “Wikipedians”, these anonymous volunteers who write, correct and complete the forms for the online collaborative encyclopedia.

At first curious, the Beninese took to the game by noting that the information available on his country was still scarce or fragmented. Today, he is in charge of a user group bringing together around thirty Beninese Wikipedians. Volunteers like Mermoze Adodo, who joined the adventure in 2018 and wrote more than 600 contributions. “I was surprised, confides this 40-year-old civil servant, that the articles concerning Benin be written elsewhere than at home. “

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Pioneers in their country, Mahuton Bienvenue and Mermoze Adodo do not content themselves with writing articles in their own corner: both have joined Noircir Wikipedia, a multilingual initiative (French, Spanish and Catalan) which aims to remedy the lack of references and information on African or Afro-descendant culture and personalities.

The project was launched in 2018 by Ivonne Gonzalez, lawyer and feminist artist of Cuban origin living in Switzerland, very quickly joined in her fight by art historian Gala Mayi-Miranda. The two women met during a workshop linked to the Les sans pagEs project, which aims to bridge the gender gap on Wikipedia. During a marathon of writing notices on female artists, they crossed paths with another activist, Laureline Gaudens. Since then, the trio has campaigned to feminize and “blacken” the online encyclopedia.

1.5% of Wikipedians live in Africa

“The idea is to have a library that reflects the world, and not only representative of the culture of the Western white man”, summarizes Yasmina Sandoz, Wikipédienne of Mauritian origin and member of the movement. To achieve this, the origin of the contributors matters: in 2019, nearly 70% of Wikipedia contributors lived in Europe and the United States, against barely 1.5% in Africa. “The purpose of the project is to recruit more African and Afro-descendant Wikipedians, specifies Ivonne Gonzalez, to see them become more engaged in digital technology, so that they take control of their own narrative, of their history. “

Today, Noircir Wikipedia has about 125 more or less regular members. This is not much for a continent where 1.3 billion people live. “A lot of people in Africa think that Wikipedia is elitist, that you have to be very qualified to contribute to it”, admits Mahuton Welcome.

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New contributors are regularly recruited during awareness-raising workshops, the Edit-a-thon, organized every two months online and in person in Paris and Geneva. Since last year, Laureline Gaudens has also given three days of courses on the subject at Sorbonne-Nouvelle University. “Contributing to Wikipedia is a lot of solo work, admits Ivonne Gonzalez. But it’s exciting if there are topics you care about. It is an intellectual, personal, incredible enrichment. “

However, it is not easy to keep the flame alive over time. Volunteer and time-consuming, the activity is not always compatible with professional and family life. 40-year-old Mermoze Adodo admits: “You can only do it if you are passionate about it. “ And if we have access to the Internet… Regular power cuts sometimes shower goodwill.

Only written sources matter

For Ivonne Gonzalez, “Vigilance is required in order to avoid bias resulting from colonial history, such as the euphemization of historical crimes, the use of racist stereotypes or a Eurocentric selection of sources”. But the major challenge lies in the very Wikipedia rules for sources and writing. For example, a personality can only benefit from a file in his name if it has been cited in the major Western media, directly and indirectly.

Yasmina Sandoz thus remembers having wanted, in her beginnings, to portray her boss, Cameroonian Lambert Sonna Momo, a specialist in cybersecurity. “He’s one of the best mathematicians in Cameroon, he got a scholarship to study in Switzerland, she details. But the articles in which he was cited in Cameroon were not deemed eligible by Wikipedia administrators. “ By dint of perseverance, by refining each time the writing and the sources, the activist however managed to provide it with a Wikipedia file.

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Mahuton Bienvenue also remembers that at his beginnings, in 2015, “African newspapers were not taken into consideration”. “But, for two or three years, that starts to change”, he continues, citing The New Tribune, a Beninese daily now considered a reliable source.

Another pitfall, the collaborative encyclopedia only recognizes written references. Recalling the importance of orality in African culture, the activists of Noircir Wikipedia would like audio or video interviews to be taken into account.

How to enrich Wikipedia with excluding criteria? This question is raised regularly on the occasion of Wikimania, the international conference which brings together contributors from around the world each year. Also in their program, recognition by the encyclopedia of national languages ​​and dialects. “When there will be more Wikipedians in Africa we will be able to move the lines”, estime Mermoze Adodo.

We wish to thank the writer of this write-up for this remarkable material

They “blacken” Wikipedia to “have a library in the image of the world”