My Ethiopia

An Ethiopian Encyclopedia could be realized within two years

Proposal written in the form of a pledge to Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikimedia Foundation

Dear Sir,

I am an Italian Wikipedian engaged in cultural and general development both in Ethiopia and Italy.

I teach in Italy and coordinate some innovative activities for a County Education office there, explore and develop a new cultural tourism route in Ethiopia, where I also am an agroindustry entrepreneur.

I want to propose in a page an idea I have cherished for a few years.

 

Foreword

Amharic is the lingua franca in Ethiopia, a huge Country of amazing ancient history and unexploited cultural development potential. Over 87 languages are spoken here by a population soon to reach one hundred million, the second most populated land in Africa well above Egypt and below Nigeria.

Amharic is no secondary world language. I once challenged an examiner at an Italian foreign office consultant evaluation panel, who stated my Amharic was utterly secondary on my cv telling him I had found the way to the hall by asking a lady on the Rome bus, in the Ethiopian language. It was true, and the same may happen to anyone meeting a generally exquisite Abyssinian in almost any prominent world city. There are at least thirty million Amharic speakers all over the world, proving it a language more widely spoken than my examiner’s Italian.

The Italian wiki has over 750.000 entries, the 4th in the world edged by Polish, above Japanese.

The Amharic wiki is the unreadable blot that lies first in the wikipedia frontpage, down, when you get to those minor languages with only 1000+ entries. You would not have I believe like most, Amharic characters.

Yet, Ethiopia, a fast developing place with a need for cultural growth, shows any observer an amazing hunger for knowledge widespread across ethnic divides, has an amazing past of chroniclers and novel and theater writers, albeit little own scientific innovative production.

It is well organized with schools and local Kebele or administrative posts owning limited libraries over its often remote 1,100,000 square kilometres of stunningly beautiful lands, from deserts of black rock, immaculate sands, salt and sulphuric acid lakes at 160m below sea level to over twenty peaks and range parts above 4000, many  seasonally snowcapped.

Proposal

I have had, over a seven year teaching period, a few hundred students in Addis Ababa.

I know practically all of them, as so many more around our capital town are perfectly able to produce competent wiki entries largely by translating material from other wikis, drawing from secondary schools fromer pupils in Addis alone, in English, Italian, French, Nordic languages and German, all obviously major encyclopedias.

It will take a rented space the size of a small classroom, ten old PCs, a good net connection and some twenty full or part time wikipedians to realize a 60,000 to 80,000 entries Amharic wiki. Within the record time of less than two years. A secondary result will be enriching the whole wiki system with hundreds, rather, thousands of entries on Ethiopia.

The two novelties that may appear as obstacles is, first, that the wiki contributors will have to be paid. No one in practice, even me, has the luck to be able to dedicate totally free time to this effort in Ethiopia. And that as no one, absolutely, has access to a PC in over 90% of our Country, the Amharic Wikipedia will also be PRINTED.

So it will be used, as a cheap yet invaluable paperback in a few thousands Kebele administrative posts, and in even more schools all over the changing Country that, the Bible has it, will always pray to God. Perhaps nearer to Him, in the high green highlands. With an extra mean to raise itself up from devastating want, the first diffused tool for consultation, reading, learning in its own language. As most would positively agree the best way to get out of the poverty trap for any community is breaking ignorance.

Too many wealthy aid programs have failed, fail and will fail as local beneficiaries, administrations and donors have little common understading of terms and cultures. Recent attempts, from german GIZ for example, to create an electronic link to local field agents are set to fail as the Ethiopian gov't is unready and unable to cover running costs, has prejudices on digital information flow. Simply, concepts are not shared. 

Total project costs could be detailed at around 100,000 USD, less than half for salaries and the remnant for a first thousand copies printing.

Knowing Ethiopia is in too many cases loving it. To some special people, the push to try and do amazing things few had dared. To start, I would personally love to have the lifetime chance of taking you Jimmy around for a visit through my Country of adoption. I do this with pride, as I am used to accompany extremely qualified professionals in fields as different as geology and speleology, natural science, conservation, archaeology and rock paintings, art; journalists and new species hunters.

  A project for our kid's future. 

We all know nowhere in the near future will rural Ethiopia -85% of a rapidly growing 90 million population- have access to digital libraries, I can hardly think of better development fund use. 

Prof. Marco Vigano’

Wiki contributor marcoetio.

Update: the Amharic wiki  has reached as of April 1st 2013 over 12200 entries.

The Italian one is still fourth with 1.070.000, now tackled by the Russian one. The first italian encyclopedia, Treccani, 1929, had 60,000 main entries and was published as a 100.000 entry ten volumes work.