This post is also available in: Portuguese (Portugal)
I firmly believe that is it not acceptable that NOSI’s top managers at some point decided to endorse such an exclusive relationship with Microsoft on the premise that our country would benefit from very low software license fees (in fact, a few years ago each Windows 7 license would cost about 400$00 ECV), thus at a return rate of investment considered so attractive as to discourage any conscious effort to invest in FOSS. It seems that those top managers, poor things, did not know they were biting bait…
I do not believe that the people responsible for our national ICT infrastructure were unaware of the many showdowns between the European Union (EU) and some American software powerhouses (namely Microsoft) in the last decade, as well as the conscious options made by important countries such as Germany, The Netherlands and France (just to name a few), to develop their own software solutions based on FOSS, as a sure way to protect sensitive and critical data from prying hands. All this long before the whistle-blower Edward Snowden came to the scene.
By the same token, it is hardly believable that NOSI’s leadership and their Boss were unaware of the dubious tactics by those multinational software powerhouses to gain market share all over the world, and the fact that such tactics had sometimes cost them heavy fines, when the courts both in the EU and in the USA considered those practices contrary to the proper functioning of the markets…
Therefore, to me, all this boils down to honesty and patriotism.
In 2003, President Lula da Silva agreed to convene, at his official residence of the Granja do Torto, the First Free Software International Forum. At that event he found himself literally in no-man’s-land, bombed, on the one hand, by those defending the adoption of FOSS by the Government and, on the other hand, by those who supported the status quo, defending proprietary software. At the time, despite all the software piracy that was prevalent, Brazil was still paying about two billion US dollars annually for the right to use proprietary software. And without even realizing much of the issue at the time, President Lula decided in favor of free software in Brazil because, as he said later, it was impossible for all those very bright people, who insisted on FOSS adoption, to be wrong. It was, he said, too many very intelligent young people together, who certainly knew very well what they were defending…
In 2010, at another venue of the same Forum, recalling the 2003 meeting, he said:
«Now that the dish is prepared, is very easy for people to eat it. But to prepare this dish was not a joke. I remember the first meeting we had, at Granja do Torto, at which I was unable to understand any of the language that this people were speaking, and there was a huge tension between those who advocated the adoption of free software by Brazil and those who defended that we should keep doing the sameness of always, buying and paying for other people’s intelligence and, thank God, prevailed in our country the option and the decision in favor of free software. We had to choose: Either we would go into the kitchen to prepare ourselves the dish we wanted to eat it, with the spices we wanted, giving it a Brazilian taste, or we would eat what Microsoft wanted us to eat. In the end, the idea of freedom simply prevailed.»
Now, quo vadis, NOSI? What is Plan B? Is this a fatality we must endure forever? Is paying hefty proprietary software bills part of the famous transformation agenda for Cape Verde?
What the newspaper “A Voz” does not mention in its article is the fact that Cape Verde depends heavily on other software companies, besides Microsoft, as far as the sustainability of its e-government infrastructure is concerned. In particular, the novel National Institute of Land Management (INGT) will soon begin to receive similar invoices from Oracle, ESRI and others…
The WTO Accession Agreement (whose negotiation in 2007 I personally denounced as being very detrimental to our national interests and a serious crime against the Nation, views I still maintain) is gradually closing its cruel grip on the economy of this country and I think we have to be able to find other solutions if we are to survive. From my standpoint, this means that we must do everything we can to ensure our independence from proprietary software, especially in areas more critically related to the country’s governance. If it is true that in the short-term we will not be able to avoid paying the license fees to the proprietary software powerhouses, it is essential that we openly and seriously discuss this problem, and not try to hide under the rug an issue of so much strategic importance, one that is becoming more and more prevalent in a world where the collection, the management and the manipulation of Information is undoubtedly the key to economic and political supremacy in the hands of the powerful nations.
If we should not be so naïve as to believe that we can evade the famous surveillance that all countries (particularly the more powerful ones) are nowadays carrying out on each other and on the rest of the world, it is undeniable that by its own characteristics and the philosophy behind it, FOSS is the only way that a fragile country like Cape Verde has, on the one hand, to ensure that its youth develop fundamental skills that will distinguish them in the future, and on the other hand, to ensure the safety and the correct treatment of our Nation’s critical information: “The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future.“
At the end of the day, taking President Lula da Silva’s advice, this is all about going to the kitchen and prepare our own food with the spices we need in order to give it a Cape Verdean taste, or resign ourselves to eating what Microsoft and others want us to eat, at the price they force us to accept as has been the case. If it’s late, I believe it is not too late to start over again.
(Those who want to watch President Lula’s speech at FISL 2010 will follow this YouTube link.)