Twenty years ago, I created something new in Mauritius, a Linux User Group.
Here is the actual email I sent to a mailing list I had just created and which we would use for years to come. Remember, this was years before social networking:
From: Avinash Meetoo <> To: Mauritius Linux User Group <> Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2000 09:47:22 +0400 Subject: [mauritius-linux] Announcing the Mauritius Linux User Group ****************************** The Mauritius Linux User Group ****************************** Hi ! I am very happy to announce the creation of a Linux User Group (LUG) in Mauritius (Indian Ocean). This user group, as stated in the "Linux User Group HOWTO", has the following aims : * Advocate the use of Linux in the country. Talk about its superior design, the numerous software available (GNU, etc.) and the fact that it is freely available. * Educate anyone wanting to become familiar with Linux. Help inexperienced users with installation and the day-to-day running of the operating system. In the long run, provide training for anyone wanting to become competent with Linux. * Support anyone having problems with Linux. A discussion list has already been set up (see notes at the end). * Make all Linux users (and lovers ?) meet. This is great to share experience and have a good beer :-) The broader aim of this User Group is to coordinate Linux activities in the country as well as to serve as a liaison for the media (newspapers and TV). For the time being, I would appreciate if current Mauritian Linux users as well as aspiring users could subscribe to the mailing list so that we can start discussing as soon as possible. Thanks. Avinash Meetoo.
As you can see, the key elements of a LUG are advocacy, education, support and socialisation. I was lucky that some like-minded individuals immediately joined the mailing list and, since then, have contributed a lot. In the email, I also sent some details about myself because, well, at that time, I was just a young guy fresh from university and only a few people actually knew me:
I am 27 and I live in Quatre-Bornes. After 5 years of study in France, I was awarded a "Diplome d'Ingenieur en Informatique" (from INSA Lyon, http://www.insa-lyon.fr) together with a "Diplome d'Etudes Approfondies en Informatique" (from ENS Lyon, http://www.ens-lyon.fr). I am now a Lecturer in Computer Science at the Centre for Business Studies of the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I have been using computers for a long time (since 1988 in fact). During my studies, I used a lot of different Unixes like HP-UX, Irix or Solaris. In 1996, I had my first encounter with Linux at a friend's place. I returned to Mauritius in 1998 and some time back, I bought a 15Gb hard disk and installed Red Hat 6.2. Since then, I've upgraded to Red Hat 7.0 and everything is working wonderfully ! Lately, I've been having a lot of fun with... ... gnome, gtkmm, orbit, python, haskell (hugs), xmms, soundtracker, etc.
What about now?
Twenty years later, a number of interesting things have happened:
Businesses in Mauritius have adopted open source software. Large companies have been moving their UNIX servers to Linux for years now, since the beginning of the 2000’s in fact. Telecom operators rely on Linux everywhere (e.g. MyT is Linux). The Government Online Centre has a lot of Linux servers running open source software. And small companies, who use cloud services a lot, use Linux (as the Google, Amazon and, heck, even the Microsoft cloud are basically thousands and thousands of Linux servers). The world runs on Linux and open source software.
The population has also adopted Linux and open source software. Android, the operating system created for smartphones and tablets by Google, runs on a Linux kernel in fact. This means that all of us who have an Android device is a Linux user. Smart devices at home such as smart TVs, smart speakers, etc. are also powered by Linux. And a lot of home networking devices such as routers, modems, etc. also run Linux. Linux is everywhere.
Interestingly, Mauritius has a National Open Source Policy, Strategy and Action Plan since 2014. I am very happy, of course, but not because I am a Linux geek. Rather, I feel that a sovereign country, especially in this age of technological disruption, needs to have a very well-thought strategy on how to become self-reliant (in terms of technology people, products and services) and open source is perfect for that.
What about the future?
Technological independence is something we can aspire to. We cannot, as a country, always depend on foreign solutions. We need to have our own solutions.
And this starts by training people. This is what I did when I was a lecturer and also when I launched Knowledge7 but we need to increase our throughput now. Mauritius needs its polymaths and engineers… like everywhere else. Without a critical mass of such polymaths and engineers, we will not be able to build the solutions we need. For this to happen, a paradigm shift needs to happen in the way we educate our people. We need to stop educating for passing exams but rather to become problem solvers. If it were me, I would eliminate all exams and base the decision whether to award a degree to someone on the merit of her/him actually having solved a real problem which was impacting real people.
Let’s create a critical mass of such problem solvers and let us give them free reign to make our country better.
For me, that’s one of the best ways forward.