Despite being the largest project of its kind in human history with a reach that’s global, Wikipedia’s coverage skews heavily toward articles about the Global North. In much of the rest of the world, coverage can be spotty, and that’s especially true for a topic like politics. This is why a class like Martha Wilfahrt’s African Politics class can have such a big impact.
Until the 1990s, the economy of Equatorial Guinea was dominated by cocoa, coffee, and timber, but the development of oil and gas production has transformed the country into the third largest petroleum producer on the continent. This in turn has led to political, economic, and social transformation of the country. But until a student in this class created the Petroleum industry in Equatorial Guinea article, the topic was only covered in a few paragraphs in the main country article.
Students in the class made major improvements to number of really important topics including the Ethnic groups in Burundi, HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe and LGBT rights in Ghana. Given the history of inter-ethnic conflict in Burundi, and the way conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda and Democratic Congo triggered both the Rwandan genocide and the First and Second Congo wars, information about Burundian ethnic groups and their ethnogenesis is an important addition to Wikipedia. Similarly, since southern Africa has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection, having good information about the disease in one of the worst-hit countries in the world is valuable. And for LGBT people in a country where homosexuality is illegal, documenting their legal status and the challenges they face is important.
Modern rail systems (like the image of the Casablanca Tramway in the hero image of this blog post) can improve the lives of people while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, especially in Africa’s mega-cities, but before a student in the class got to work expanding it, the Urban rail transit in Africa article consisted of nothing more than a table. Thanks to a student editor, Wikipedia now has a lengthy, informative, and fairly complete article.
Women in Zambia experience high rates of HIV/AIDS infections, and the frequency of child marriage is high, but maternal healthcare and access to contraception have improved in recent years. Wealth inequality in South Africa is extreme, and the country has the most economic inequality in the world. On a related note, the history of imprisonment during apartheid and its role in keeping white rule in place is for decades underlies the importance for prison reform in South Africa. Articles on these topics are among the many new ones that were created by this class.
On Wikipedia, like in the real world, the Global South remains underdeveloped, but because we’re so used to it, we can easily overlook it. There’s a tendency for the public to judge the importance of a topic based on its Wikipedia article, so when a class chooses to focus on a topic like African politics, the impact they’re having is large. And from the standpoint of the students doing the editing, the breadth of what doesn’t exist makes the process of picking a notable topic that much easier. We look forward to seeing what students in future editions of this course add to Wikipedia.
To learn more about incorporating a Wikipedia assignment into a higher education class, visit teach.wikiedu.org.
Hero image credit: Mustapha Ennaimi, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons