Mesh Bukavu - Designing a network from scratch

2014-10-27 / Andy Gunn

The Open Technology Institute recently discussed options for community wireless networks with Free Press Unlimited – a NGO based in the Netherlands that works on press freedom issues around the world. Their response was to organize a workshop with interested individuals in the town of Bukavu, a town on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report on the workshop below is a guest post from Pepijn Kalis – an organizer with Free Press Unlimited based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It discusses the first steps towards building a community-owned and run network.

Mesh Bukavu

By Pepijn Kalis – Free Press Unlimited

On the 21st of October 2014, over 40 participants attended the workshop “Mesh Bukavu” in Bukavu, DRC. The workshop was the kick-off for creating a wireless network in the city of Bukavu. Attendees were journalists, IT people, bloggers and students. Together the group came up with ideas for the network.

Workshop participants

Participants gathered outside of the workshop space.

In an area where Internet connections are not always stable and available, the network can help the local community to find news and information, collaborate on documents and communicate via chat - all on the network. The workshop consisted of an activity called “Design Your Network”. The participants draw their neighborhood, and the coverage areas where connections should be available. They designed coverage areas to be within the reach of the universities, radio stations, and public spaces.

Participants working Participants working

Workshop participants use router icons, markers and paper to design their visions for a network to cover Bukavu.

In addition, the workshop participants brainstormed a number of uses and applications for the network:

  • A local copy of Wikipedia
  • Chat system
  • Maps of the city
  • Local Social Media
  • IP telephony / video calling or conferences
  • Digital repository or library
  • File sharing
  • News, i.e. calls & offers (Call for bids, ONEM), Bisodo (Gossip)
  • Culture and art
  • Local media (newspapers, radio)
  • University publications for research
  • Little online games
  • Postcards and appointments (Cultural events, locations around Bukavu, etc…)
  • State services and ONG
  • Dictionaries
  • Free books
  • Addresses
  • Network search Engine for all services

The day ended with great excitement about the Mesh network for Bukavu and the participants are eager to take the next steps and start building out a pilot Mesh Network.

Network map

Network map

Some of the maps designed during the workshop, showing how a network might work for the area.

To read a bit more about the Mesh Bukavu meeting, download this report in French, written by Benjamin Murhesa, a local coordinator for Free Press Unlimited.