Speaker: Stephen Kovats: #OSJUBA – Open Sourcing a New Nation


After more than four decades of brutal conflict, South Sudan, the world’s newest country gained independence in 2011. A complex multi-cultural and multi-ethnic mesh of peoples and competing interests, the new state seceded from Sudan after a referendum for independence supported by close to 99% of its population. Juba, nominally a capital since the 1972 Addis peace accords granted the South autonomy, this dusty regional administrative town now finds itself in the eye of a storm of competing interests, speculation and hectic unbridled development – a chaotic city juggling ‘nation building’ against the sheer basics of urban survival.

A capital city is however a unique place. Vested in symbolic attribution and a nation’s aspirations it must act as both an efficient administrator as much as the showcase of the nation’s identity. In the case of a new state still working to define its own cultural and societal contours, the capital city takes on an even greater symbolic – as well as pivotal function. In Juba, this is a free-for-all dominated by the interests of external powers jockeying for pole position in a potentially lucrative battle for natural resources. Having acted as guarantor for the fledgling state’s viability to survive as an independent nation, South Sudan’s oil reserves, fertile lands and Nile waters now become its accessible rewards. Who will gain the upper hand in their exploitation, and how will its citizens experience not only the symbolic assets of freedom, but participate in its autonomy and self-determination?

The world’s first Open Source City? The Nation as an Open Systems entity?

#OSJUBA proposes to apply the means and methodologies of the international Open Source / FLOSS, free culture, accessible technologies and hacktivist communities in creating a vision for the new capital of South Sudan as a national ‘Open Systems’ framework . Building a model to be applied in the broader context of an emergent, transparent and participatory democracy Open Source methodologies also play a crucial role in fusing diverse cultural traditions into existing, established and highly engaged global communities. Their inherent elements of cultural collaboration, grass-roots enterprise and economic innovation are driven by multidisciplinary ideals that have the ability to support and augment the most complex development issues and scenarios including:

  • crowdsourcing and open access to data as citizen accessories for urban development
  • transparency models for participation and interaction with policy making in government
  • resource management, health care and open education methodologies
  • increased digital mobility networking and communication for freer expression and cultural diversity
  • new forms of citizen-based, community or device journalism, incl. SMS, radio, data streaming
  • creating new economies and user-based technologies informed by local knowledge
  • enabling open peer to peer education formats complementing traditional learning structures

The essential characteristic of the Open Source model is one of sustainability. As economically and politically powerful tools, Open Source technologies, mobile platforms and collaborative data sourcing methodologies now have the ability to be implemented as viable alternatives to tried and often failed attempts at nation building, urban and social development. Given the rise of user generated tools, content and technologies, the world’s Open Source communities are in a unique position to strengthen the basic tenets of free and open expression, investing in the boundless potentials of media literacy, community development and individual enterprise.

Building upon the initial #OSJUBA conference in Berlin in June 2012, the discussion on ‘open sourcing South Sudan’ was taken to Juba in December 2012 in the framework of the MEDIA & MAKERS Sustainable Media and Open Knowledge Forum #MMJUBA.

Stephen Kovats

Stephen Kovats is a cultural and media researcher, formerly artistic director of transmediale, Berlin’s festival for art and digital culture, and international program curator at V2_Institute for the Unstable Media, Rotterdam. His interests are focused on the dynamic relationships between media, political, and electronic space and their application on the transformation of societal and cultural landscapes.

In the 90′s he initiated and directed ‘ostranenie – the international electronic media forum’ at the Bauhaus Dessau which examined the role of media art and broadcast culture within the transformation process in Eastern and Central Europe. Other major projects included a yearly series of Central European Media Art Picnics, the Archi-Tonomy workshops and the biannual ‘DEAF’ festival in Rotterdam.
r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation.