Linux Institute opposes Microsoft role in Kenya's laptop project

Initiative planned for end of the year

By , IDG News Service |  Software

The Linux Professional Institute has opposed a move by Microsoft to partner with the Kenyan government in an ambitious US$2 billion laptop project.

During a visit last month, Microsoft International President Jean Philippe Courtois met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and announced a training partnership, a move that has received mixed reactions. The plan calls for the government to issue a laptop to every child enrolling in primary school next year.

After the closed meeting with President Kenyatta, Microsoft announced that the partnership would fall under its "Partners in Learning Schools Program" but did not give particulars of whether the partnership will involve training and hardware or hardware at subsidized rates.

"The specifics on how the support offered by Microsoft will be actualized is subject to further discussions with the project owners, including the Ministry of Education," said Louis Otieno, director for legal and corporate affairs for Africa initiatives at Microsoft.

The Linux Professional Institute in Kenya has issued a position paper on the partnership, saying that it is a move to lock children to one operating system.

"Having Microsoft as the sole or lead implementing partner will be very detrimental to this country; locking our children to one vendor's software platform is not only self-defeating but also immoral," said Evans Ikua, chairman at the Linux Professional Institute in Kenya.

Ikua added that Microsoft has a right to pursue its interests as a profit-making company, but warned the country's leadership against entering into partnerships without considering the options and benefits of Free and Open Source Software.

"While Microsoft has the inalienable right to make profits where opportunities present themselves, the people of Kenya have the right to demand that the government spends public resources where the greatest value is derived," Ikua added. "The deal with Microsoft is only meant to benefit the company in all aspects."

Analysts have highlighted the potential costs of the project.

"Microsoft providing the software will be very expensive to the government even if they provide the software at a subsidized rates," said James Mutua, an analyst with IDC East Africa.

The Linux Professional Institute in Kenya is hoping to convince the country's leadership to explore and adopt open source solutions and join other countries that have done so, including Germany, Spain, France, China, Brazil, India, and South Korea.

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