In 1991, Tunisia became the first nation in Africa to connect to the internet. Today, it is one of the most connected countries in the Middle East and North Africa, with a thriving community of digital activists and free culture advocates. One of these is Wikimedian Emna Mizouni.
Emna works for Carthagina, a non-governmental organization in Tunis that raises awareness about Tunisian history and heritage. She helps make images of Tunisia available to the public through community projects like Wiki Loves Monuments on Wikimedia Commons, the world’s largest freely-licensed image repository.
“I’m very concerned about the heritage and history, so this is an important thing for me,” she says. “To promote Tunisian heritage through [this] photo contest…[our] monuments, historical sites, cuisine, tradition, customs, everything.”
Wiki Loves Monuments is a volunteer-led international photo contest that encourages people to contribute freely-licensed images of local historical monuments and heritage sites in their region. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it holds the world record for largest photography competition. Each year, more than 300,000 photos are added through the contest.
The positive energies of it, the wanting to make the world better, that’s Wikipedia for me. That’s what I want to share with people.
Emna, along with other community members from Northern Africa, have organised three editions of the annual contest in Tunisia since 2013. The contest has attracted thousands of images from volunteers, ten of which are selected as winners every year.
“I fell in love with Wikimedia projects, and I tried to spread the word,” she says. “I joined now, so I can contribute and I see the importance of contributing. It’s aligned with the objective of my NGO, I have to do it. It’s a must-do thing.”
Emna says the Wikimedia projects can even be used as a form of advocacy, for example to express opposition to terrorism that has taken place in the area. When the Bardo National Museum was attacked in 2015, volunteers contributed images of the museum, and expanded related Wikipedia articles. “We’re resisting by doing this,” she explains. “It’s not only Tunisia who is concerned with the terrorism. Tunisia is joining the league of other countries, occidental countries.”
It’s been a challenging few years for the country, which played a key role in 2011’s Arab Spring—also documented on Wikipedia. Emna sees free knowledge as a positive way to move forward.
“Everyone is aware about the importance of having this information on Wikipedia, so we are trying to contribute as much as we can,” she says. “We are delivering a new image [of] Tunisia. We are showing the world the real Tunisia.”