Mozilla — By now, you’ve already heard of or read Mitchell Baker’s “We’ve Got Work to Do” press release in response to the Black Lives Matter protests going on in the US ever since the death of George Floyd and other African American’s arising from probable racial actions by white police officers.
She wasn’t wrong in her statement and I commend her, but this is the problem with major organisations especially the ones with a lot to lose right now. They have been a little silent and only become vocal about racial inequalities when it’s trending.
Being Black isn’t a shiny commodity that organisations or prominent people should jump on whenever there is hype around it to get popular and show that they care. Today, I’ll talk about how Mozilla’s statement is empty and really lacking, and why they could do better.
We will talk about how many times they failed to provide equality and don’t deserve the right to pretend like they have been fighting for us or really care.
We will start right at home, with Mozilla’s own employment. Based on their own diversity and inclusion stats in May 2019, Black people only made up 3% of their total number of employees. If we assumed that Mozilla has approximately 1,000 employees, that would mean only 30 employees were Black.
And sadder, there was no Black or Latino person in Mozilla leadership in the US. Just to put into context, we are in June 2020 right now – so that’s more than a year (12 months) Mozilla had to improve these numbers and racial equality.
I myself, I’m a former Mozillian, surrounded by many former Mozilla volunteers, representatives, mentors and even some who were employees. The major driving incentive for this piece is going to be on how they used African volunteers to their gain and ditched them without leaving any solid benefit that you can rely on or see and point out today.
To understand the context, I will give you a back story so that by the end of this article you will understand why Africans aren’t feeling that Mozilla love they so much flaunt right now.
Being Black isn’t a shiny commodity that organisations or prominent people should jump on whenever there’s hype around it
Mozilla was one of the first non-profit tech organisations to venture into Africa, recruit volunteers massively, support activities around open source, the web and even scale at an unprecedented pace. They had so many communities in Africa, it is a wonder that none of them is still standing today.
The most popular communities were in Kenya, Ghana, North Africa (Tunisia), Botswana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda and a few other smaller clusters. The largest and most active OGs were Tunisia, Kenya and Uganda.
These communities poured their hearts and souls into growing larger communities of volunteers with no cash allowance at all. Mozilla never paid them a penny, but they were passionate and loved what they were doing with no complaint at all since they signed up knowing this is how the system works even in other communities abroad.
The volunteers would get budgets to run events so as to evangelise about Mozilla or recruit more volunteers such as developers or locals who localized Mozilla products and services into local languages. This was amazing obviously, who wouldn’t want to be part of an organisation fighting for everyone to have equal access to the internet, learning to use the web (Webmaker) and be a big open source advocate?
Except, this is not what happened and the African volunteers learned this the harsh way. To date, there are probably less than five Mozilla volunteer representatives and probably community members left on the continent.
Mozilla out-rightly employed favouritism, as it would contract and employ some of the volunteers in Europe, US, South America and Asia but never employed a single African from West or East Africa. During budget reviews, the other continents didn’t suffer as much to get their “large” budgets approved compared to what the Africans had to go through.
I remember clear as day, having conversations with some “top volunteers” who encountered back then a story of a white mentor from Europe that overrode approval of the entire Mozilla Reps Council and questioned a representative about the cost of a box of water.
If you are wondering, the cost per box (24 bottles) was around $6 or $7 and his argument was that how could it cost so much. It was blatant and laughable racism that water should cost lower than that because it is Africa and the assumption that a trusted Rep who has been working for you for free for more than 2 years might be trying to embezzle funds ‘cause he is African.
Mozilla is still a far cry away from playing the equal justice card
Maybe we can talk about how Mozilla always chose fewer Africans to represent at their global meetings and events, and at times these would be less than 4 people or probably 20 at large events of more than 5000 guests.
It never ended there, the Ugandan community worked so hard to supersede every other community in Africa both in contributions and number of contributors with the least available budget compared to all communities around the world, but when they requested an official Mozilla Space (physical Mozilla office space or floor or sponsored hub) to provide a place they could gather and do more activities from, it was driven through bureaucracy and later denied indirectly through limbo.
There were two employees who had tried to push for the idea of a Mozilla space in Uganda and also support and fund it with a special budget, with the argument that the country met the criteria and Africa was important so it needed at least a space for Mozilla’s presence. It was later on revealed that a newly appointed director stressed these employees out who were trying at least to bolster a Mozilla Africa and later they left the company.
The Ugandan community thought maybe they didn’t deserve it and watched Tunisian and Kenyan communities try to get it, they rallied behind them because a Mozilla Africa would have simplified resources and activities for all, but alas, they too failed!
This was also around the time, Kenya and Uganda had held the incredibly successful “Mozilla Festival East Africa”. A brainchild of two Ugandan contributors, then the leads of Mozilla Uganda and still known up to this day for their passion and synonymous at the time with the name Mozilla Uganda.
I don’t know how many times we still get asked about what happened to Mozilla, or whenever some random techie from yesteryear bumps into us eyes filled with nostalgia from meeting someone wearing a Mozilla t-shirt.
Guess what, the Mozilla Festival East Africa was largely crowdfunded on Indiegogo and by well-wishers. Mozilla only funded about 5% for both events. The one in 2015 was majorly pushed and fundraised by Elizabeth Kasujja (founder of Clear Yo Mind) and Simeon Oriko’s Jamlab in Kenya.
Fast forward to now, and the event is forgotten yet the same organisation that didn’t help promote or put its weight behind it, now has borrowed the same model and allowed for smaller MozFests around the world and a location shifting one to enable others to get the experience other than only those able to fly to London as before.
But who cares anyway, right? It was about passion and a good cause, not credit or growth for the teams. Maybe. But what is true, these different scenarios all showed that Africa is capable and is always undermined or sidelined in favour of more “white” continents and audiences.
Yes, I said it. There were even attempts to set up a Mozilla office in South Africa around the same year. A country which had never had a Mozilla community or the size-able number of volunteers like the rest of the Africans did.
About a year later (2016) sometime in November, a team from Mozilla tries to meet Africa’s leaders and community to talk about a strategy and a way forward. Naïve as they were, the humble African members made time and jumped on the night call, the only thing I learned from some very angry people who dropped off the call was that the company leaders had disregarded all the former work and efforts, and it seemed like they had no strategy and were proposing starting from ground zero.
This was an insult to many, after years of tremendous work and sacrifice, being sidelined and overlooked, ideas stolen and no credit is given, racism from some other higher than thee white volunteers and now, a white leader is telling them they wasted their time, and are starting afresh.
To be honest, this was the last nail to Mozilla’s coffin in Africa and if I’m not mistaken must’ve been the time around 2016. Most volunteers dropped out, most of the reps ditched reporting and any volunteer work, most localization events died out and to add salt to the injury, the other white director we talked about forced most of these injured reps into retirement and gave them a shiny certificate like a medal for their contributions to Mozilla.
If this wasn’t the most subtle f**k you from an organisation, I don’t know what is. Anyway, today Mozilla is no more in Africa and has been replaced by Google, Andela, Microsoft and Facebook (Twitter, where are you?).
Mozilla has always offered sponsored fellowships and today, funding for open source projects and startups that are in sync with its mission, but I have only heard of one African team that applied and got accepted for these. It was accepted this year for the lowest sponsorship tier.
I have no idea if they are interested in venturing into Africa again and whether the people will have forgotten or forgiven them enough to trust them again.
I have said too much, but if the way Mozilla treated and still treats Africa is nothing to show you that certain organisations don’t really care about Africans and will just ride on populist trends, then I don’t know what is.
Maybe all this was just bad luck for Mozilla or coincidence and nothing to do with intentional sectarianism. Maybe they care and this is an interpretation of a few Africans. Maybe they didn’t know. We will never know, we can only interpret the actions and not the thoughts.
My African American brothers and sisters, we stand with you, we have our own less than perfect problems at home, but we can’t stand by while you are treated the way you are. Be strong, keep fighting and don’t lose hope, everything will get better for together there’s nothing we can’t achieve. Just be wary of those that come up and pretend to care yet they’ve turned a blind eye before.
Author: Derrick Ogwal
Derrick is a freelance writer and consultant for Newslibre.