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Eswatini R Users Group Forging Ahead Despite Pandemic Hurdles

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R Consortium recently caught up with Emmanuel Olamijuwon and Nontsikelelo Shongwe, organizers of the Eswatini R Users Group (Twitter: EswatiniUseR). They discussed how the R user base is growing in Eswatini and how the pandemic has affected them. (Eswatini is located in southeastern Africa, surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique.) Although the COVID pandemic really affected their community, the group is gearing up to restore the former status quo before the pandemic hit.

What is the R community like in Eswatini?

The R community in Eswatini is expanding significantly, and we are optimistic it will continue doing so. Apart from tertiary students and the corporate world, there have been calls for adoption and use of Free and Open-Source Software in teaching and learning in Eswatini’s secondary and high school. This is perhaps the reason behind the growth of the R community in the country.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

The COVID pandemic has greatly affected us. We haven’t been able to meet physically because of the restrictions that came with the pandemic. Having virtual meetings has also been impossible due to limited internet connectivity — not everyone has internet access because of the cost — and for those with internet access, the speed is slow. 

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? 

The Internet has always been a challenge that’s why we haven’t been able to use any online platforms, such as GitHub or Zoom. We have only used WhatsApp, but only for the organizers so we could share important communications.

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?

We had Heather Turner do a presentation on diversity and inclusion in R. It was exciting to see what R-Ladies community groups are doing and how we fit in as a community.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

I am not sure if this is a trend, but I would love to see R incorporated with Python. Not necessarily to see which language is better but in order to get maximum results from the two. 

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

Currently not really any. However, we heard in the local newspaper of an initiative UN Eswatini was running to educate journalists in the country about data journalism. That’s the only data journalism project we have heard about.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

Emmanuel: I love the Setting up an R-Girls Schools Network project. It is my favorite probably because I joined the R community through R-Ladies South Africa. I had gone to one of their meetings and one of the organizers advised me to start an R-User group so I started. I love its goal which is to increase representation and participation of girls in R. This happens to be one of the things I would love to see as well.

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

Nontsikelelo: My favorite is R/Pharma. It is my favorite because it focuses on easening decision-making environments and health technology assessment for Health Analysts through utilizing R. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We are still in talks with other organizers when we can have our next meeting.

Building the R Community in Southern Africa

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By Heather Turner, Chair of Forwards, the R Foundation taskforce for underrepresented groups in the R Community

In this post I will give the background to the Forwards Southern Africa 2020 project, for which we are running a crowd-funding campaign until February 5, 2020.

On March 6-7, 2020, Johannesburg will host the fourth satRday to be held in South AfricasatRdays are community-led, regional conferences, that support collaboration, networking and innovation within the R community. They were initiated by an R Consortium funded project, that ran pilot events in Budapest and Cape Town in 2016/2017. The conference series has been expanding around the world since then, with ten events in 2019.

For Joburg satRday 2020, I was invited to be a keynote speaker. As chair of Forwards, the R Foundation taskforce for underrepresented groups, I saw this as an opportunity to create an initiative focused on building the R Community in Southern Africa.

A first step was to offer a workshop on R package development, using the materials developed under the R Consortium project, Forwards Workshops for Women and Girls. This project ran package development workshops for women in New Zealand, Budapest and Chicago. Since there are still some funds left in the grant, we are able to offer some scholarships to women in Africa to attend the Joburg workshop and satRday. Women with visa-free access to South Africa may apply; the deadline for applications is midnight SAST, January 31.

The next step was to look beyond South Africa, to neighbouring countries. The following map shows cities in Africa with R-Ladies groups (purple), R User Groups (blue) or both (blue-grey):

The AfricaR consortium that took off at the start of 2019 has really helped to support the R community across Africa and has lead to the founding of several R User Groups, as well as the first satRday in East Africa (Kampala 2019) and the first satRday in West Africa which will take place in Abidjan, February 1, 2020. In Southern Africa, there are strong R User Groups and R-Ladies groups in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, but the R Community is only just starting to go beyond South Africa, with the establishment of Eswatini useRs last year.

UPDATE: The Adidjan satRday event was a big success! Here’s a photo of the full group. Videos of the talks should be available online soon.

The Forwards Southern Africa Project aims to build on this foundation, by organizing free workshops and meetups in collaboration with local partners in Eswatini, Botswana and Namibia. This project is also supported by the WhyR Foundation and AfricaR. The details of the events are still being finalised, but the planned itinerary is as follows:

Windhoek, Namibia (March 4, 2020, TBC)

In partnership with the Department of Statistics and Population Studies, University of Namibia:

  • Introduction to R for data analysis workshop (1 day)
  • Launch event of the first R User Group in Namibia

Manzini, Eswatini (March 11-12, 2020)

In partnership with the recently established Eswatini useR group. Registration is open for this 2 day event, that includes:

  • Introduction to R for data analysis workshop (1 day)
  • Data visualization workshop (1/2 day)
  • Meetup including talk on the R community and resources available for newcomers

Gaborone, Botswana (March 14, 2020)

In partnership with WiMLDS Gaborone and PyData Botswana:

  • Introduction to R workshop (1/2 day)

All these events can be supported via the crowdfunder where further updates will be posted. Updates will also be shared on the Forwards Twitter.