Ensuring data security and protection of remote OvaHimba digital collections despite intermittent network connectivity


By Michael Bosomefi Chamunorwa

Principal Supervisor : Prof. Dr. Heike Winschiers-Theophilus
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Tariq Zaman

Safeguarding Indigenous Knowledge through digitisation has gained momentum across the world. Countries have taken different approaches, while some have spearheaded national-driven projects others have supported community and grassroots-driven initiatives. In Namibia, national support was consolidated with existing university initiatives running different approaches concurrently. At the Namibia University of Science and Technology a community-based approach has been implemented where community representatives have been involved in the design of technologies that are used to record Indigenous Knowledge. The tools empower knowledge holders to record their
data in-situ and remain the owners of the same regardless of where the data is ultimately stored. While there have been successes in using the tools to record Indigenous Knowledge, a few technical problems still exist.

Firstly, there are no on-site backup mechanisms for the recorded data. As a result, the loss or corruption of a tool means the loss of the data recorded on it. Secondly, many knowledge holders reside in areas with intermittent network connectivity. Without reliable network coverage, the recorded data cannot be transferred to secondary locations for further processing and persistent storage. The transfer of data to secondary storage further introduces new factors to consider, these are, ensuring the safety of data en-route and once in storage. Both elements are essential because they affect ownership of the data on different levels.

It is against this backdrop that we conducted a specific study with the OvaHimba community in Otjisa, North Western Namibia as part of a long-term ongoing collaboration. We used a pragmatic research paradigm approach to develop a holistic solution that facilitates secure data transfers from areas with intermittent network coverage to cloud servers for further processing. Two field trips were undertaken to cater for gathering requirements and testing the resulting technical solution. Results from the first trip were used to develop a system comprising several bespoke micro-services that were tested in a lab setting which closely resembled the typical conditions we usually face in Otjisa when testing other tools. Conclusion of the lab tests resulted in refinements and development of a version of the system that was tested in an actual village setting.

This solution was implemented in a manner that guarantees the preservation of data ownership protocols predetermined by each knowledge holder who agrees to record and share their indigenous knowledge digitally. In this manner, the knowledge holders have the power to define how their data can be accessed and by whom. With the solution developed through multiple iterations and tests with several lessons influencing system design, we conclude this study by highlighting future efforts to be pursued in efforts to build more robust hardware better suited for the environment our system components get deployed. Furthermore, we highlight the need for more collaborative efforts to design and implement the necessary user interfaces to enable a more friendly prescription of access levels and rights on available digital collections.

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