Kiswahili Tech Projects are falling apart, why?

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The Swahili speaking community in Eastern Africa should think seriously on how to develop and grow the language beyond the casual communication it represents at the moment. The concern that many indigenous languages may soon disappear as captured by? Mubatsi Habati and Robert Owiny? on their article Urbanization threatens mother tongues, should be taken seriously. Here comes the serious warning;

Researchers warn that many indigenous languages may soon disappear since people consider them inferior to foreign languages, especially English. Language is vital in identifying a group of people and its culture, and only lives in people when they speak it.

The above warning should ring alarm to Kiswahili speaking people in the entire Eastern Africa region. A part from Tanzania which adopted Kiswahili as an official? language for instructions in schools and universities, the other countries are not on the same page. Countries like Kenya use foreign languages such as English in schools. Kiswahili is only taught as a subject making it a peripheral language and limited as far as technical use and terms are concern.? When the Parliament was debating Rengera reappointment saga, I found myself watching the debate on TV, then came Dr.Naomi Shaban and she decided to use Kiswahili. Due to technical terms she had to use, at one point I was completely not getting some words and phrases she was using and I had to either ask or check from online Swahili dictionary.

Lack of serious use of Kiswahili language might be the major cause for most of projects done in Kiswahili failing completely or ?having not taken off as had expected.? A lot of efforts have been made to have majority of the modern IT technologies translated to Kiswahili but somehow people have not embraced them.

Back in 2003 Microsoft launched Microsoft Office Applications Swahili version. A move many lauded back then as the start of new beginning.? The business world saw it as a wonderful way of improving the communication between them and their clients. The linguists were delighted at the milestone which according to them was a triumph for the language and would have given the speakers a chance to have a feel of the technology on their own language.

Word Processing in Swahili

Word Processing in Swahili

Now many years later, how many people are using Kiswahili version of Microsoft Office Applications? If there any, then the majority are in Tanzania, while in Kenya the number might be next to nil.? I can confidently say that all the people I know who use Microsoft Office applications, none of them use Kiswahili version.

Back at the beginning of the year Social networking site Facebook launched Swahili version, targeting 110 million speakers of the language.? For a few hours a tried to use the Swahili version and somehow it was very ?interesting.? The following is one of the notification I got;

Hapa kuna 5 NEW Girls ambao unaweza kuwapenda kwenye Are You Interested?: Maureen, Faith, Nyagaki, Addah, Beatrice. Bofya hapa kutazama wengine ambao wanaweza kukupendeza.

The level of interest on the Facebook Kiswahili version was high for a few days. That could have been the reason which led? ?Facebook’s Simon Wanda to say that they had been monitoring the take-up and more than 60% of Facebook users in East Africa were already using the Swahili version. Many months later I don?t think that is true, if it was then, then it was because of the curiosity which did not last for long.

Another effort spearheaded in Swahili was the launch of Jambo, an open source office? software in Swahili. When it was launched the designers described it as a major initiative towards a full operating system in Swahili. It is part of international initiative called The Open Swahili Localization Project or kilinux. Well I am not sure on the take-up and usage in Tanzania, but I expect it do well there based on the fact that it is where the project is based plus the other factors which had already been mentioned above. In Kenya the news about the project is none existent, which is very discouraging.

Google? has not be left out and they too have their Swahili version. Personally I think I have used it once and since then I have not got a situation which I need to use it again. I hope I am the only odd one out and remaining majority are using it.

Google Swahili version

Google Swahili version

For almost a year now we have been working on the Kiswahili version of Iborain.com. The translation part is interesting since the people involved are not the biggest experts in the language but determine to get it right. At the end we hope that once it is? ready and launched, it will get a space on the hearts of the Iborian social network users.

Why are people not embracing these popular technologies when they are translated to the National language?

People are not used to the Technical terms used: The Tanzanians might understand the technical terms used easily but that might not be the case with most people from other countries. Let take the case of Kenya. It is ironical in the light of the latest research by Synovate which indicated that the popularity of Kiswahili radio stations have overtaken the English and Vernacular language stations. One would expect that the same? should happen to Microsft Office Applications Kiswahili version, or Facebook Kiswahili version and even Google Kiswahili Search Engine.

People consider English superior to Kiswahili: It is completely insane to think of that, but it might be the case. In a level playing ground Kiswahili is richer in content and tradition.

Lack of Marketing Effort: The experts have blamed lack of serious marketing in the part of Microsoft. They never tried to market Microsoft Office Kiswahili version anywhere .? I can?t remember seeing any serious advert about the Microsoft Office Kiswahili version.? And For that I think it is right to side with the experts, may be Microsoft assumed that once the technology was translated then people will adopt easily.? The same is applicable to Facebook and Google

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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