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Vernacular languages coming online thanks to Mozilla, grassroots efforts
January 31, 2015  ♦ Web ♦ No Comment

To date, ICT has actually reduced the level of linguistic diversity. The vast majority of web content is in English, and beyond that, many Africans have to navigate devices and pages in official languages like French, Arabic, or Portuguese. In fact, at least 80 percent of all content on the Internet is in one of 10 languages. The debate over the lack of Wikipedia content in non-English languages has raged for years.

Daily communications are largely in vernacular languages. A bevy of apps serve the needs of speakers of less often used tongues, but they are used by relatively few. Local content creation remains a high priority among internet development advocates (and organizations like UNESCO). Creating a familiar online experience changes the way users utilize ICTs in business and social activities. It instills a sense of pride. It preserves the language.

One level higher than that, there are efforts to localize software, including web browsers. The task isn’t easy. For instance, Microsoft created a Kiswahili version in 2003 but the product flopped. Words were used that didn’t fit the technology. The software wasn’t marketed well nor was it available as open source.

Flash forward a dozen years and Mozilla is undertaking a similar task in creating localized browsing experiences for dozens of languages (90 to be exact). Bambara, spoken widely in Mali, especially as a second tongue, is one of them. So is Fulah, spoken by 20 million people in West Africa. And Malawi’s Chichewa.

The Economist explains how carefully words are chosen:

Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. “Crash” became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying); “timeout” became a honaama (your fish has got away). “Aspect ratio” became jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven. In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, “cached pages” became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food.”

Though companies like Mozilla, Apple, and Google have translated software into languages that are understood by most current internet users, there are still millions of people who are offline – possibly because of a linguistic barrier. As The Economist points out, there is no immediate financial return from bringing rural farmers online. But long term, there is, since someone more comfortable with the language is more likely to reap the benefits of an knowledge economy.

In Gabon, another nation with dozens of vernacular languages, The Innovation Box is using an e-learning platform to bring ICT to underserved populations. According to The World Bank, “BAI’s experience shows that, when users are trained to use ICTs in the language they use in their daily activities (business, household and social affairs), they are more responsible in the management of their vocational training and, in some cases, even buy a computer.”

An action plan created by experts from The World Bank highlights a need for vernacular language ICT applications based on the needs of target audiences. Developers are advised to understand the local culture and identify people interested in relevant content.

African highlights from ‘State of Broadband 2014’ report
January 27, 2015  ♦ Broadband & Statistics ♦ One Comment

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development has released its third snapshot of the state of broadband deployment worldwide. More than 40% of the world’s population is online with 50% expected by 2017.

broadband-commission-2014

{ITU/UNESCO}

The State of Broadband 2014: Broadband For All builds upon last year’s theme of “universalizing broadband.” Again, the Broadband Commission evaluates the roll-out of broadband around the world and tracks progress towards achieving advocacy targets set for boosting broadband access and affordability. It also provides country rankings for over 160 economies on internet penetration rates and the status of a national broadband policy. The report is quick to note that the number of countries with a national broadband plan has grown from 102 in 2010 to 140 today. Of course, the effectiveness of those plans is another story, but at least they exist in theory.

ICTs are making a contribution to social, economic, and environment development but it will take more determined policy investment to connect the majority of those in Least Developed Countries. Infrastructure and access are one thing but leaders must also promote ICT literacy.

Global, and even regional trends in broadband technology and adoption are exciting but don’t accurately describe individual countries. In Africa, access varies greatly from one country to another, so even buckets like “developing country” don’t represent the typical SSA nation. Nor do household internet or fixed broadband penetration number apply since African points of access are generally mobile. Still, general trends like the rapid uptake of mobile and slow adoption of internet by “least developed countries” are very pertinent.

African mentions in the 110-page report include a variety of examples how ICTs are improving access to crucial services:

  • iSchool in Zambia transforms learning through interactive ICT content
  • A project funded by UBS provides mobile phones for early childhood car in Kenya
  • ChildCount+ launched a software module in Ghana to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV
  • An ITU initiative with WHO contributed to a mHealth project in Senegal to address diabetes
  • Satellite internet is still viable in remote areas: South Africa’s Mindset Network provides educational content and a VSAT network in Morocco supports children’s telemedicine
  • The Broadband for All Initiative in South Africa is using wireless mesh networks to deliver broadband to underserved areas
  • Rwanda’s government still is running a One Laptop per Child project
  • UNESCO, with help from Nokia, is working to integrate mobile technologies into teacher development in Nigeria and Senegal
  • Apps are following the M-Pesa model for growth and popularity: Mafuto Go in Uganda for gas prices, for example

National Broadband Plans:

  • Nigeria approved a broadband plan in July 2013, South Africa in December 2013 (South Africa Connect)
  • Still planning broadband plans are: Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Sierra Leone, Togo
  • Nations without a broadband plan are: Cameroon, DR Congo, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Sao Tome, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Swaziland
  • South Africa Connect calls for an average download speed of 5 Mbps to be available to 50% of the population by 2016, and to 90% by 2020 with monitoring by the regulator

Fixed and mobile broadband penetration numbers plus internet usage data (from 2013)

As with all ITU data, these estimates should be taken with a grain of salt.

The lowest levels of Internet access are mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa, with Internet available to less than 2% of the population in Ethiopia (1.9%), Niger (1.7%), Sierra Leone (1.7%), Guinea (1.6%), Somalia (1.5%), Burundi (1.3%), Eritrea (0.9%) and South Sudan (no data available).

  • Fixed broadband penetration: Seychelles and Mauritius lead Africa with 13%, Tunisia is next with 5%. Most African nations are below 2%.
  • Mobile broadband penetration: Botswana leads Africa, and ranks 19th globally with 74%. This number seems very high considering the next SSA country is Ghana at 40%. Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Egypt are above 30%. Many countries lack data for this annex and again, it is outdated (ie. Algeria no longer has 0% after 3G was introduced around the time the report was published).
  • Households with internet: Seychelles leads with 51% (is 24th globally), followed by Morocco at 46% (29th globally), Mauritius at 45% and South Africa at 39%. Due to a lack of fixed broadband, African nations round out the bottom nine countries globally.
  • Individuals using the internet: Morocco, 67th globally, stands at 56%. Egypt (79th globally) is at 50% and South Africa is right behind at 49%. Eritrea is last (191st) with 0.9% of people using the internet.
  • 34 of 48 Least Developed Countries are located in Africa. 8 African LDCs have greater than 10% of individuals using the internet (as of 2013).

Global policy recommendations to maximize the impact of broadband apply to Sub-Saharan Africa as well:

  • Monitor, review and update ICT regulations and regulatory approaches to spectrum
  • Promote Education for All (EfA), including the use of broadband, as well as the skills and talents necessary for broadband
  • Reduce taxes and import duties on telecommunication ICT equipment and services
  • Accelerate investment in broadband infrastructure
  • Enhance demand for broadband services through new initiatives and local content
  • Engage in ongoing monitoring of ICT developments
  • Utilize Universal Service Funds (USFs) to close the digital divide
  • Review frameworks for Intellectual Property (IP)
Barriers to affordable broadband access in Cameroon
January 24, 2015  ♦ Broadband ♦ No Comment

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) is committed to drivign down the cost of Internet access in less developed countries. Since October 2013, the global coalition has researched broadband markets, namely, the telecoms operators, regulatory environment, government involvement, and available infrastructure.

a4ai-cameroon

{A4AI}

In August, A4AI released a case study on the barriers to affordable broadband access in Cameroon. Key points are listed below:

  • Main barriers are limited international bandwidth, a fixed-line monopoly, limited mobile competition, a regular without a history of protecting consumers, and weak civil society
  • Positive signs are government willingness to develop the ICT sector, new international submarine fibre capacity, and a third mobile operator
  • 6% of Cameroonians use the Internet
  • Entry-level fixed broadband costs more than 60% the average monthly income
  • 340 Gbps of international bandwidth via SAT-3 cable, will increase more than 15x if the WACS cable goes live

The authors propose a series of questions to ponder, including:

  • Will there be a neutral regulator?
  • Can CAMTEL’s monopoly on infrastructure access be mitigated or ended altogether?
  • Will consumers be protected by the regulatory board?
  • Can civil society organizations guard consumer protection?
  • How can operators negotiate new international tariffs?
  • Will 3G and 4G help increase mobile broadband usage?
  • Will the arrival of Viettel as a third mobile operator help anything?
  • Can a national IXP increase internet affordability?

Note: This case study was prepared by Julie Owono and Felix Blanc of Internet Sans Frontières, under the direction of Kojo Boakye, Policy Manager at A4AI.

 Older Posts:

Gains in women’s rights made online are not always certain or stable
January 22, 2015 ♦ ICT Policy
  No Comment

ICTs raise awareness of the need to improve women’s rights. There needs to be even greater policy intervention, however.

Is African broadband data worth it?
January 20, 2015 ♦ Broadband
  One Comment

A Research ICT Africa policy brief from June 2014 asks the question: “Is broadband data worth the money?” The answer depends on where you live.

SSA broadband facts from ‘MIS 2014’ report only marginally improved this year
January 17, 2015 ♦ Broadband & Statistics
  No Comment

A recent ITU report examines global ICT development, the cost of broadband, and how youth are driving internet usage. We’ve broken out how trends apply to African countries.

Mobile phone data is a valuable tool for monitoring food security
January 14, 2015 ♦ Mobile
  No Comment

Mobile phone data is making it easier to monitor food shortages in real-time. A study in Central Africa provides further support.

Web Index Report ranks 24 African nations on access, openness, content, and empowerment
January 13, 2015 ♦ Statistics
  No Comment

Once again, only two African nations (Tunisia and Mauritius) included in the Web Index 2014 Annual Report (of 86 countries in all) are in the upper half of the rankings.

Swazi youth find social media a much-needed alternative to mainstream media
January 12, 2015 ♦ Mobile & Statistics
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Youth in Swaziland are turning to social media as an alternative to mainstream media but many are unaware of its dangers.