Business Strategy

Our own languages matter in the digital age… Or do they?

Someone asked me the other day why I thought it was necessary to make the Sasai App available in different African languages. “What is the point?” he reasoned. “Most people who use digital platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, do so in English, French or Portuguese. They are educated. They don’t need languages like Shona, Ndebele and Yoruba. You are just wasting money; they will not bother to even use it.”

I was so deeply saddened by what he said.

For me this was an elitist mindset forged by the colonial era, when we were forced, almost brainwashed, to look down on things our own people do. Even though some African countries have been independent 60+ years, many of our people continue to hold this type of mindset!

I decided to look at all the Apps I could find, particularly the big ones. What surprised me was finding that languages like Swedish, Norwegian etc. are widely translated. Actually almost all the languages of Europe are translated and used in these Apps, and yet many of these languages have fewer speakers than languages like Swahili, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and Amharic, to name but a few!

Croatia has less than 5m people, and it is available on all major Apps, and yet national languages of Africa which are spoken by hundreds of millions of people are not there. How can this be? How can it be right?

It has nothing to do with education, but everything to do with lack of inclusion and even respect.

I think having our languages also available on digital platforms is fundamentally important, even if we also communicate in other languages like English. Swedish people mostly speak English but they would be outraged if they could not access Facebook in their own language!

To me:

# Language means #Inclusion:

How can it be okay for hundreds of millions of people not to be able to use an App in languages that they speak every single day?

# Language means #Respect.

I also believe the promotion of our own languages in generating content and undertaking eCommerce and Social Media is important in the digital age of AI and 4IR! We won’t be able to include every dialect of course, but my team will be listening…

__Give me your thoughts on why it matters. (Or, if you think it does not…)

I believe that we must demystify these platforms and allow our people to use local languages, when they want. Our languages will not be respected otherwise. I can’t for instance imagine that the Italians who are fewer than Hausas would be happy if Facebook was not available in their own language!

Anyway, the big day is very very soon now when we will release versions of the Sasai App in 25 African national languages … (I am not supposed to say yet, shhh!) There will be another 25 to follow within a month. We will continue to release them until we reach at least 250. After a few months, we will see which languages perform. And if a language does not have users, we will discontinue it.

I’m not going to tell you the first 25 languages. They were not chosen in terms of importance but were really based on the number of translation groups that registered by our cut-off date. So don’t be upset if yours is not there in the beginning; it will follow.

Question: Do you know any other App that is available in multiple African languages? Is this important to you and your family?

Please comment below.

In my next post I will talk about another feature you will see on Sasai Explore from next week: localization of content!

To be continued. . .


This article was first published on Strive Masiyiwa’s Facebook timeline.

Image Credit: unsplash.com

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