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Highway Africa News Agency (Grahamstown) http://www.highwayafrica.org.za/hana/
NEWS May 26, 2005
Posted to the web May 27, 2005
By Emrakeb Assefa
Ndesanjo Macha, 35, a Tanzanian writer and lecturer with a background in law, journalism and socio-informatics, is campaigning in Africa to 'decolonise cyberspace' so that African languages and cultures could flourish in it. In order to achieve his goal, he has become the first African to launch a blog in the African language KiSwahili in June 2004.
Macha is one of a group of young Africans who started a movement to place African languages on the internet by blogging novels, songs and poems in African languages and allowing the free use of content under the Creative Commons (cc) project.
He told Highway Africa News Agency yesterday that twenty one blogs in African languages have been set up since June 2004. Today, there are 17 KiSwahili blogs, the language spoken by over 100 million people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda; a single Bambara blog, the Malian language; two KiChagga blogs, a language spoken in the Kilimanjaro area of northern Tanzania; a Shona blog from Zimbabwe and one Berber blog from Morocco. Macha hopes to increase the number of indigenous African language blogs to one hundred by the end of the year.
The movement to use African languages as a means of communications on the internet stems from a fear that African cultures and languages are in danger of disappearing.
"A language disappears every two weeks", says Macha, comparing this to a "whole library burning down."
Though Africa is known to be by far the most linguistically diverse continent - there are around 2,000 African languages, i.e. one third of the world's linguistic heritage - its languages are largely absent from internet content.
According to UNESCO, although there are over 6,000 languages in the world, the content on the internet is largely disseminated in 12 languages - dominated by English. "The rest are subject languages, like most indigenous African
languages; they are talked about but have no content in their own language," Macha says bitterly.
Moreover, there are no tools for creating or translating information into these excluded tongues. Huge sections of the world's population are thus prevented from enjoying the benefits of technological advances and obtaining information essential to their well-being and development. Unchecked, this will contribute to a loss of cultural diversity on information networks and a widening of existing socio-economic inequalities.
However, the cc project and blogging, says Macha, are providing opportunities to African artists with no English language skills to introduce their creativity into the mainstream industry. This way, African cultures and languages remain
vibrant and alive.
Macha's inspiration is the Kenyan Ngugi Wa Thiong'o whose novels Decolonising the African Mind and Move in the Centre had led him to this movement.
Quoting Thiong'o, Macha says that the dominance of English on the internet is like saying that there is a flower which is more of a flower on the basis of its shape or colour. Or that the flourishing of one flower should depend on the death of other flowers.
He stressed the importance of "decolonising the cyberspace of the dominant position of English language" to create a cyberspace that is multilingual and multicultural.
Copyright © 2005 Highway Africa News Agency. All rights reserved.
Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).