Promoting Hausa, other local languages will get more Nigeria connected online

A casual comment made by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, about the importance of Hausa pitted two prominent opposition figures on social media against each other.  Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation and an anti-Hausa-Fulani domination sparred with Reno Omokri, a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan and social media strategist, in a series of harsh exchanges on Facebook.

A Facebook user had on Tuesday afternoon drawn the attention of Mr. Zuckerberg, who is visiting Nigeria, to the Facebook Hausa language option and urged him to consider adding other major Nigerian languages —especially Yoruba, Igbo and Fulfulde— to the platform to reflect the country’s diversity.

The founder of Facebook that had introduced the Hausa language option about a month ago responded that “Thanks! I’m glad we support Hausa and we’re planning on supporting a lot more languages soon,” The heated debate between the duo make many to inquire about the benefit of adding local language to social media platforms, thus The Rezponder review the Internet Society report on content promotion.

Mark

Promoting local languages and providing relevant, homegrown content could increase internet adoption across the African continent in general and Nigeria in particular, a new report finds. The report (pdf), published by the Internet Society, a non-profit dedicated to internet policy, finds that despite the increased access to mobile and telecom infrastructure in Africa, internet adoption was still lagging behind.

The report concluded that the ability to access the Internet is necessary, but not sufficient, to increase Internet adoption in a country; it is a means to an end, which is the content and services that people use when they are online. Much of the international content and services is relevant in many countries worldwide – this is true of social networking services, educational access, and, of course, entertainment.

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However, content must be in familiar languages, which is often an issue in Nigeria and other parts of Sub-Saharan countries whose populations are not always comfortable in the official government language.

While one might assume this mainly impacts international content, it is also true for local content, including e-government services, as not everyone speaks the government language.

Content availability may further be limited by legal restrictions on content that impact the willingness of international providers and platforms to make content available in a country, along with local developers who may self-censor their output to keep in line with legal restrictions.

At the same time, payment mechanisms are critical for both international and locally developed content. With a lack of a payment mechanisms users may not be able to purchase content, and even if they could, the developer may not be able to receive the payments. Such restrictions extend further to an ability to receive payments for advertising and for local entrepreneurs to raise funds to develop new innovations.

The continent’s full connectivity is being hampered by the lack of pertinent programs targeting its mobile users, and the availability of those programs in their own languages, says the report. In Africa, mobile is still the primary way of getting online, given the low availability of fixed lines.

However, the continent is the least connected region in the world, with only 303 million out of 565 million mobile users accessing the internet via mobile. This showcases that the “barrier to further adoption today is less of an infrastructural problem and more of a relevance one,” the report notes.

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The Internet Society’s findings is in line with a report released by GSMA Intelligence on the consumer barriers to mobile internet in July. After surveying 1,000 people in 13 African countries, the study showed that lack of digital skills and language barriers still kept many Africans, particularly the poor people, off the grid. Around 320 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa and 140 million others in North Africa who are covered by mobile broadband do not use it.

These shortcomings significantly reduce the transformational power of the internet in Africa, and its contribution to the progress of the education, health and agricultural sectors. The drawbacks also impact the economic potential of the internet, which is expected to add $300 billion to Africa’s GDP in the next decade.

The language barrier doesn’t only affect international entertainment and social products. Many users were also not comfortable with e-government services delivered in national languages like English.

There was also a notable lack of engagement with social media and knowledge sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, the numbers of which are among the lowest in the world.

Facebook currently supports languages like Hausa, Kiswahili, Somali and Arabic on its platform, and its founder Mark Zuckerberg promised to support more languages during his first visit to Lagos in August.

Free Basics, Facebook’s zero-rated data service, might also be problematic for many African users, given that it addresses the issue of affordability and not obstacles related to content or infrastructure.

 

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