E.g., 04/08/2020
E.g., 04/08/2020

Africa: Solving The Rubik’s Cube

By: Ahmed Nassar, PMO Manager - BayanTech for Translation and Localization Services

04 December 2013

How can localization turn the tide in Africa?

Language service providers as well as other industries face many obstacles in the huge, old, continent of Africa. In this article I will present some examples of the most common existing problems and how they affects business growth, investment, and development, and how localization can help to overcome them. Before we can understand the potential for localization and globalization to solve Africa’s business development obstables, we must first understand the landscape of languages over this vast area. Languages in Africa Africa can be divided into five regions:

Each of these represents a cultural and geographic region which is different from the others in many ways: for example with regard to the languages spoken as well as different dialects. The four main language families are:

Each of these language families can be further broken down into smaller groups. At least 1,000 different languages have been identified in Africa. They reflect the great ethnic diversity of this continent. To understand the complexity of these language families and their subfamilies you must visit each country and investigate closely their behavior and culture. Language is often a barrier between different ethnic groups. Two of the more widely spoken languages in northern Africa are Arabic (Egypt and The Sudan) and Berber (Morocco and Algeria). The sub-Saharan languages are more numerous and are grouped into families. The larger language families include Bantu (spoken in countries in central and southern Africa), Kordofanian (in between northern Africa and the Bantu region) and Khoisan (southwestern Africa). *This information is based on the "Ethnologue Language Family Index", 1996, Joseph E. Grimes and Barbara F. Grimes, Editors.   Obstacles to Economic Success in Africa: Geography: "In understanding Black Africa, geography is more important than history.” Fernand Braudel

  • A Desert that Divides: The Sahara Desert is larger than continental United States 3,500,000 square miles.
  • Five of Africa’s ten richest countries are located in Northern Africa.  Why?  Simply because the other countries lack easy access to oceans and cannot easily import and export goods.  How do countries/people progress? Human civilizations progress by contacting other people and cultures. Through trade they exchange ideas, new technology, methodologies…etc.
  • There are limited islands and peninsulas in Africa.  Only 2% of Africa’s landmass is made up of islands and peninsulas.

Language Barriers: There are 800-2000 different languages spoken in Africa difficult to dialogue with each other. Not to mention the European colonization and occupation during the late 1800s-1960s that almost demolished and destroyed the language and cultural heritage of each country or region. European colonialism also “forced groups who disliked each other to live next to each other.” So, they started to display hateful, racist behavior towards one another.  This resulted in civil wars and other related regional violence.

High Levels of Illiteracy: Most African countries have a high percentage of illiteracy and a myriad of educational problems.  They lack adequate facilities and modern methodologies such as e-learning.  

Opportunities for Localization in Africa:

Respecting cultures & heritage: Eliminating the results of the European occupation  by localizing European & US brands, products, and services as well as educational material into African languages. This will heal the gap and develop a new marketplace for each industry, completewith consumers who are willing to be respected customers. 

Changing stereotypes & racist speech by education through localization: Localization naturally works against any type of discrimination or the dominance of a language or culture over another. So, we are actually raising cultural awareness every day by localizing brands and products into African languages.

Exposure and positioning: Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers six percent of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4 percent of the total land area.  It holds a youth marketplace of 1.033 billion (2011 figure). Localization of materials into African languages can activate this potential consumer base by making brands and products accessible to this huge market.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of GALA.

Ahmed Nassar