I can’t see it at the moment and apparently others can’t either, but Facebook now has a language option for Swahili as was reported on the BBC.
Obviously, this is pretty great news and while one could ask, “Why is this necessary? English is a common language anywhere Swahili is spoken.” it misses the point that having the ability to use a language spoken by 110 million people (Wikipedia differs on the amount) is most important. That’s actually a lazy myth that everyone speaks English in addition to Swahili as not everyone does. Yes, it’s common, but it isn’t ubiquitous, thus this Facebook option (as well as Maneno’s [shameless plug]) are crucial to removing linguistic barriers. Also language is a key part of culture and identity. If you don’t believe this, then you probably live in the US…
That 110 million speakers figure is impressive, but given the generally paltry internet connectivity of Eastern African, that figure diminishes a great deal. Of course, this is changing. Whether Facebook realizes it or not, positioning themselves with language options such as Swahili and eventually Hausa/Zulu is going to have them at the ready for whenever higher speed internet does reach a greater part of population. I’m sure that they are very aware of this positioning though, just like a slew of other companies including Microsoft, Google, and Nokia who know that the one billion people of Africa are the last huge market left in the world. While I cringe at the forthcoming advertisements littered with spears, huts, and lions, at the same time lets keep our fingers crossed that we’re on the verge of shifting from an Aid Africa to an Africa that is truly part of proper world trade.
By way of an update, all of this news is premature. After having it explained as to how you actually turn on this language version, I saw that it’s about 80% complete. So in other words, once you find it and turn it on, your experience may be mixed. Hopefully all the publicity will get the version to 100%, but in the meantime, it’s a lot like a new car that’s missing its doors. Hopefully BBC will let us know when it’s actually done.
Facebook now in Swahili--mostly