Barcamp Africa gets online home

For about two years, African techies and innovators have found a forum to share ideas and showcase their talents. The forum, known as Barcamp, takes place in different African cities.

The last two Barcamps in Nairobi have been enlightening to me — I got to understand that what is lacking in Kenya is neither talent nor technological know-how, but rather there are misplaced priorities in turning the innovations to everyday use and relevance.

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The best thing about Barcamp is the unstructured sessions, commonly known as “lightning sessions” where speakers stand up for five minutes and are expected to share their ideas in the most entertaining ways. This suits the African traditional style of storytelling and unstructured engagement.

The technology projects on renewable energy for rural areas, applications that preserve cultural heritage, applications that help the government relate better with the citizens, and the absence of investments have all been manifest in the Barcamp.

Similar stories have been told at the Barcamps in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Lagos, Nigeria; Brazaville, Congo; Accra, Ghana; Port Louis, Mauritius; Dakar, Senegal; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Barcamps now have a common Website where all of the materials from the meetings can be uploaded and people can share ideas, read about projects and get video footage of all the meeting content.

Maneno, which means “words” in Swahili is a multilingual blogging platform, that allows users to write in their language of preference. The platform currently supports English, French, Spanish, Swahili, Portuguese, Bambara, Fulani and Lingala.

“The primary objective of the new Barcamp Africa hub is to encourage a continuous stream of participant-driven content from African Barcamps. Each Barcamp will have a hosted, lightweight site specific to their event with a custom URL,” said Elia Serra one of Maneno founders.

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Using the multilingual platform will allow users to access the Barcamp content and ideas on how to organize such an event through multiple languages.

Maneno has set out to dispel some of the myths about African languages — that they are not popular online or have no users, and that there are no people to translate the content.

One of the reasons that African languages have not grown is because people wait for “expert translators” or people who speak the language best to translate. Maneno allows users to translate according to how they speak.

For instance, my native Kikuyu language has changed over time and there are differentiated meanings between the way my mother speaks and the way I do. While other product translators would look for the best Kikuyu speaker to translate, Maneno allows me to translate, which ensures that users of my generation can access the content.

While the languages may not be the purest, they are a reflection of the adulterated languages that we speak. Most languages have been affected by English, French or Portuguese, which are the dominant colonial languages in Africa.

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Eventually, Africa will have a huge body of content online and that will allow users who do not understand English or French to write and research in the local languages.

With improved local language users online, maybe major corporations will see the need of providing their content in some of the most popular African languages.

(By: Rebecca Wanjiku – Computerworld Kenya)

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