Re: IUC27 Unicode, Cultural Diversity, and Multilingual Computing / Africa is forgotten once again.

From: Donald Z. Osborn (
Date: Thu Dec 09 2004 - 02:28:45 CST

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    Merci Philippe et Azzedine,

    I will comment on your letters but first wanted to add to Patrick's response to
    John. Some of us are indeed working patiently and steadily in this area, and
    what is most heartening, many more in Africa are initiating efforts. Making
    connections among various experts and activists and their efforts is one
    necessary step, to build the movement and share skills/experience. Resources
    are another matter but I'll get to that at another time.

    Re Azzedine's comment on Paris (letter at the end of this mailing), we've
    discussed this briefly on Unicode-Afrique. Personally I'd be surprised if that
    topic hasn't come up among yjr IUC organizers in light of the membership of la
    Francophonie (AIF) in the consortium. In the meantime, I've made the suggestion
    that there be a start for Francophone Africa at the IUC27 in Berlin (including
    a panel proposal and at least one paper; so I am very interested to read Lisa's
    message about a possible tutorial there in French too). It is close enough to
    where various Africans and Africanists are in Europe (don't forget that there
    are many living or studying in other countries in that region, including
    Germany itself - offhand I know of an Igbo linguist and a Pular activist there,
    for example) to get good participation. There have already been sessions on
    some African languages in past IUCs but this would represent a new dimension
    and bring in some interesting speakers from, for example, the RIFAL project. I
    see this as a step in a longer process, but an important one in and of itself.

    The possibility of some sort of Unicode event(s) in Africa itself has been
    discussed and is on the agenda in an evolving form (the word "roadshow" has
    been used, but effectively we're talking about smaller scale targetted events,
    whatever the name). In addition, I am talking with IDRC about some other
    activities to significantly advance localization.

    I will comment on parts of Philippe's letter in the text below...

    Quoting Philippe Verdy <>:

    > Probably the first thing to do for Africa is to extend the support of
    > softwares with localized contents that can ALREADY be performed with existing
    > encoded scripts. But even there, software companies are not progressing much,
    > even if this causes no technical problems with the existing Unicode
    > repertoire (for example: Xholof, Yoruba, Kenyarwanda, ... and even Arabic, or
    > already used Latin-based transliterations of these languages).

    Good point. I've actually taken a more elementary point as a place to start:
    raising awareness of African technicians, ICT4D project managers, telecenter
    operators, etc. about the capacities of their systems (because of Unicode) to
    handle the various script and character needs of the diverse languages in their
    user communities. And how with fonts and keyboard layouts they an facilitate
    display of content in these languages and input. This is the sort of thing that
    I've been suggesting for a while, including directly to some ICT4D projects.

    But we are getting beyond that point already, with both the increasing interest
    of Microsoft in major African languages (and in some cases local commercial
    efforts) and the projects by open-source software groups to localize for these
    and other languages on the continent.

    > If only such localisation efforts were made, there would exist business
    > opportunities in Africa to support other native scripts as well. ....

    These are beginning...

    > Thanks, Microsoft has now opened his system to African languages (it was
    > waited since long). I won't blame the richest man on earth to give money to
    > support litteracy and development of culture in Africa, ....

    Any such development in favor of African language use in ICT is positive, I
    think, especially at this time. I know that there are some not too enthusiastic
    about the software giant getting into the continent this way, but I'm
    (optimistically) thinking that the evolving competition with OSS will lead to
    better products in the languages and hence results for Africans. OSS may
    ultimately do more for more languages, as well as for "capacity building" on
    the continent, but it is significant to have the world's most recognized
    software company acknowledging the importance of even a few of Africa's
    indigenous languages.

    > I really think that the conditions for the developement of Africa will come
    > from education of Africa with tools and methods made for and by African
    > users. ....

    Yes. But in many respects, the donors still define the environment, hence it is
    necessary to encourage them to open up options rather than pursue the simple
    paths. I.e., some ICT4D projects assume away African languages in setting up
    telecenters etc. - that will be harder to justify when there is localized
    software available; also some donor projects for education (which you also
    mentioned) do little or no questioning of monolingual non-first-language
    paradigms that African governments inherited and have in many cases done little
    to change.

    > There's no gain for now trying to sell costly solutions and overprotecting
    > them for now in Africa (even if this means that we should tolerate software
    > piracy in Africa, in order to let its population get their basic rights to
    > knowledge). ...


    > ... Whever these countries will choose Windows or Linux does not
    > matter (I think that even promoting Linux usage in Africa would expand the
    > market for proprietary softwares like Windows or Unix distributions; Africa
    > is not Asia, and the conditions for a parallel development are still not
    > there).

    It would be worthwhile to expand on this topic in another forum (or, depending
    on how much thought you've given it, perhaps in one of a couple of
    newsletters). It's important to start thinking about how the various
    localizations may play out several years down the road, and what that means for
    what we do today.

    > So let's think about really getting out of our rich country ghettos, and give
    > some efforts to organize technological events and meeting in places which are
    > less costly for African communities. Some places are favorable, without major
    > conflicts or security risks, with reasonnable equipments, and cumfortable
    > accessibility by airlines: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, South Africa), but also
    > in the Middle-East (Arab Emirates, Oman?); it's probably too difficult to
    > organize something for now in the currently unsecure Western Africa despite
    > of its cultural interest (however West-African communities are extremely
    > present in Europe).

    Yes the issues do go beyond Africa - since we already include North Africa,
    extension of thinking about Unicode events to other predominately
    Arabic-speaking areas is important. As for West Africa, there are good
    locations there for meetings (the WSIS preparatory meeting for instance will be
    in Accra; capital cities across the Sahel and also others on the coast like
    Cotonou cold be options; Nigeria needs special attention given the number of
    efforts springing up there).

    > But more than temporary events, there's a need for a more permanent working
    > group in this area. Why not seeking collaboration with the newcoming AfriNIC
    > with its permanent bureaux in South Africa, Egypt and Mauricius?

    Returning again to the long term, there are a number of important African
    entities involved in this area from the language/linguistics side (e.g.,
    ACALAN), and the technical side (aside from AfriNIC, there are associations for
    OSS for instance). I imagine something will develop in the near future along
    these lines - either more formally or more as a network - which could
    facilitate envisioning, planning and coordinating of a range of African
    language work made possible by ICT, from localization to MT to creation of
    educational materials and development content.

    Don Osborn
    > ----- Original Message -----
    > From: Azzedine Ait Khelifa
    > To:
    > Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 11:08 PM
    > Subject: IUC27 Unicode, Cultural Diversity, and Multilingual Computing /
    > Africa is forgotten once again.
    > Hello All,
    > The subject of this conference is really interesting and very usefull.
    > But once again Africa is forgotten.
    > I want to know, if we can have the same conference "Africa Oriented"
    > scheduled ?
    > If Not, What should we do to have this conference scheduled in a city
    > accesible for african community (like Paris).
    > Thank you all.
    > AAK

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