Mother Tongue Interference On the Internet

Digital Content

In a continent where almost all languages are absent in cyber space, 23-year-old Kiganira Deogracious Kijambu has a dream that one day he will access the Internet in Lusoga, his mother tongue.

So far, he has managed to build his e-commerce agricultural business from a humble Ush200,000 ($117) in 2003 to Ush600,000 ($352) today despite all the obstacles facing rural communication. He is optimistic that if all his clients, agents and suppliers were able to communicate in Lusoga, a language used in his home region in Mayuge District about 100 kilometres east of Kampala, his business would boom.

Mayuge is one of the seven districts in Busoga region with a population of close to 400,000 people. Lusoga is spoken by the Basoga, a Bantu ethnic group that occupies the region between Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga. They grow crops such as cotton, coffee, bananas, potatoes and cassava, fruits and vegetables.

"My wish is to access the Internet in Lusoga," said Kijambu, a trained accountant.

He uses the Batud ICT Training Centre in Mayuge to access the Internet for his e-commerce trade. "If we had the Internet in Lusoga, it would link many people in my area since very few of us understand English," Kijambu said. "Although some people have acquired computer skills, language is still a problem."

Kijambu acknowledges that although the Internet has brought about prosperity for some enterprises, further growth is being hindered by the dominance of English. "My business is only limited to those few who understand and use English. I would have had more customers if the Internet was in Lusoga," he said.

Kijambu buys maize and coffee in his home area, searches for the current prices on the Internet and then posts the quantity of the products ordered by his clients who are mostly schools.

The people of Uganda belong to three distinct ethnic groups (Nilo-Hamites, Nilotics and Bantu) that can be broken into more than 50 ethnic nationalities, each identified by its own vernacular language.

The manager of Batud ICT Training Centre, Paul Bamwesige, said lack of local African languages on the Internet is a big challenge. "We download information and translate it for our users. Because these people do not speak English, we face the problem of translating jargons, concepts and explanations hence creating a communication gap," he said.

The Batud ICT project is the only one of its kind in Uganda. It downloads information and translates it for its users upon request into Lusoga. Like all other facilities in the country, it faces the challenge of unreliable power supply. It also has to contend with high Internet tariffs and an unreliable service by the providers.

"If we had the Internet in local languages, there would be effective application of ICTs in the communities because mother tongue remains paramount to our everyday life, thus supplementing government social-economic programmes," Bamwesige said.

The East African