Microsoft (MS) is working towards unifying communities through the use of indigenous languages, the Regional General Manager for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, (WECA) Thomas Hansen said yesterday.

"We want to let people utilise our technology in a language familiar to them. It is about breaking down barriers," said Hansen, in an exclusive interview with Mmegi at Grand Palm.

Hansen said Microsoft has a responsibility to provide broadband access to the community it operates in, to enable it use their technology effectively and positively.

"We have a Local Language Programme (LLP) in Setswana for Windows and Office. We started off with Kiswahili, then Zulu and it was only logical that Tswana should be the next language to be online," added Hansen.

Microsoft has expanded its presence in Africa with empowerment drives taking place in Botswana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Senegal and Nigeria. Hansen said his mandate is to drive access to technology and education in Africa. Microsoft has a historical interest in Africa and Botswana in particular. For the past two years, the company has featured extensively by providing access to technology in rural schools from primary level.

On numerous occasions, Microsoft has donated computers to schools in Botswana. Explaining his visit, Hansen said Microsoft has engaged government to ensure that communities have an advantage to the technology his company offers. "We are collaborating with the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology to roll out technology in schools countrywide. We are committed," Hansen said.

Microsoft has challenges as it continues doing business in Africa. Hansen said the issue of Intellectual Property (IP) rights remains a serious concern for the company, though Microsoft has put in place strategies to address the problem. "Piracy is a challenge to us," Hansen pointed out.

The company, which has been in the software business for over 30 years has adopted a long term strategy on matters of IP rights. Hansen said he is pleased that government is working hard on addressing the issue of IP rights. "As the IP rights are enforced, we are likely to see more potential in the ICT sector."

Despite the challenges, the WECA region has seen remarkable growth in the IT industry. As Regional Manager for WECA and Indian Ocean Islands, Hansen assumes overall responsibility for Microsoft's commercial software business, as well as its broad-scale citizenship activities - including the local language programme.

For his part, Namibian-based Microsoft Public Sector Accounts Manager, Matipa Glen Matswetu, said Microsoft has proposed frameworks to improve affordability of ICT in Botswana. "If the region has good ICT laws, technology will be more affordable in the region," Matswetu said.

Mmegi/The Reporter