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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Surfing in Swahili
Scholar Omar Bwana
Scholar Omar Bwana: Tremendous boost for Swahili
By Gray Phombea in Nairobi

For the first time internet users are now able to read, point, click and search in Swahili - the common language spoken by 80 million people in East and Central Africa - rather than in English.

Kenyan telecommunications service provider, Swift Global Kenya, has joined up with, a global network of multilingual internet portal sites, to launch two web portals, Orientation Kenya and Orientation Tanzania, both in Swahili.

English speakers have had it easy online and the internet is still considered as a very western network. But we have to make it our own too - if only to protect our cultures and language

Swahili scholar Omar Bwana
"We believe the net is supposed to be for everyone," says Sammy Kimathi, Swift Global Kenya's Internet content manager.

"And we expect our Swahili portals to play a leading role in stimulating further development of the Internet in both Kenya and Tanzania, as well as throughout East Africa."

The two-month-old sites combine both local and international content about East Africa, as well as a search engine in the native language, a feature that gives them an edge over other online services in the region.


According to Mr Kimathi, the Swahili portals provide the most comprehensive directory of reviewed web sites in and about East Africa.

Swahili web words
surf - rambaza
internet - Mtandao
web site - Sahifa
web page - kurasa
e-mail - barua pepesi
point and click - lenga na bofya
What's more, one can search in Swahili looking for local records in the Swahili database - each entry having been edited and indexed, allowing the user to save both time and energy when searching.

Orientation Kenya and Orientation Tanzania connect into local online Swajili communities through their direct Web-based access to local Usenet discussion groups and IRC chat channels.

News and interactive polls also feature and both sites are already attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a month.

"The Swahili community is underserved in terms of portals to the web and Swahili content. We are filling this gap by giving Swahili speakers what other users in other countries already have," says Mr Kimathi.


Omar Bwana, a Swahili scholar and consultant based in Nairobi, says the launch is a tremendous boost to the usage and development of Swahili as a tech-savvy international language.

Sam Kimathi
Sam Kimathi: Providing popular services but in Swahili
"English speakers have had it easy online and the internet is still considered as a very western network. But we have to make it our own too - if only to protect our cultures and language."

In the chat rooms, says Mr Bwana, Swahili surfers can now discuss the newest words on the streets and online, and "these online contributions can form the basis for a new technology-based Swahili".

Internet insiders believe that building a Web that can only speak in one language will no longer be good enough in the future.

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27 Jul 00 | Africa
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