(ARISE magazine, issue 13) What do you do when you need to look up something in Afrikaans, Swahili or Malagasy? Google Soek, Tafua na Google or Fikarohana Google, of course. After high demand from Africa, the search giant is recruiting volunteers to its Google In Your Language project to translate its interface. Said program manager for African languages, Denis Gikunda, “For so many people in Africa, with technology, there’s this idea that I have to master English first, and then I can be good at it. But if you see a user interface in Swahili, you feel like you understand the product more.” Somalia is the latest beneficiary of the Google Africa community translation program after receiving its Google domain name on June 3. The standard interface was translated by volunteers and then verified by a group of native speakers, language specialists and journalists in Nairobi – where Somali is also spoken. Other 2011 additions include Ghanaian dialects Ewe and Ga, Northern Sotho from South Africa and Seselwa Kreol from Seychelles.
(ARISE magazine, issue 12) How do you inspire apathetic young voters? By getting them to fill in their Twitter status. That was the idea behind a campaign by Vote or Quench that urged young Nigerians to tweet about how the upcoming election could change their country, using the hashtag IfNaijaVotes.The one-day action in January provoked a chorus of tweets; as well as trending locally, it was covered by Yahoo and USA Today while celebs such as US rapper Nas and Nigerian singer Nneka tweeted about it. Young voters also joined in via Facebook, smartphones and BlackBerry Messenger.
“We wanted people to donate their status, something that was easy,” says Vote or Quench founder Nosarieme Garrick. “We wanted people to be creative, to have fun with it.” It may have been fun, but there was an important message behind IfNaijaVotes: 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population is under 30, which could mean serious electoral bargaining power, if they take advantage of it.
Through its lively online hub of debate and information, Vote or Quench’s aim is for more 18-35 year olds to become aware of their voting power. “We’re not saying social media is the answer to all our problems,” says Garrick, “but it’s helping to fan the flames. It changes the idea of social activism.”
Vote or Quench is now recording video diaries of first-time voters and calling for a presidential debate on youth issues. In Nigeria’s last ballot, less than half of the electorate voted. With the help of Vote or Quench, that might be about to change.
(ARISE magazine, issue 12) It’s one small step for man, but for South Africa the launch of its own space agency is a giant leap, uniting the country’s fragmented space organisations that have been surveying the universe for 50 years.
The new South African Space Agency (SANSA) is not the first of its kind in Africa – there are others in Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria – yet its ambitions are just as stellar.
At the official launch in December, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, declared: “Our medium-term goal is for our country to have a fully operational space programme within the next five years, and to be globally positioned within ten.”
The new space agency, set to start operations on April 1, will bring together existing space bodies such
as the prominent Satellite Applications Centre in Hartebeeshoek, and focus its expertise into six key areas: earth observation, space operations, space science, space engineering, human capital development and science advancement.
Not everyone is as enthusiastic as Pandor, with critics objecting to its estimated first-year budget of R400-500m, which they argue would be better spent on alleviating South Africa’s continued healthcare and poverty concerns. However supporters argue the space agency will help do both. At the launch, Pandor declared: “Our efforts in enhancing space science and technology will also assist in addressing the persistent challenges of healthcare provision, water resources, agricultural mapping, urban planning and communications.”
As well as launching SANSA, South Africa is vying with Australia to host the world’s most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array. And with a number of key space projects already under its belt, such as the microsatellite SumbandilaSat, South Africa has a good chance of success.