Although European dialects have been adopted as official languages in many African states, if you found yourself outside the main cities anywhere in Africa, it wouldn’t take long for you to realize that English won’t take you as far as you might hope. The Bantu Babel app aims at giving traditional African languages more exposure to encourage interaction between different peoples. Bantu Babel is a free African translation app that was created through a collaboration between the BongoHive and Peace Corps Volunteers in Zambia during the Random Hacks of Kindness Hackathon that took place over the first weekend of December 2012. The name Bantu Babel came about because most of our regional languages are Bantu based and the biblical Tower of Babel serves as an inspiration for reunifying us through our different languages. The first version of Bantu Babel became available for Android on the Google Play store in March 2013 and since then, has received continuous approval and feedback.
It only seemed fitting that the official launch of Bantu Babel took place right after the newest Peace Corps volunteers had been sworn in on the 2nd May 2013. The U.S. Peace Corps are a voluntary organization that work with developing countries all over the world to provide educational, health, social and technical assistance and also promote cultural exchange between Americans and locals. They have been partnered with Zambia for 20 years now. As part of their training here in Zambia, the volunteers are taught the 7 most prevalent local languages; Bemba, Kaonde, Lunda, Mambwe, Nyanja, Tonga and Tumbuka. These languages are also the 7 current languages used on the Bantu Babel app. Tony Tseng, a current Peace Corp volunteer and one of the members working on Bantu Babel commented earlier this month on how “. . . it gives people confidence to interact with Zambians, especially in rural areas.”
The app is already being used by both foreigners and locals in Zambia and has received lots of positive feedback. During the launch demonstrations were given by fellow Zambians using the app for the first time. The user friendly design made it easy for them to identify their languages and in no time could navigate through the app with ease. Mwansa Kapeya, The Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, praised Bantu Babel for helping to empower Zambians and bring information to the people. He also commented that the app “has come at the right time.” Indeed it has as vernacular media is beginning to be amplified throughout the nation and the availabilty of a translation app will allow us to make maximum use of the free-flow of information.
Although already making an impact, there is still much in store for the future of Bantu Babel. Developers are working on making it available on more platforms such as Blackberry and iPhone. Lukonga Lindunda, the co-founder and director of the BongoHive states that the plans for it’s future also include the availability of more languages, translation between local languages and the integration of audio translation. With the increasingly widespread use of mobile technology in Africa, it’s not difficult to see how useful an app like this can be in the daily interactions within the continent.