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Facebook to add more African languages

September 4, 2016

During his visit to Nigeria and Kenya, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted at the possibility of adding software for more African languages, to ease Africans' access to the online social network's applications.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

Among the African languages already on the Facebook website is Hausa, a language that is widely spoken in West Africa. Zuckerberg was quoted by Nigerian media saying that he was proud to have the Hausa language on his website.

More than 125 million people in Sub Saharan Africa use the internet. Some consider Facebook a news source, especially those aged between15-25.

According to Internet World Stats, Nigeria tops the leagues table of Facebook users in sub- Saharan Africa, with more than 15 million users, followed by South Africa and Kenya with thirteen and five million users respectively.

Many Nigerians were excited about Mark Zuckerberg's visit to the country. Facebook and Twitter users posted pictures of Zuckerberg with tech-savvy young fans.

While in Kenya, Mark Zuckerberg discussed internet access with government officials. Kenya's Minister for Information, Communication and Technology, Joseph Musheru, told DW that communication is key.

"Many of the internet users in our region, and in Kenya, are actually using Facebook and WhatsApp. Their communication is for social engagement," Musheru said.

Plans for high speed internet stall

But Zuckerberg's plans to install high speed internet for Africa have been dealt a setback by the destruction of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on its Florida launch pad on Thursday. The unmanned rocket exploded, destroying a satellite that Facebook planned to use to beam high-speed internet to Africa.

Zuckerberg was dismayed by the incident, and wrote on his Facebook page: "As I'm here in Africa, I'm deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX's launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent."

Facebook was contracted to use the Amos-6 to provide broadband internet coverage for large parts of sub-Saharan Africa - and other remote parts of the world - as part of the social media giant's Internet.org initiative.

"Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well," Zuckerberg said. He was referring to the solar-powered plane being developed by Facebook to make the internet available in remote areas.

"We will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided," he said, adding that," the problem isn't the money; it's that now it may take longer to connect people."

Who benefits more - Zuckerberg and Africans?

Kennedy Kachwanya, a social media analyst and chairman of the Bloggers Association of Kenya, said local people in Africa benefit from Facebook more than vice versa, because now Africans can more easily communicate with each other.

"I don’t think Facebook makes a lot of money from Africa as such, but I know many people in Africa are doing business using Facebook in terms of e-commerce," Kachwanya said.

He also said he had seen a number of groups discussing social issues and doing political activism with the Facebook application.

Kachwanya believes Facebook is focused more on the future than the present. "Facebook utilizes the African users to solicit advertisements from business partners," he said. "They know that Africa is developing at a fast rate, and that's their target."

Simdie Onuoha, another social media expert in Nigeria, told DW that Africa needs the internet, and Zuckerberg’s visit will benefit up-and-coming start-up businesses.

"His visit is both humanitarian and entrepreneurial, because Africa has great potential. We have some of the world’s [fastest-] developing countries here, so there is hope for these countries to grow," he said.