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Google goes (further into) Africa

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Google unveiled localized Swahili versions of Gmail, Google Maps and Google Chrome.

Localizing software makes the Internet more relevant for users everywhere, but in African countries it has the special benefit of bridging the huge Digital Divide and thus bring the local population closer to information that are relevant for economic development, education, health, democracy and their government. “Google is focusing on making the internet more relevant and useful to Africans by creating more African content online; raising awareness among consumers and businesses about the opportunities offered by the internet; and developing products that are locally meaningful” writes KBC online.

Joe Mucheru, Google Lead for Sub Saharan Africa, said in an interview with the KBC, “The Internet offers so many opportunities, and we want to make the Internet more relevant and useful to East Africans.  Being able to use products like Chrome, Gmail and Maps in Swahili means that our users will now have a much better experience of the web in their day-to-day lives. And this is just the beginning.”

Google’s announcement coincides with the commencement of the East Africa Community Common Market in July 2010. The common market wants to see trade among the signing countries made easier and has as an ultimate goal a single currency. It represents a significant milestone for the people of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda & Burundi, which will create new opportunities for the free movement of capital, goods, services and persons across East Africa.However, experts do not see it is likely to be in full swing until 2015.

Swahili is spoken by approx. 120 million people in the East African Common Market or 20% of all speakers of indigenous languages in Africa. “Swahili uniquely conveys much of our shared culture, is the lingua franca used in day-to-day interaction across borders, is one of the languages of the African Union and is becoming an increasingly important part of the internet fabric in Africa” says the Chairman of the Kiswahili and African Languages Department at Kenyatta University, Dr Leonard Chacha Mwita.

Google currently has offices in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. This week, the company has also made localized versions of Gmail and Maps available in Amharic.

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