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Opinion :Sinatou Saka « Ensuring accessibility and digital inclusive browsing»

Without the appropriation of new digital concepts, African data will continue to be sold off in the big market of digital economy.

By Abèdjè Sinatou Saka, journalist, co-founder of Idemi Africa

Launched in 2009, WhatsApp now has more than one billion users. A significant achievement to which Africa is by no means unrelated: Whatsapp is the most used mobile application on the continent and its growth is exponential according to the monthly magazine Jeune Afrique.

At the end of 2015, WhatsApp accounted for 11% of mobile traffic in sub-Saharan Africa, twice as much as Facebook and 2.5 times more than YouTube, according to a survey by Sandvine. Even better: the application showed a growth of 50% in this area between the end of 2014 and the end of 2015. 

To reach these exceptional figures, WhatsApp has indeed been able to offer its users features that perfectly match their needs: voice notes and calls that do not require a large internet connection. 

The voice notes feature is certainly the most popular on the continent because many people who can’t read or write can send voice messages to their loved ones, especially abroad, at a lower cost or discuss in groups.

But the love affair between WhatsApp and Africans waned when in January 2021, WhatsApp gave its nearly two billion users a month to agree to new terms of use that allow it to share more data with Facebook, or risk losing access to their accounts. 

South African authorities have said they are opposed to the mobile messaging platform’s plans to change its privacy policy, but the truth is that most WhatsApp users on the continent have never heard of this news because they do not understand French, English or the communication languages of Silicon Valley companies.

Faced with the massive use of social media on the continent by populations that speak only African languages, and failing to encourage broader communication on the part of platforms, we must take charge and encourage the translation of privacy policy into African languages.

“Without the appropriation of these new digital concepts, African data will not have any more value and will continue to be sold off on the big market of the digital economy”

Without the appropriation of these new digital concepts, African data will not have any more value and will continue to be sold off on the big market of the digital economy.

However, if there is a precious and rare asset in our information society, it is personal data. This data is at the heart of the GAFAM business model, which manipulates, analyzes and stores it for immediate or subsequent use. This is away from the involvement, let alone the consent, of the people concerned.

Obviously, to raise people’s awareness, we will have to invent together new words like “cookies”, “confidentiality”, “intellectual property”, “hypertext links” or “personal data” in Yoruba, Bariba or Hausa. However, this work will allow us to enrich digital knowledge, to develop the digital sovereignty of a continent thanks to the populations who invent innovative rules of respect for privacy on the internet and regain power over their data.

At Idemi Africa, we regularly organize workshops to translate digital words from web 2.0 into African languages. These workshops, rich in creativity, are an opportunity for us to familiarize Internet users with African languages, to translate simple and common terms of our digital life like “newsfeed” and therefore encourage Africans to speak their languages on social media.

The second step is to create specific groups for more technical translations and then to have these new words adopted in local media or popular whatsapp groups.

In the age of numerous and indispensable virtual exchanges, there is undeniably a large amount of content to be produced in the future on the African continent to include everyone. This is the condition to guarantee accessibility and digital inclusive browsing. 

*Journalist, Abèdjè Sinatou Saka is co-founder of the Idemi Africa collective

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