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Ugandan Mozilla Highlights Power of OSS Translation

Facing the Challange

  • September 13, 2004
  • By Joyce Kyeyune

A localized Luganda Internet browser was launched on September 6, marking a historic milestone that transformed Uganda's technology landscape and highlighted the advantages of ease of translation amongst open source products.

The browser is Mozilla, and now has all the menus, commands and other functionality in Luganda, one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages in Uganda. For example, File is translated as Failo, Edit is Longosa, View is Laba, Go is Genda, while Bookmarks or Favorites is Obulamba.

As an exercise in how localization projects can work, LinuxPlanet spoke to James Wire, managing director of Linux Solutions in Uganda who is also the manager of this translation project.

LinuxPlanet: How did the idea of a Luganda browser came to you?

Wire: (Laughing) Luganda is the most widely spoken language in Uganda. It also has a well developed grammatical structure. It has been taught for a very long time in Ugandan schools and hence there exist many Luganda literate people in this country than any other local language.

LP: Why is it important to have an Internet browser in a local language?

Wire: Internet access is becoming a key element in the lives of all Ugandans. Just like a mobile phone, an Internet caf´┐Ż has become the destination of choice for those that want to communicate internationally.

LP: Any other reasons?

Wire: A lot of content is delivered to the locals through the use of interactive CDs that display in Internet browsers. A localized browser reduces the learning curve for that social worker in Kyanamukaka who is supposed to sensitize the wanainchi using a computer.

LP: For example?

Wire: Imagine this: a CD about improved farming methods. If the content can be local, why not the software managing the content?

LP: When did the project begin?

Wire: It began in August last year, but it had a false start. We didn't have our act together at that time.

LP: You had no hope in its success?

Wire: We did not have the full knowledge of what it required to go all the way. We certainly had faith in it. When I visited Cape Town in Jan 2004, I met the South African head of Translate.org.za a similar organization in SA. He briefed me about all the requirements.

LP: So you received inspiration from the South African project?

Wire: Yes, I promised the head there that this time round we would be serious about the Ugandan project. We then organized a team that would work on the project. January 2004 was the rebirth of the project.

LP: Was there an organization backing the project?

Wire: No there is no organizational support. It's the initiative of interested individuals.

LP: So who is compensating you for this work?

Wire: It's pro bono. We're just individuals giving back to society.

LP: What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Wire: The actual translation of the language.

LP: Why?

Wire: Since Internet technology is a new phenomenon in Uganda, local languages are short of technological terminology.

LP: Right... so how did you overcome that challenge?

Wire: Creativity. We looked for nearly there words or actually formulated new terminology. We blended new generation lingua with the "academic" Luganda.

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