Much news in the language industry is focused on the “global North,” namely Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. Africa is often mentioned in relation to improved coverage of, or technology for, low-resource languages.
However, the launch of a new initiative in Africa will help mitigate this lack of awareness. As of 2020, the Masakhane Project had gathered more than 60 participants from 15 countries to collaborate and build machine translation (MT) models for African languages.
And now, a new professional organization for language service providers (LSPs) in Africa is making its debut at the 4th Africa International Translation Conference in Kigali, Rwanda.
The Association of Language Companies in Africa (ALCA) was officially registered as a non-profit in August 2023 in Accra, borne out of what its four co-founders saw as an opportunity for an umbrella organization to connect existing regional associations.
Africa’s traditional localization hubs are in South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya, with “countries such as Ghana, Rwanda, and Cameroon quickly becoming strong contenders in their own right,” explained ALCA co-founder Johan Botha.
Kabod Group’s Christian Elongué and Bolingo Consult’s Ady Coulibaly, both in Ghana, began to discuss a unifying association for African LSPs in early 2023. They were soon joined by Alfred Mtawali from CAN Translators in Kenya, and Botha, of Folio Online in South Africa.
Botha told Slator that the number of LSPs in Africa is currently impossible to estimate without reliable data, due in part to companies not participating in — or even being aware of — international industry surveys.
If there were more data, Botha said, “I do expect that companies with one to three employees would dominate the landscape in more regions of the continent.”
The advent of technology, and AI in particular, convinced ALCA’s co-founders that now was the time to appeal to African LSPs. Working in regional isolation, Botha said, has historically slowed down the African language industry’s growth as a whole.
While they grapple with many of the same issues as LSPs in other parts of the world, companies in Africa may have to take into account additional considerations.
“Connectivity issues are unfortunately still widespread across the continent and [are] a big headache for many LSPs wanting to provide a cutting-edge online service using all of the latest tools and cloud software,” he said.
Botha noted that the ALCA launch in Kigali will offer a chance for the organization to speak to ALCA’s main target market in person, adding, “This is still very early days but so far the response has been extremely positive.”