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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2005, Frankfurt, Germany.




Editing notes:

  • Bullet outline style like PPT. Not real prose.

Wikimedia projects and African languages[edit]

  • Author(s): Kasper Souren
  • License: GFDL
  • Language: English (questions can be in French, German, Dutch)
  • Slides: {{{slides}}}
  • Video: {{{video}}}
  • Note: presentation

About the author(s): Kasper Souren was born in the Netherlands, studied mathematics (MSc), electronic music and artificial intelligence, found out about Wikipedia in 2003 and dropped out while doing a PhD research in Paris. He then went to Africa to work for Geekcorps in Mali to do GNU/Linux, free software and network stuff) and tried to develop African language resources on the side.

Abstract: {{{abstract}}}


Aliu Mamadu Jallo working on a Wikipedia article
  • Mali, "isn't that in Indonesia?"
  • African languages
  • Development work, Geekcorps
  • How to incite people to write?
  • Continuation


People at a dump in Bamako
  • Among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert.
  • About 10% of the population is nomadic.
  • 80% of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing
  • Industrial activity is concentrated on processing farm commodities.
  • Heavily dependent on foreign aid and vulnerable to fluctuations in world prices for cotton, its main export.
  • Books and written sources of information are expensive and hard to get.
  • In 1999 secondary school enrollment for girls was 13% and for boys 23%. Tertiary education enrollment is 2%.
  • Most people live on less than 60 eurocents (400 CFA) a day.

Mali at Wikipedia

Languages in Africa[edit]

children in Yanfolila
  • Education is often in the official (colonial) language.
  • Learning to read and write in a second or third language is harder.
  • Lack of books and other written information in African languages.
  • Most African languages weren't written down until quite recently.
  • National borders (and thus "official languages) have been set up somewhat randomly.
  • Some languages are spoken in very large areas.
  • Many languages, Mali (12 million people) has 11 national languages, and many more smaller languages and dialects.


  • language spoken in West-Africa, notably Mali
  • at least 10 million speakers
  • mutually comprehensible with other Mandé languages (such as Malinké and Jula), spoken all over West-Africa.
  • article at Wikipedia

In 1949 Souleymane Kante invented the N'Ko alphabet, to be used to write down Mandé languages. Later, in the seventies the Latin script was chosen, with some additional phonetic characters. These days Bambara is mostly written in the Latin script. Though especially in Guinea, there is still a considerable number of people who are familiar with N'Ko and not with the Latin script.


  • also called Fulfulde, Fulani
  • spoken from Mauritania to Cameroun
  • many variations, dialects, but still mutually comprehensible


  • American non-gouvernmental organization (NGO)
  • money from USAID
  • part of IESC
  • /gi:k.kɔr/ not /kɔrps/
  • "volunteers" go to Africa for 4 month terms
  • non-US citizens can be volunteers (actually most in Mali are non-US)
  • founded by Ethan Zuckerman in order to give geeks possibility to do
Geekcorps is a US-based, non-profit organization that places international technical volunteers in developing nations to contribute to ICT projects while transferring the technical skills required to achieve long-term stability. Ultimately we strive to cross-pollinate developing nations with the skills needed to maximize the benefits of modern telecommunications.


Geekcorps Mali[edit]

  • main mission: providing sustainable IT to radiostations
    • help out other NGOs setting up connection, wireless
    • Malian people are employed and work together with Geeks
      • Moussa Keita, former Geekcorps employee started his own company
  • Geekcorps Mali mainly works with free software
    • set up Kunnafonix a GNU/Linux distro/liveCD which is really easy to install

Attempts to start the Bambara Wikipedia[edit]


  • first encyclopedia in Bambara
  • encourages people to read and write in their own language
  • often when a Wikipedia has reached a certain number of articles it will grow on its own

Several options have been tried.

  • give out 200 CFA (30 eurocents) per article
  • inform university students about this
  • raise to 500 CFA (80 eurocents)
Community centre in Sabalibugu, Bamako

500 CFA an article was sufficient to get people in a poor area interested

  • thanks to the efforts of Frederic Renet there are 10 computers in a community center in a poor area of Bamako
  • they don't have an internet connection and it is cumbersome to get the articles online
I've been quite a while in Bamako now. And I've tried to get people interested. First with 200 CFA per article (0.3 EUR), but that didn't really work. I've tried with university students, but nothing really happened. Recently a new Geek arrived however, who has equipped a little community school/center with a bunch of computers, in one of the poorer areas of Bamako. And they are really interested. The university students and the more "well off" people couldn't be bothered with the 500 CFA. Poorer people however, don't have the money to use a cybercafe. 500 CFA per hour is considered cheap here, for using the internet, but is also unaffordable for at least 90% of the population.


  • 67 articles in the Bambara Wikipedia
    • some with information only available in Bambara
    • some stubs

Give internet time for Wikipedia articles[edit]

Telecentres, cybercafes in rural Africa have a hard time selling their services. Hence NGO's have started buying up many hours a month, to be given away to people in the villages. As Don Osborn from (a website for African languages on the internet) noted:

"Anyway, the buying of time for people to use the telecenters is nice, but not sustainable. And it is a giveaway that develops nothing but a dependency. That's why I like your colleague's idea of paying [with internet time] for Wikipedia contributions. It effectively does four things with the same amount of FCFA that the previous practice did only 2:
  1. supports the telecenter;
  2. increases access;
  3. generates something of longer term use (in this case, Wikipedia pieces);
  4. helps the participants develop abilities and sense of contribution/belonging to a larger effort.
In a word, solutions that accomplish more than one thing with about the same expenditure of resources are elegant."


Wiktionary is a free dictionary.

  • tried paying Africans to add translations of words into Bambara and other languages
    • somewhat useful, but orthography was often "incorrect".
  • started adding words myself
    • using internet resources, existing French-Bambara/Bambara-French dictionary and some other books
    • currently over 1000 Bambara entries
  • even small corpus can be useful
    • might attract organizations that already set up dictionaries (and possibly still hold copyright on them)
    • likely to add an entire Fulfulde lexicon soon


  • hyperlinked
  • can include images
  • contains many languages
  • easier to distribute in a mass scale

Ultimate Wiktionary

  • currently Wiktionaries for many different languages
  • one wiki/database only, with much more structure
  • many cool possibilities


  • contacted several development organizations for funding
  • contact and inform NGO's
  • go back to West Africa
    • without funding: stay couple of months
    • with funding: stay long time


  • add more entries to Wiktionary
  • see what happens with Ultimate Wiktionary


  • allow other Mandé languages in the Bambara Wikipedia
    (like different Limburgish dialects on the Limburgish Wikipedia)
  • try to attract a community
  • try to reach a thousand articles for the Bambara Wikipedia
  • continue work on the Fulfulde Wikipedia
  • possibly start or develop Wikipedias in other languages, like Wolof and Haussa

Knowledge dissemination[edit]

  • things running GNU/Linux
    • game consoles
    • PDA's
  • mobile phones
    • Java
    • or GNU/Linux...