There are more than 2000 languages spoken across the African continent. Most of these are indigenous languages that are very specific to tribes and regions. They lack universality and being domiciled in specific regions means they are spoken by and limited to those communities. There is hope of addressing this challenge through a translation technology tailor-made for African indigenous languages.
Known as Abantu AI, the Kenyan startup is working on a tool that will help translate local languages to major global languages. So far, Abantu AI has proven its potential by translating Kikuyu and Kiswahili. Kiswahili has a wider reach across the East African region and other parts of the continent.
The startup is the brainchild of James Mwaniki, a tech enthusiast with a background in ICT, media and telecommunications. James is also the CEO of MoVAS Group, a financial services provider for the ICT sector.
“Africa is a language-rich continent with a large number of people who cannot communicate in the main languages of the world, like English and French. It is thus difficult for such people to consume and give knowledge to and from the outside world without the help of a third party,” said Mwaniki. “This is the gap we saw and we decided to build tools to address this challenge.”
The project was launched in September last year. It is self-funded and has reportedly received a “better than anticipated” reception within government agencies, media and the health sectors.
“My main motivation for this project is to build a tool that will help caregivers and health workers to better understand their patients where patients cannot speak English or Kiswahili, and in cases where the health workers themselves do not speak or understand English or Kiswahili well enough,” Mwaniki said.