Monday, January 15, 2024

20th anniversary of Beyond Niamey

On this 20th anniversary of the first post on Beyond Niamey, I thought I'd present a chronological list of all 242 posts since then and prior to this one. That total averages out to be one post a month, but the actual pace varied a lot over the years.

This blog is fully searchable and posts are tagged, however, there wasn't an easy way to browse the titles. Most archiving features and derived lists such as the below, tend to be in reverse chronological order, which has the effect of burying older material - a big problem with digital archiving in general. So the choice of starting with the oldest post here is deliberate.

I began writing here on the eve of my departure from Niamey, Niger, so the title anticipated that somewhat bittersweet transition. So, it began more as a personal blog, but very quickly evolved into a platform for news and thoughts about African languages. Some more background is available on this blog's "About" page.









  • No posts during this period.












2024 (prior to the current post, only)


Archives of the "AfricanLanguages" YahooGroup

"AfricanLanguages" was a Yahoo! Group on which was posted a lot of material about languages in Africa, including popular press articles from around the continent. A browsable and searchable subset of the message archives, including ~800 messages from 11 September 2004 through 31 August 2013, is available on

I personally did a fair amount of posting on AfricanLanguages, including during the 9-year period captured on Mail-archive. Those posts often included the full text of articles under fair use doctrine, in addition to their inherently impermanent links. So this archive may be of some use to people interested in attitudes, policies, and research on African languages during that period.

Background of "AfricanLanguages" & my involvement

In 1999, Kenyan author Mwangi wa Mutahi set up an email list called AfricanLanguages as a "forum for African Language reading and writing," with the service then known as eGroups. That platform was acquired by Yahoo! in August 2000, and renamed Yahoo! Groups, or simply Yahoogroups.

When I discovered and joined this group in 2002, it had been somewhat inactive after an early period of activity (which is a typical pattern with many email lists). The posts, if memory serves, were all in English and about the languages of Africa - status, use, etc. I picked up on that pattern and became the most active poster to the group, and naturally communicated with the list owner to explain my interest and object.

At the time, I was already working on some forums about African languages and technology (the A12n lists and Unicode-Afrique), and saw an advantage to keeping track of developments with regard to the languages, without the tech and localization dimensions. The AfricanLanguages group seemed perfect for that, since I could help build on efforts there rather than starting another new list.

Some time in 2004, at my request, Mwangi wa Mutahi made me an administrator of the group. That enabled me to connect AfricanLanguages with Mail-archive, which is why we have the archives there now.

My activity tapered off in the early 2010s due to changing professional demands, but it's not clear why the archiving on Mail-archive stopped at the end of August 2013.

Erasure of Yahoo! Groups vs the race to archive them

In October 2019, Yahoo! announced that it would discontinue and delete the groups service as of 14 December of that year. I discussed this whole issue at some length in posts here on 31 October and 15 December, 2019.

Happily, it does appear that a message archive for AfricanLanguages was saved on However, that was evidently saved together with message archives of about 90 other Yahoogroups, and in a format that seems complicated to access. Some other lists of interest such as Unicode-Afrique have similarly been archived as parts of larger batches. So there's hope to resurface these small but unique windows on the recent history of African languages and their interface with information technology.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Hiatus in writing here

For several reasons I've been inactive on this blog and in general as regards work on African languages and technology. There's no problem - happily - but part of my thinking has to do with the relevance of what I was doing as a new generation of people interested in African languages takes the fore.

I also wanted to take time to change up and focus on some different work - notably with regard to the International Year of Millets (2023). One of my other areas is agriculture, and I first encountered millets as food in West Africa (specifically pearl millet, and also two other grains often counted among the millets - fonio and sorghum).

More on this in 2024. And Happy New Year to anyone still following Beyond Niamey!

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Global Language Advocacy Day 2022 - some thoughts

Today, 22 February 2022, has been announced as the first Global Language Advocacy Day (GLAD22) by the Global Coalition for Language Rights (GCLR). I only learned of it yesterday, which was International Mother Language Day (IMLD), so have only some first impressions to offer. I'll share those below along with some quick thoughts on advocacy.

First, I think it is great to have another day after IMLD to continue to think about, discuss, and do something with and for diverse languages. GCLR apparently picked the date with something like that in mind. IMLD and GLAD22 contrast with and also complement each other, which may potentially be very positive if the new observance continues.

GCLR is a coalition of several organizations - companies, NGOs - involved in human rights or language work, plus at least one institution of higher learning. So GLAD22 is the creation of this association, and not an observation agreed upon by an international organization, as is the case with IMLD. That is the first of several differences between GLAD22 and IMLD.

Another difference is that while IMLD, which has been observed annually for over two decades now, is truly international, GLAD22 - its first year - apparently had no activities in or relating to Africa. One imagines this will change before a second Language Advocacy Day, but this lacuna is the main reason that I wanted to post about GLAD22 on Beyond Niamey (watch this space?).

Finally, at the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that IMLD is mainly for the speakers, and GLAD22 is largely for allies. The former is essential, and the latter is important - in some cases perhaps critically so - but also tricky.

Advocacy - and I accept that I would fall into the category of an advocate, for the work I've chosen to do relating to African languages over the years - can ideally help positive change. The down side of advocacy, as I see it, is the potential for bringing one's own agenda, personality, and even misunderstandings into others' space. That's especially problematic when there is a difference of power (position) of the advocate and those s/he advocates for. (In international development, for example, I've noted the dynamic where outside experts effectively dominate all positions in a discussion about others' way of life.)

Which is not to argue against advocacy, but rather to advocate (!) both for awareness of the contexts in which one is advocating (e.g., the power differential) and for as deep a familiarity as is possible with the realities of those (or that) for which one is advocating. (I'm still thinking about this particular set of issues.)

In any event, hopefully Global Language Advocacy Day will develop in a positive way, connect with Africa, and complement IMLD.

Also, it is perhaps not coincidental that GLAD22 was initiated in this, the first year of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL). So one also hopes for constructive synergisms of effort and effect there as well.

Monday, February 21, 2022

IMLD 2022: Using technology for multilingual learning

Source: IMLD2022 social media pack. (Yes, the laptop graphic is
superposed on the photo)

The theme of the 2022 edition of International Mother Language Day (21 February) is "Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities." According to UNESCO's homepage for IMLD 2022, the focus of this year's observation is "the potential role of technology to advance multilingual education and support the development of quality teaching and learning for all."

Having a long-time interest in languages, technology, and development (with learning fundamental in that nexus), I'm personally happy to see the highlighting of  multilingualism and technology in education.

At the same time, one is well aware that multilingualism is often not a relationship of equals. Some languages are "well-resourced" in terms of materials, support for use in information and communication technologies, policy agendae, and monetary budgets. Other languages, including the mother languages of Africa, tend not to have these benefits in the same measure or at all.

So while it is a positive step to have all languages be included in multilingual approaches - as opposed to being marginalized or excluded from education and public discourse - I see an implicit call in the theme of this year's IMLD for attention to strengthening the position of the "less-resourced" languages among them. It would be helpful to make that point explicit.

Friday, December 31, 2021

On the eve of IDIL, some reflection

Just a quick signal at the end of 2021 to say that I hope to resume posting here intermittently in 2022, which also will be the first year of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL).

The place of African languages among indigenous or autochthonous languages - whether all of the first languages of the continent are included, or only some, and by what criteria - seems to me to still be an open question. I've explored that question in 4 posts on this blog, in case any of them might be of interest:

Although my schedule permits much less space than I would like for research and writing, and I am balancing pursuit of other interests as well, I remain keenly interested in African languages and their use in education, development programming, and advanced technologies. The next decade may be critical for the future of African languages, as language technology quickly advances with or without them, and the dynamics of inter-generational transmission of them change or even break down.

At the same time, I have been reflecting on what are and aren't appropriate roles for non-Africans in advocacy for, and pushing our ideas about, African languages. It is not as if these issues have never occurred to me, but observing the field and the general tendency of outsiders, especially of relatively privileged background, to populate all sides of any discourse on Africa, I needed to take a step back.

This is not to backhandedly call into question all people from one culture who propose to do work relating to another culture - in fact, all cultures, and the world in general, needs such diverse perspectives. However, between my part of the world and Africa, there are asymmetries of influence. So I am taking a moment to reflect on those, and how what I think I've been doing benefits from them, and what might be the inadvertent messages and unintended effects of that work.

Other than that, all is fine, Yerkoy sabu.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year 2022!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

IMLD 2021: What multilingualism means for inclusion

This year's International Mother Language Day (IMLD, 21 February 2021) has as its theme, "Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society." Of the key terms in this expression, most need little if any explanation. But the meaning of one of them - inclusion - merits attention.

When we speak of - or speak - mother tongues and second (or additional) languages, as individuals, communities, and countries, that is "multilingualism." "Education" is often thought of as connected with schooling, but it also includes other modes of learning and sharing knowledge. These two concepts - multilingualism and education - along with specific attention to mother tongues, have been recurrent themes in IMLD observances over the years. And they are often discussed together - for example as "mother tongue based, multilingual education" (MTB/MLE).

"Society" seems impossibly broad, taking in pretty much everything we do. That's certainly appropriate in this context, as language and choice of languages are fundamental to our communication, interaction, and collective memory (not ignoring the tandem role of images and non-verbal.forms of communication). However I read a new and encouraging dimension to the mention of society in this year's IMLD theme: a link with sustainable development.

In an IMLD 2021 concept paper by the UNESCO Education Sector and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, multilingualism is linked to the "Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on leaving no one behind" (which, by the way, actually has an acronym: LNOB). This IMLD concept paper also mentions the centrality of multilingualism for indigenous peoples' development - from which we can assume that where many languages are spoken, engaging constructively with that reality is fundamental for everyone's development.

Before coming to what I see as the key term in this year's IMLD theme - inclusion - note should be made of the action word at its beginning: "fostering." I hear this as calling out the importance of policies and planning, and the effective implementation of these. The issues of multilingualism need active attention from not only individuals, but also governments and organizations, without which we have words and no action (and in the end, no words either).

Whose inclusion?

"Inclusion" turns out to be a tricky concept. Although I accept that the intent of its use in the IMLD 2021 theme is positive - the notion that languages can facilitate education and full participation in society - this term can also carry some less positive meanings. Chief among these is the implication that there is an outside and an inside, and those inside define the terms for bringing the outsiders in. There's a potential inequality there that led one writer from a community development perspective to propose abandoning the word inclusion altogether.

In the context of schools, inclusion is often (at least in the West) used in the context of students with special educational needs (and within that setting, one writer identified eleven definitions!). This does not seem to be an appropriate analogue for promoting multiple languages in education.

In the context of language and languages in Africa, the question of inclusion seems to me to become more complex. Upon independence, most African states opted to keep the colonial languages as official, rather than promoting use of one or more among their indigenous languages. This in effect put various ethno-linguistic groups within their borders at the same disadvantage (no one "inside group" controlling power). However, it also gave those who were fluent in the official languages an advantage, which is maintained through a dynamic described by Prof. Carol Myers-Scotton as "elite closure" (in other words, an there's an inside group after all).

At the same time, as Prof. Ayo Bamgbose once observed, many states operated on the paradigm that "one language always unites and many languages always divide." So in effect inclusion or exclusion in education and society have been defined to a large degree (in linguistic terms) on the basis of use of the one official language.

It is possible to find "inclusion" on more shallow level, in a group or structure that does not fully value what one brings to it, or that requires higher sacrifice from some than of others. That's as true regarding mother languages as it is regarding other aspects of culture.

While acknowledging the utility of a common language (lingua franca), the fostering of multilingualism seems to me to have the potential to shift the basis for inclusion from something centrally controlled or defined by a limited group, to a dynamic with more entry points.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A sabbatical, of sorts

The year 2020 has been a kind of Pandora's box of chickens coming home to roost. Unexpected in particulars, but not altogether unpredictable in terms of the kinds of problems we've seen. The COVID pandemic in particular has caused suffering and death, and then grief in the wake of those losses.

Against that backdrop - and thankful that my family and I have personally escaped the worst (Yerkoy saabu!) - I've taken a step back from posting here to reflect on what I am doing with this blog, and what are appropriate roles for a non-African and non-linguist like me in advocacy for African languages (of which I can claim some degree of mastery of only two).

To be honest, there have also been unanticipated changes in my schedule that have disrupted whatever rhythm I had in writing. And a number of interests competing for time and attention.

As we head into 2021, with hopes for better for everyone, one of my plans is to resume posting here, at least intermittently, and in an effort to contribute constructively and appropriately to discussion about the place of African languages in the global information society.