Swahili Becomes First African Language Recognized by Twitter


For several years, most African languages on Twitter have always been referred to as Indonesian, in terms of translation. But that seems to have changed as the social media platform has officially recognized Swahili as a language.

This is coming after several years of hashtags and complaints and now, Swahili or Kiswahili – the popular East and Southern African language, has become the first African language to achieve this feat.

Related Post: Google Adds More African Dialects, Languages in Speech Recognition

Why Swahili?


Spoken by about 50 million to over 100 million people all over the world, Swahili is one of the most spoken African languages all over the world. As a matter of fact, it is the official language of Eastern and South-Eastern African countries – Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Inspired by the unfair treatment of big African native languages on social media, Swahili speakers on twitter regularly used hashtags #SwahiliIsNotIndonesian and #TwitterRecognizeSwahili on Twitter to demand recognition. And their efforts seem to have paid off, as last week, Twitter kick-started detection of the language in tweets. Although the translations have not been fully completed, it is still a good start.

What About Other Major Local Languages?

The ‘Twitter – Swahili’ feat did not come easy, it took a lot of effort from Swahili Speakers i.e. Kenyans – who are known to be prominent on the social network, to get the attention of Twitter. Sometime in 2012, there was #TweetYoruba campaign, spearheaded by Kola Tubosun (@baroka on Twitter), a linguist and Yoruba scholar, with one goal in mind – to get Yoruba supported on Twitter.

It seemed promising at that moment with about 24,000 tweets in 2012 and 38,000 tweets in 2013. But it all went cold all of a sudden and 6 years later, the initial goal is yet to be achieved. Apparently, other indigenous local languages need to borrow a leaf from the #TwitterRecognizeSwahili campaign; be persistent and step up in their outcry for African languages recognition on social media. 

Related Post: New BBC Igbo and Yoruba Services Target the Nigerian Youth and the Diaspora

What Impact Would Having Twitter in Our Local Languages Have?

Twitter is very popular among Nigerians, who use it to amplify their concerns, create online communities, celebrate their cultures, air their grievances, and sometimes just share a good joke. In fact, Nigerians are one of the most active social media users in Africa.

With about 330 million monthly active users, the recognition of our local languages on Twitter would not only ensure the survival of our languages/cultures, but would also ensure the universality of the languages.

The recognition of Swahili is a good start, but I personally can’t wait to see translations for other major indigenous languages.

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