Bolingo’s African Country Guides
Senegal, Tanzania, and Togo
Curated by Andrew Warner
Bolingo, an Accra-based communication and media consulting firm, is back with three new installments in its Bolingo African Country Guide series. In past issues of MultiLingual, we’ve reviewed Bolingo’s guides on Cameroon, Egypt, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Ghana — this time around, we’ll be reviewing the latest guides, which cover the languages and culture of Senegal, Tanzania, and Togo.
These three countries represent a combined population of roughly 88 million people spanning from the coasts of West Africa in Senegal and Togo all the way to the African Great Lakes region in Tanzania. The guides cover each country’s distinct history, with a particular emphasis on their linguistic profile. While all three recognize either English or French among their official languages — a remnant of the colonial era — they’re also home to dozens of other languages which play an equally, if not more, important role in developing localized products for their markets.
The guides, available for free on Bolingo’s website, allow newcomers to these local markets to gain a deeper understanding of the linguistic and cultural context in which the Senegalese, Togolese, and Tanzanian markets operate. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the main details in the latest releases in the Bolingo African Country Guide series.
Basic Structure of the Guides
Previous installments of the guides followed a pretty similar structure, covering topics like labeling, content adaptation, and branding in each of the countries covered. While the Senegal, Tanzania, and Togo guides also explore these topics, the most recent guides provide a bit more context on the linguistic situation in each country, with a more in-depth exploration of some of the linguistic structures of prevalent languages that are Indigenous to the country.
For example, the Togo guide spends a significant amount of time explaining some of the morphological structures of the Éwé and Kabyè. As a linguist and language lover, I found these sections particularly fascinating — it’s always interesting to learn about the ways the same concept can be expressed in different languages. The glosses between English and the respective language provide interesting insight into various constructions of the languages, however translators working in these languages should already have more than a strong grasp of these structures.
Each guide begins with a brief introduction covering the geography and a general survey of the country’s history and before diving into the languages of the respective countries. Then they explore some of the relevant cultural topics that may be important for localization professionals to understand about the respective countries, devoting sections to topics like certain symbols prominent in the local culture and even popular food dishes in the countries. After this, the Senegal guide closes with a section on investing in the Senegal market; The Togo and Tanzania guides, on the other hand, cover internet penetration in their respective countries and close with a list of useful phrases for individuals visiting the country.
Although these guides are intended for localization professionals, their utility as introductory travel guides shouldn’t be underestimated. In addition to linguistic information and cultural information that could be useful for project managers and others working to localize content for these markets, they also provide interesting tidbits of information about the countries’ history and cultural sensitivities any visitor to the locales ought to keep in mind. Plus, the phrase guides at the end of the Tanzania and Togo guides will serve a traveler or tourist better than a businessperson or translator.
As mentioned earlier, the guides begin with an introduction to the history of each country, as well as a bit of information on their demographic and linguistic configurations. All three countries are home to numerous languages and ethnic groups — the Tanzania guide notes that more than 100 languages are spoken throughout the country, though Kiswahili is the predominant lingua franca among the country’s citizens.
Kiswahili’s prevalence in Tanzania shouldn’t be particularly surprising, considering the fact that it also maintains lingua franca status throughout East Africa — in fact, the Tanzania guide stresses the fact that it’s spoken in at least 14 other African nations. As the guide claims, this language is one of the most well-documented languages native to the continent. The guide does, however, note that the Kiswahili dialect of Kiswahili is a bit different from that of neighboring countries, drawing in fewer loan words from English than the varieties spoken in other East African countries.
“As the national language of Tanzania, Kiswahili gives a sense of identity and belonging to Tanzanians and is widely spoken and used in all areas of life such as music, education, politics, legal affairs, technology, business, media, etc,.” the guide’s author, Zami D. Ami Christelle, writes.
While English maintains official status in the country, the guide emphasizes the fact that Kiswahili is the primary day-to-day language of Tanzanians — as such, localization professionals working on projects for a Tanzanian market will of course want to bear in mind the importance of Kiswahili in the average Tanzanian’s life.
At the western end of the continent lie Togo and Senegal, both of which, of course, have a very different linguistic profile from Tanzania. The French language maintains official status in both countries, given their shared history as subjects under the French colonial empire. Both countries, however, have their own distinct languages aside from French and hold a high degree of linguistic diversity.
The Togo guide focuses mainly on Éwé and Kabyè, spoken as vernacular languages and recognized as official languages in addition to French. While Senegal only recognizes French as its official language, the Senegal guide stresses the fact that Wolof, spoken by 80% of the country, serves as the lingua franca of the country. French, however, plays a large role in prestige media within the country, and other Indigenous languages are also spoken by large swathes of the country.
“The 10 most spoken languages are Wolof, Pulaar, Sereer, Malinka, Diola, Soninka, Hassanya, Arabic, Manjak, and Kriolu,” the Senegal guide reads. “It is very likely for two people chosen at random from the population to have different mother tongues.”
All in all, the introductions provide an interesting linguistic and cultural information about the countries.
Symbols and Cultural Details
As with the other Bolingo African Country Guides, the Tanzania, Togo, and Senegal guides all pay close attention to symbols that are relevant to the respective countries.
Each guide offers a brief exploration of the countries’ respective flag and coat of arms — for instance, the Tanzania guide notes that the “coat of arms of Tanzania displays a warrior’s shield with a golden portion which represents the minerals and a burning torch on the upper part which is a symbol for freedom, enlightenment and knowledge,” while the Togo guide explains that “each of the colors [of the Togolese flag] is a strong symbol of the history or the reality of Togo.” In fact, the Togo guide even advises readers to incorporate the Togolese flag into localized branding.
After this, the guides go on to explain various tidbits of information about the countries’ culture, covering information about the local cuisine, landmarks (for instance, the Tanzania guide devotes a subsection to Mt. Kilimanjaro, a driving force for much of the tourism in the country), and celebrations throughout the respective countries.
This information serves as an interesting launching point to research other cultural facets to keep in mind. While trivia about Mt. Kilimanjaro and the traditional food prepared in a country probably isn’t particularly relevant to most localization projects, these sections do provide some interesting historical information that can inspire further, more detailed and pertinent research.
Like past localization guides that Bolingo has produced, the Senegal guide also recommends working with local brand ambassadors and celebrities to promote localized content and really make your content and services appear to be truly specialized for the local market. While the Togo and Tanzania guides don’t offer the same advice here, this is surely a useful tip to keep in mind for any project, regardless of where the local market happens to be.
“It is as though the qualities of the individual, the strength and power displayed for them to reach the level of fame and success they’ve acquired, were either instilled into the product they’re supporting, or it could possibly denote a certain standard of quality,” the Senegal guide reads. “The reasoning behind this being that if the rich and famous are buying this product, that must mean it is indeed worth buying.” This is an observation that I’d argue applies, not just to internationalized or localized products and services, but to marketing or advertising for anything, really.
Adapting Products to the Local Markets
Finally, after exploring some basic cultural information, the guides get down to business, discussing more specialized information about localizing products for the respective markets.
Firstly, the Tanzania and Togo guides discuss the respective internet and mobile penetration of each country. Both of which were similar in this regard — about a quarter of both populations used the internet, while 80% or more had cell phone access. In spite of this low internet usage, the guides both detail the social media habits of the respective populations, suggesting (though never explicitly stating) that these networks could potentially be of use for marketing and advertising. Unsurprisingly, Facebook is the most widely used social media platform in both countries.
While all three countries use either English or French as an official language, the Togo and Tanzania guides stress the importance of using a local language when possible. “Due to various campaigns and initiatives to promote local products, more and more international brands are trying to adapt their products to the Togolese culture through the use of local languages,” the Togo guide reads.
For the Tanzanian market, the guide notes that companies who provide services and content in both English and Kiswahili will benefit, nodding to successful examples of international companies that have done the same, such as Vodacom and airtel.
Interestingly, this sentiment does not come across so much in the Senegal guide. According to the guide, there’s a bit of dissent regarding the importance of French in Senegalese society — some say it’s “essential” to the country’s economic and social goals, while others deem it to be an archaic symbol of the suffering Senegalese people endured under French colonialism that shouldn’t have a place in the sovereign nation. Ultimately, the guide does not come to a conclusion as to the ideal language (or languages) for brands to use in localization projects, leaving it up to the reader to conduct further research and consult with Senegalese folks instead.
As with any other culture, there are certain sensitivities companies must keep in mind as they localize products for these markets. The Tanzania guide notes that online content for Tanzanian audiences must meet certain regulations, and companies should avoid various topics.
Some of these topics to avoid — like pornography, prostitution, and nudity — probably won’t be much of a concern for most companies localizing content in these markets, but the guide also suggests companies avoid topics like homosexuality as well. This means that, while other international branches of a company might update their logo with a rainbow flag in June to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, the Tanzanian branch should be careful not to. Same goes for Senegal as well.
All in all, the guides give a good idea of what kinds of sensitivities to look out for when localizing a product for these markets. Some things may seem like common sense (for instance, they all emphasize avoiding hate speech in branding), but others are worth deeper exploration.
These guides are a thoughtful exploration of the culture of three very different countries. While the guides won’t necessarily leave you an expert on any one of these countries, they do provide a good survey of relevant information that you can then research further. As with the others in the series, it seems that these guides aren’t meant to be comprehensive rulebooks, but rather launching points for further research. After reading them, I’m certainly more keen to learn about these three countries than I was before — and I’d argue that that’s the job of these guides, rather than to serve as an end-all-be-all Bible of localization.
Andrew Warner is a staff writer for MultiLingual Media.
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