The U.S. software giant Microsoft has released the Kiswahili version of Microsoft Office 2003 in the Kenyan capital. The new product is expected to make it easier for millions of Kiswahili speakers in East Africa to use computers.
Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and other computer programs can now be converted into Kiswahili by using a free program called Language Interface Pack that can be downloaded from the internet.
The general manager of Microsoft East Africa, Isaiah Okoth, told reporters that up to 150 million more people could participate in what he called the "digital economy" now that the program is available.
"The Kiswahili version of office basically lowers entry barrier for a large population of people in our society who cannot speak English but are very conversant with Kiswahili," he said.
Kiswahili is an official language in both Kenya and Tanzania, and is also spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Comoros. It is a Bantu language that is the mother tongue of the Swahili coastal people.
For more than a year, a team of linguistics experts headed by Professor Kulikoyela Kahigi of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania created a glossary of more than 3,000 Kiswahili words for common computer terms.
The company's East African marketing manager, Tonia Mutiso-Kariuki, told reporters that Microsoft felt duty-bound to lower East Africa's barriers to technology and to eliminate, in her words, "the digital divide" between Africa and the West.
She said it was a challenging process that involved more than just translating words from English into Kiswahili. For instance, she said, the technological term "3-D", which stands for three-dimensional, does not exist in the original language.
Walter Monyoncho Samuel is a Kiswahili teacher in Nairobi. He says the product is long overdue and opens up a whole new world to many people.
"As I know, a lot of people are interested in computers but are unable to understand the language used," he said. "If they discover that now Kiswahili is available on computer, I am sure they will have a lot of interest in computers from now onwards."
Mr. Samuel says he thinks business people in particular will benefit from the program.