MOZILLA LOCALIZATION workshop in Dakar: “Empowering African Languages”!

dakarl10n_intro20140305_200046Localization workshopLocalization Workshop in Dakar, Senegal (March 3-4 2014)

Theme: “Empowering African Languages”

Venue: Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie

Hotel : Auberge Marie Lucienne, Point E, Dakar

I have been planning this event since 2012! And it is an old dream to gather people who are literate in non-English languages to show them what we can do with our languages. I wanted to show them that not knowing English or French does not condemn you to darkness forever and that Mozilla has open doors for us so we can do more for our languages and people and at the same time do better. My ambition was at first to gather speakers of Fulah from many countries along with Wolof speakers to train them in using Mozilla localization tools, specially the ones that I have been using which have proved to be really efficient. I am thinking of Translatehouse Translate Toolkit tools like Virtaal and the Pootle Server.

When I first launched the idea, I was wondering where would be the best place to meet. Africa of course but which country was the closest to where most participants lived. Dakar came out as the best choice, although I have been there only 3 times in 30 years! Also, I knew we can get help from Mozilla Senegal, whose members I met at the Paris Francophone meet-up in June 2013. But the crucial element that determined my final choice of Dakar was the enthusiasm I witnessed in Senegal and Mauritania when Firefox in Fulah was released in July 2012! I also knew that the Fulah dialect Firefox was translated in is the one spoken in Fuuta-Tooro (the north of Senegal/south of Mauritania) and that most contributors would come from Senegal and Mauritania.

You probably already know that Fulah is spoken natively in 19 countries in West Africa by around 50 million people, most of them living in Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, etc. Gathering people from those countries can be tricky due to budget issues, but also due to the fact that Fulah spreads across English, French and Portuguese speaking countries and it is difficult to find a common non-Fulah language for traning people. Although we understand each other quite well among us, the further you go away from your region, the more you get differences in the language, at least in spoken form. But in computer terminology, we tried to lift the language above dialectal differences to make it easier or equally more difficult for everybody, whatever dialect they are using.

I then decided to file a budget request and restrict participants to only neighbouring countries to Senegal, i.e Mali, Guinea, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Then we realized that budget would explode if participants were going to travel by air. Since it is my first budget request, I wouldn’t like to get rejected, which would maybe discourage any subsequent initiative from me! So I decided that everybody should travel by land, which meant that only Senegalese and Mauritanian participants would be able to make it as Bamako (Mali) and Ouagadougou (Burkina) are too far away and impossible to travel from by land: too long and unsafe! I nevertheless proposed participants to join us from those countries but they all understandably declined travelling by land for the reasons I evoked.

By the time budget was approved, we had more than 15 people signed up to participate in the L10N workshop. But the budget took very long to get approved and I was going from postponing to cancellation until I got the good news from the Reps Council that my budget was unanimously approved. The race against the clock then started because I can only travel during school holidays and I had a couple of weeks in February. I needed to get everything done in less that 40 days! A few days later, I had already confirmed participations and started sorting out accommodation, catering and venue. I was helped by an NGO in Dakar called U.S.E (Union for Solidarity and Mutual Help) which is one of the most active humanitarian organizations in Senegal. They also have an unparalleled record of literacy actions in rural and urban areas and have considerably improved the rate of literacy in local languages. The USE was my HQ in Dakar and I had an office, an internet connection and a printer for free. They also helped negotiate prices with hotel and catering service to save us money  as many uncertainties characterize organizing and event in countries like Senegal. They also knew if a price was reasonable by the local standards, as quite often, people get ripped off if they are known to come from Europe and don’t know the actual cost of things. The USE has been a crucial contact and by the time I was ready to travel, most important issues were solved or nearly solved.

My two-week break was starting on February 20th and I was going to fly to Dakar that day. But, I knew that I had the chance to attend events commemorating the International Mother Language Day in Dakar on the 21st. The International Mother Language Day is a great opportunity for us to strengthen ties with local users of our languages and help raise more conciousness about the importance of mother tongue and multilingualism. In many African countries, dominant languages or the languages of those who have power are being imposed on the people and efforts are constantly made to prevent other languages from developing. Yet many of those countries  have signed United Nations conventions and agreements on language rights and the promotion of multilingualism which is natural in many African countries. As Irina Bakova, Director General of UNESCO put it “Multilingualism is a source of strength and opportunity for humanity. It embodies our cultural diversity and encourages the exchange of views, the renewal of ideas and the broadening of our capacity to imagine”.  She added that “the protection of languages ensures also that rare and indigenous knowledge is safeguarded and handed down. By giving each of us the means to make ourselves heard and be respected, this is also a force for social inclusion” (message on the occasion of International Mother Language Day 2013). Arriving in Senegal at these times of celebration was a considerable advantage for the event I was organizing as many more people would hear about it and maybe we could have some press talking about Mozilla even before the localization  event.

Also there was a awesome event happening in the north of Senegal where a Fulah traditional chief was being turbaned (crowned) on Saturday 22nd. That was enough to convince me that I should leave two days earlier than the beginning of my school vacation. I decided to ask my boss to let me go two days ahead. Well, I took my bullet-proof jacked and filled the request form and filed it. My boss knows I am a Mozilla Rep and that I move around quite a lot and usually travel for days, but I have just been to Mozilla Summit, then straight to Localization World conference in Santa Clara, then to Mozfest in London, all in one go in October. So I know he is gonna start shooting the next time I pronounce the word “permission”! But fortunately I was granted permission to leave on Wednesday 19th, which would allow me to be in Senegal on Thursday 20th. And at fifty minutes past midnight on February 20th, the Airbus A321 flared majestically over runway 18 of Leopold Sedar Senghor airport and I landed smoothly in Dakar.

By the time I got out of the airport, it was already 1:30 AM, Thursday. I had many appointments that day to arrange a few details about various aspects of the event. I went to see the hotel and met the staff of the “Bon Coin” restaurant who are working hard to organize coffee breaks and lunch during the event. I had also a one hour talk show on the 2STV channel in Dakar on Tuesday 25th. They insisted we do the talk show before the event so many will know about it beforehand. I wanted to attend the crowning of the Jaaltabe chief I mentioned earlier and come back to Dakar to record the show, but the recording could not be delayed and that is the channel’s policy and cannot be changed. So I had to leave Dakar two hours after landing for a 400 miles trip to Demet where the crowning was taking place. Everybody already know I was coming and people were excited to meet “mister Firefox” as some call me even though we have never met actually. The crowning was a big local event with thousands coming from either side of the river Senegal and abroad. When they knew I was coming to Senegal for an event, I was officially invited by the son of the chief who was being crowned. Apparently, he has publicised my coming too much and when I arrived (covered with dust after a seven-hour trip in very harsh conditions!) I was greeted by hundreds, including Fulah international superstar Baaba Maal who came to attend the “turbaning”. Baaba Maal thanked me for all I was doing for the language and encouraged me to keep up the good work!

I left Demet late afternoon because I had to be in Dakar Monday evening so I will be ready for the talk show on Tuesday. And Tuesday came! I took a taxi to meet Hamet Ly, the NGALOU talk show host I have actually never met although we know each other on the Enternet and that for many years now. Hamet Ly is also the presenter of the Pulaar-Actu news show, which is a news programme in Fulah. They have already featured Firefox and Firefox OS on their news show and know quite well who they were going to talk to for an hour in the most popular talk show in Fulah language in the region! So I met Hamet for the first time in front of the Studio 2000, the headquarters of 2sTV. It is an exciting moment to meet someone you knew for the first time, but even more exciting to meet a TV star who is known all over the world by Fulah speakers. We had lunch together and went upstairs for make up. I joked with the make-up ladies and we had a great laugh. Studio time came and the show began.

Hamet Ly introduced the talk as an exceptional one because, he said, they have the opportunity to talk to me. Many people know what I am doing at Mozilla but have actually never seen me. So he was delighted to have me there talk about Firefox, Mozilla and the Fulah language. The talk ended one hour later and was going to be broadcast on Saturday March 1st, 3 days before the localization workshop event. That day, I received hundreds of calls, Facebook messages, and everybody called everybody in France, Gabon, the US and Senegal and Mauritania, so the show was watched in every country where Fulah people lived. Then my Facebook account was stormed by friends’ requests and now I have reached the Maximum 5,000 friends, and more than 200 are waiting to be accepted. So Mozilla, if you know anybody at Facebook, please tell them I need 10,000 instead of a limit of 5,000 friends on Facebook!

The talk show host was also our press partner along with two other journalists from Lewlewal press group. They have done a superb job to publicise the event in a dozen radio and TV shows. I was invited to a special show on Senegalese International radio channel RSI by host Yéro Oumar Diallo. It’s a late show that ended at 12:15 AM but is followed by hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world. We talked about the localization event, Mozilla and Firefox. It was that show that made more people aware of my presence in Dakar. After the show, I was given the MP3 file that can be found on SoundCloud.

Since I was expecting my participants to start arriving on Sunday March 2nd, I entered the hotel on Friday 28th to save money. Everything was ready to welcome them. They all arrived between 4 and 9 PM except one whose transport broke down 150 kilometres from Dakar. He was coming from Mauritania but did not come with the first wave of Mauritanians. I could not go to sleep before everybody was safe in their hotel room. But after 2 AM I could not reach him any more on his phone and he never called back until I finally fell asleep around 5 AM! I took the precaution to tell the reception that I had one participant coming in the night and that they should give him his key even if I was not there. They could try and call me any time he turned up, so I slept with one eye, the other looking at my phone for a hypothetical call, which in fact never arrived!

I got up at seven because rendez-vous was given at 7:15 for breakfast downstairs and we would set off for the venue at 8:30 the latest. The venue is a fantastic place owned by the Agence Universitaire de le Francophonie. It is a kind of digital campus with all the facilities needed for the event. We have arranged everything long before and the staff was absolutely helpful and friendly. I learned that my missing participant arrived at 8:00 AM and is now having a nap and would join us later in the morning. I have never met him actually except that he is one of my best friends on Facebook, so I knocked on his door and we had a real laugh as we always did online. We are so blessed to live in this century with no need to move from your home to have great friends. I asked him to make it snappy cause we were leaving soon to go to the venue before officials arrive.

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend an Internet Society meeting at the University of Dakar (UCAD), just by chance! When I got the mail that morning morning before the event, I cancelled everything and rushed to the UCAD. They had a VIP from ICANN  Africa (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) visiting Dakar and that conference was a great moment and I met the special advisor of the Minister Communication and Digital Economy. He assured me that I should place the event under the patronage of the Minister of Digital Economy and that the Minister himself will come to the opening ceremony if he is not busy elsewhere. He took his phone and called the Cabinet. Then another call, and another… “It’s in the pocket, sir”, he said. “We’re coming to the event and we’re aslo bringing the press!”. He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote his name and contacts and said “see you there mister Sarr”. I was speechless…

“Guys I want everybody at the venue at 8:30, then officials will come around 9:00 and we will start the opening ceremony around 9:30 and have the big coffee break around 10:00. I am also telling you we have some important people coming: people from the Ministry of Digital Economy, maybe the Minister in person!”. That was during breakfast. Also I received a call early this morning from the Minister’s special advisor, he is coming with the envoy of the Director of Literacy and National Languages who is not in Dakar right now. We are also expecting attendance of the President of the Academy of National Languages, the President of the FULCOM  (Fulah Language Commission of the African Union), the director of the USE and the President of the Senegalese chapter of Internet Society.

The venue is about 15 minutes drive from the hotel, so we took taxis and asked them to follow the one that was ahead. When we arrived at the venue, the President of Internet Society Senegal was already there. All the other officials were really late and we could not start the ceremony before the arrival of Mister Malick NDiaye from the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy. Unfortunately, the ISOC delegation had to leave and could not wait any longer. I thanked them and apologised for the delay and was a little embarrassed they did not even have a cup of coffee!

Finally the ceremony started after 10 AM and was declared open by the Minister of Communications’ special advisor Malick NDiaye. I made a speech before, stressing the importance of localization in our language and thanking Mozilla for not only opening doors of opportunity for our languages, but also sponsoring events like this one. Then we went to have coffee, everything was ready and the “Bon Coin” restaurant team was there, ready to serve…

Time has come now to get to work. We left the plenary room and went to the computer room with more than 30 computers, a projector and air conditioning. The first part of the workshop was a talk about Mozilla, our mission and products, especially the one we were going to work with: Firefox. Then we presented the localization tools Pootle and Virtaal until lunch time. Again we had a great time during lunch and had a choice among three Senegalese meals…

In the afternoon, time came to do some hands-on activities especially on Pootle. Most of our participants have never heard about localization or Pootle. Only two of them have already worked with me on Virtaal and Pootle but have a limited experience on both tools. We had another contributor from Mauritania who knows Pootle quite well and helped during the hands-on activities. By the end of the day, many of them no longer needed me or hardly needed any help, while other were still struggling with tricky strings or place-holders. Of course the purpose of the first day’s sessions is to get ready for the localization sprint on the second and last day. We ended the session at five PM and went back to the hotel to have some rest and get ready to go out for dinner. The hotel had a restaurant but it was too expensive, so we would go out in the area to find a fast food restaurant but most of the time, I went out to buy food for those who didn’t want to go out. We also bought a lot of fruit and packs of mineral water and dispatched them in the hotel rooms. The hotel was quite comfortable and quiet with hot water and very decent facilities. The Wi-fi did not work most of the time and show “limited” when we connect to the network. We were really frustrated as we needed the internet to communicate and send emails and tweets and stuff from the hotel. The wi-fi at the venue was more than perfect though, no issue whatsoever! I used the FirefoxHoSpot feature of my Keon to allow others to have a connection while we were at the hotel.

More Pootle work was done the next morning as some of the participants were making mistakes by translating a few proper nouns like Firefox! But we witnessed a very good level of understanding of the inner working of Pootle. I am sure all of them just need more time on Pootle to become better and better. We started translating Aurora 29 on Locamotion server run by Dwayne Bailey. Dwayne was monitoring our work remotely and giving live feedback by mail to stress and issue or make a important point. We thank him and all the Translatehouse team for the great tools and the assistance. There was quite a few issues with strings letf because we decided back in the beginning that we would not translate “Developer” folders as they should fall back to the locale of the computer OS. Nobody will actually use Developer tools in Fulah in the near future. So most of the newbies were trying to translate the Developer strings until I noticed it. Then we had issues with Linux refusing to launch Firefox (“already running” issue!), which stopped us for more than two hours. They had to create new profiles so we can log in to the computers and run the browser correctly.

Localisation workshop in Dakar was a success in many respects:

- attendance was good as 13 people were there and two could not make it to Dakar

- I recruited around 20 contributors (not all attended the workshop because of budget limit)

- Mauritanians will create Mozilla Mauritania (we’re working on it)

- All local language contributors will become Mozillians (and they’re all dying to!)

- We were on the media almost everyday during the week before the event (tv and radio) and around my conference at UCAD

- Contributors will meet on their own  for regular localization sprints with the help of the USE who assigned a contact person to work with.

What did not work.

Well our biggest disappointment was that we did not receive any swag although the request was files 5 months ahead of the event. I was to talkative though, saying great swag is being shipped and will arrive for the event (!). I had to print T-shirts hastily two days before event, and they were of poor quality. I printed one only in France which was very good, hoping to save money by printing the rest in Senegal. I still think Mozilla should send us swag because I promised they will get some…

I printed stickers of the official logo of the event, but unfortunately, I never remembered them, so they remained in my suitcase until I am back in France! I was just two busy to think about everything! I will give some to localization drivers who are meeting in Paris later this month!

We did not translate everything as that was too ambitious given my participants were working on Pootle for the first time. But I was happy to see how excited they were about being able to help localizing Mozilla products. We all agreed that from now on, we will meet regularly even if I don’t personally attend. The USE has promised to give them facilities for meeting and working on computers whenever they decide to meet for a sprint. And we are all ready to bring more people to the localization teams in Fulah, Wolof and any other African language that we can help empower!

Conference at University of Dakar (UCAD)

Before I flew to Dakar, I was requested to meet the Fulah students association Dental UCAD because they wanted to organize a conference and a “thank you” ceremony as tribute to me for localizing Firefox. Since they have never met me too, it should be a great opportunity to know them. I agreed to hold a conference on Mozilla, Firefox and Fulah language. The meeting was going to be held after the localization event, i.e on Wednesday 5th. No time to have a break, I immediately started working on my presentation and got ready the morning I letf the hotel. It was that afternoon that I met the students. There were around 200 people, which is a great turn-up for a working day. There were about 4 tv channels and even more radios to cover the event. The conference was moderated by prominent Fulah Professor and Egyptologist Aboubacry Moussa Lam and Professor Cherif Dhaha Ba of the University of Dakar.

I was mainly interviewed by TV channel SENTV in French for their news show and also in Wolof. But they said their channel does not have programmes in Fulah. So I sopke languages other than mine to talk about Firefox in my language! The most emotional moment was when prominent fashion designer Oumou Sy took the microphone and asked my to come forward. She unwrapped a packet and took out a gorgeous African boubou which she put on my shoulders! She said, “I was the first African to open a cyberspace in West Africa and I am so proud you are the first to give us Firefox in Fulah. So this is just a symbolic thank you to tell you that you are now on the Fulah hall of fame”. Everybody clapped and cheered and I was touched by this kind treatment.

Then the students read a poem about thanking me for initiating the localization of Firefox. They had gorgeous T-shirts with with my photo in the middle and the words “Firefox in Fulah – Thank you Ibrahima Sarr”. I was so overwhelmed by the enthusiasm around the localization of Firefox. And what is really interesting is the gratefulness they have all shown Mozilla through myself and the pride they have to enjoy Firefox in their own language. Thank you Mozilla for empowering African languages, thank you Mozilla for opening doors so everyone can participate in the empowerment of their people, and simply of mankind!

Ibrahima SARR

Mozilla Rep





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  1. CommentsThierno Bah   |  Tuesday, 01 July 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Mr Sarr,

    I am Thierno BAH based in the UK, originated from Guinea.
    General Secretary for Pottal fii Bhantal UK.

    I listened your intervention on Radio Futa US, I find it very interesting.

    I would like to be in contact with you, could you please get back to me with your contact contacts detail.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Best regards
    Thierno Bah

  2. Commentsadmin   |  Wednesday, 02 July 2014 at 11:12 am

    Thanks Thierno.
    You contact me by email @ ibrahima.sarr *at* pulaagu *dot*com

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