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The Bambara Wikipedia, One Year Later

Author Kasper Souren
Track Projects and Content
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Kasper Souren was born in the Netherlands and lived in Paris, in Mali and in Peru. Currently he is travelling in North America. He studied mathematics, cognitive science, electronic music and artificial intelligence and is a hobby linguist. He fluently speaks Dutch, English, French, German, Limburgish, Spanish and Python. While working for Geekcorps Mali he founded (and funded) the Bambara and the Fulfulde Wikipedia and is administrator of several other wikis, such as the Hitchwiki (his favourite means of transport).
I will not only discuss the Wikipedia in Bambara, but also projects in other languages I've been actively involved in.

Small Wikipedias

Small Wikipedias can be classified in two categories:

  1. Regional or smaller languages, dialects, like Limburgish, growing relatively fast
  2. Mostly oral languages that are spoken by millions of people, who don't master another written language (well enough), like most of the original African languages and some languages in South America and the former Soviet Union

The first category is not something to worry about. Interesting things can be said about them, but anyway, where there is enough interest in the language, the Wikipedia will grow and fill in its niche.

The second category however can play an important role in the future of the lives of millions of poor people.


Or, written down in general. In an attempt to counter this problem the Bambara Wikipedia was launched in the beginning of 2005. During my stay for Geekcorps Mali I managed to get some interesting content written, in Bambara. I directly paid 1US$ for any article that I considered good enough.

By working with a group of inhabitants of a poor neighbourhood of Bamako I got to around 50 articles, about many topics in a short time, like milk, cities, villages and some things I don't understand well enough to even know what it means. I only speak a little bit of Bambara, and where the spelling doesn't matches with my dictionary it becomes really hard to understand.

Using a dictionary, and the Bambara speakers around me, I was also able to translate parts of the interface.


The Peul Wikipedia was started in a similar way. One night I worked with Aliu Mamadu Jallo to enter an article about knowledge and to translate the most important part of the interface.

But in June 2005 I left Mali. Every now and then there were some improvements from other people. But only a couple of articles in total. The most significant progress was the addition of 1000 entries of the Bambara languages to the French Wiktionnaire.


Since then I have also been somewhat involved with the Wikipedia in Wolof, a very common language in Senegal. Ji-Elle, from France, started adding a lot of country stubs, with the hope that fluent Wolof speakers will pick it up and start adding real text written in Wolof.


Quechua is a South American language, commonly spoken in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. The Quechua Wikipedia was started in 2003. Though April 2006 there were still only 37 articles (stats). Somehow many stubs where added and activity increased a lot. Next month AlimanRuna, who studied Quechua the last 15 years, started writing a lot in Quechua. Currently there are over 150 articles, with regular additions in Quechua.

How to advance

1 stone, 4 birds

The success of the Swahili Wikipedia will hopefully be an inspiration for people to get more involved with the other Wikipedias in African languages. Considerable press coverage, which would consequently lead to many unpaid edits. And it would be huge result in itself, extremely benifical for the emancipation of African languages.

The proposed way of reaching this goal is to pay people with internet time, at least 2 or 3 more time they need for entering their text written beforehand, hence killing 4 birds with one stone:

  1. support the telecenter;
  2. increase access;
  3. generate something of longer term use;
  4. helps the participants develop abilities and sense of contribution/belonging to


It is interesting to send out some emails or letters to language faculties of universities teaching African and Amerindian languages. Students can be stimulated to practice their knowledge on Wikipedia and do very useful work at the same time.

I have done it before for the Bambara Wikipedia, without any reaction. But now there are 1000 articles in the Swahili Wikipedia and faculties must be much more aware of Wikipedia and its strength.

See also

Don Osborn set up a mailing list and wrote a text Facilitating African Language Wikipedias

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