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Why Economists Should Pay Attention to Translation in Africa
Posted by Benjamin B. Sargent on May 9, 2012  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Market Data, Translation and Localization
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According to a recent UN economic report, 10 of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies were based in Africa. Foreign direct investment in Africa reached US$62 billion in 2009, up almost 700% from a decade earlier. The report also found that the number of middle-class households will increase by half from 2010 to 2020. And, by 2030, the top 18 African cities will have a combined spending power of US$1.3 trillion. So what does any of this have to do with translation?

Companies seeking to reach upper and middle class Africans do so using the colonial languages of English, French, and Portuguese.  While this is certainly an important way to reach government agencies and professional markets, companies with information services and consumer products seek a broader set of audiences. These companies now translate into a growing number of local languages as well. Africa is rich in cultural and linguistic diversity, which means that companies seeking to benefit from the rising economic tide require access to translation and interpreting services in many tongues from very different regions.

When economic opportunities begin to surface anywhere in the world, language service providers (LSPs) arise to bridge these language gaps, enabling cross-border business to happen. For buyers of translation, the challenge of addressing new markets in Africa stems from the sheer size of the continent, the number of countries, the still-lagging infrastructure for travel and communications, and the variability of legal-financial norms for transacting business. Recently, we have noticed a crop of Africa-focused translation and technology vendors springing up in four regions of Africa. The biggest cluster is in Egypt, where many of the top providers in Africa are located. North Africa’s historical connections with European countries and ready access to markets in the Middle East have helped Egypt’s companies gather momentum.

We have written in the past about the South African provider Folio Online, and we are starting to see more entrants in other parts of Africa, such as Kenya-based Tamarind Translations. We expect more regional translation companies to be set up in Eastern Africa to serve countries with Swahili speakers and Western Africa’s Francophile zone. Egypt has advantages for serving as a pan-African language gateway, and will likely continue to play an important role as a hub for Europe, Middle East, and other parts of Africa. LSPs based in Cairo can gain scale and visibility that will be hard to match for companies based in other regions. That said, buyers can also expect to find African language specialist companies in London, Paris, and even Washington D.C. to start competing with the Cairo cluster.

Is translation a pathway to economic prosperity? Or, might it even be a leading indicator? Our research shows that the health of the translation sector reflects broader economic conditions closely (see “Language Services and the Real Economy,” Jun11), while our examination of the Fortune 500 companies showed a direct correlation of investment in translation with revenue and margin growth (see “Translation at Fortune 500 Companies,” Mar12). Putting two and two together certainly suggests that economists should consider translation an important indicator at the level of national and regional economies.

Of course, economic growth is just one of many issues that businesses consider before investing in a market.  Health care, human rights, safety, access to justice – all of these things contribute to the ease of doing business in a given nation or region of the world. As it turns out, translation has an impact on all of those social factors too.

We encourage you to download "The Need for Translation in Africa," a free report that Common Sense Advisory conducted on behalf of Translators without Borders, and have a look at the infographic below. We think you’ll be convinced that the need for translation in Africa extends far beyond the financial.


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Related Research
The Top Language Service Providers in Africa in 2011
Language Services and the Real Economy
Global Business Confidence from 2004 to 2011
The Egyptian Language Services Market in 2011
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Keywords: Country and regional market studies, High-demand and low-demand languages, Industry business confidence, Language and market selection, Translation

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