Local languages are driving the BBC’s expansion in Africa

Coming through.
Coming through.
Image: Reuters/Peter Nicholls
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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is looking to widen its footprint in Africa by delivering news to millions of Africans in their local languages.

Its latest move is the launch of three news websites in the Ethiopia and Eritrea. The services will deliver news in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, Afaan Oromo, the language of Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, and Tigrinya, the main working language of Eritrea.

The BBC hopes to fill the void of independent media in a region where government is often accused of censoring the news.  Will Ross, BBC’s lead for the new language services, says they will be a “source of truth.”

BBC also plans to launch radio shows in the three languages, catering the audiences without internet access. Ethiopia and Eritrea have a combined population that tops 100 million.

Across Africa, while English has always been a commonly spoken language, many local dialects also just as prominent and are spoken across various social class divides.

BBC’s expansion comes after a £289 million ($372 million) boost by the UK government last year. Alongside the three language services in the Horn of Africa, the service plans to launch a total of 12 new language service across Africa and Asia.

One of those, BBC Pidgin, has already been launched in Nigeria to serve West Africans who are familiar with the language which is made up mostly of street slang. BBC also plans to launch services in Igbo and Yoruba, two of Nigeria’s main languages, in addition to its BBC Hausa service which was launched in 1957.