Howard University debuts African Language Translation Initiative

The initiative was announced on Dec. 12, ahead of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a three-day gathering in Washington, D.C. of the U.S.’s government leaders and their African counterparts.


Ben Solomon/U.S. Department of State

Vice President of the United States T.H. Kamala Harris during the Plenary 3 at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, December 15, 2022.

Jah'I Selassie, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

WASHINGTON–The Center for African Studies at Howard recently launched a language-inclusive initiative to aid in the translation of U.S. policies. The initiative was launched on the eve of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December.

According to the center’s website, the start of the program will consist of translations from the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa into the languages of Amharic, Swahili, Yoruba, and Zulu.

While the country’s African policies were previously available in French and English, this wide linguistic expansion will allow such strategies to be digested by larger African demographics.

Leonard Muaka, chair of Howard’s Department of World Languages and Cultures believes that these policies largely effect ordinary African people and should be available in their language.

“When you simplify technical issues and policy issues by bringing them in a language that somebody understands, it’s much easier to see ‘Oh, this is how the rest of the world views us. And this is how we can benefit from whatever they’re doing.’”

Howard currently offers seven African language courses. According to Muaka, this semantic knowledge from students allowed the initiative to flourish.

The initiative also gives students the opportunity to understand both African issues and U.S.-African policy issues.

After learning that the U.S.-African Leaders Summit would be in Washington, D.C., the university’s Center for African Studies and the Department of World Language and Culture collaborated to create the African Language Translation Initiative (ALTI.)

Krista Johnson, director of African studies at Howard, also pushed the idea of increased accessibility of American policy in Africa.

“If we’re interested in building an informed public and an informed citizenry who can engage around issues of U.S.-Africa policy, then we have to make sure that information is accessible to them,” she said.

Johnson said that the initiative has received high praise from members of the U.S. government, including positive Tweets from members of the White House commending the team for their efforts in translating.

The translations created by the initiative have already made their way to U.S. embassies in Africa, according to Johnson.

“I think in the new year you’ll see us have an opportunity to have more conversations or work more collaboratively, hopefully, with maybe some of the U.S. embassies so that we can push out this kind of material,” she said.

She hopes that the initiative will elevate not only Howard’s Center of African Studies and the school’s national language programs, but also create more opportunities for students to broaden their global possibilities.