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“This Is Africa” Cites MwanaSayansi Newspaper as an Example

Should we bridge local understanding of Artificial intelligence by creating technological terms that make current scientific developments accessible, or do we teach and help computers understand local languages? The answer is both.

African languages steadily evolve to accommodate current realities such as advances in technology, science, and the technical aspects of industry. For those that can remember

reading the book “Walenisi” by Prof. Katama Mkangi, you can recall the amazement of consuming complex sci-fi in Kiswahili. This sociology professor, who was detained for being a part of the underground socialist movement “Mwakenya” went about world-building an alien utopia with such expert storytelling and linguistic finesse that anyone who read the book talks about it with quiet awe.

He is but one exemplary example that Africans cannot only conceptualise other worlds or futuristic science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life in local languages but are also an integral part of creating a dynamic landscape where life imitates art. Which if we are honest is how AI started- by science fiction pushing scientists to make the ‘unimaginable’ happen.

Artificial intelligence (AI) through an African Lens

As with many developments of the 4th industrial revolution, the world deems Africa behind the curve. The one size fits all and Eurocentric metrics do not give room for heritage-centred design (HCD) or localised adaptation.

But we cannot disregard the digital divide that language perpetuates. Artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. The majority of data that is coded, collected, selected, or used in machine learning is in English. Which of course creates a bias in favour of English speakers. Other aspects deepen this digital divide including training exclusion and geographical limitations such as access to quality networks and digital tools among others.

The bright side is linguistics may not be a barrier for much longer. People like Kenyan researcher and political analyst Nanjala Nyabola are making digital access and utilisation of the new terminologies easier for non-specialist or non-English speaking communities. Quartz reports, “With funding and support from the Stanford Digital Civil Society Fellowship, she (Nyabola) partnered with a team of Kiswahili scholars to translate key words in technology and digital rights into the most widely spoken African language.” The resource that is freely available online features words such as ‘Akili unde’ (Artificial Intelligence), ‘Mtambowavu’ (Bot), and ‘Ufichamishaji Kamili’ (End-to-End Encryption).

She explained in the interview, “The problem with Swanglish (Kiswahili mixed with English or English words adapted for local use) is that you get the word that fits in that moment but you’re not necessarily building a lexicon.”

Other Africans, Bonaventure Dossou (Benin) and Chris Emezue (Nigeria) have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) language translation model, named ‘FFR’ that is similar to Google Translate to bridge gaps in AI-first. The creation uses African languages in Natural Language Processing (NLP) which is a branch of AI that teaches and helps computers understand human languages. They are making some of the African languages that are collectively categorised as “low-resourced” easier to access, index, and use.


Now Tanzanian journalist and medical doctor, Syriacus Buguzi, has started ‘MwanaSayansi’, the first science and technology newspaper written in Kiswahili. Buguzi started the publication to make sure information in science is shared in a familiar and local language.

“We started it because we saw a gap in science communication in Tanzania. And previously when we tried to think of how to bridge the gap between researchers and the community, I tried to look at our audience in Tanzania and what they are lacking… If you have a class of scientists who are communicating their research findings, they present their stuff at conferences, in scientific journals they will always be in English… For Swahili speakers, it’s like denying them an opportunity if you are not communicating to them regularly about Science-you are denying them scientific information,” Buguzi told the BBC.

The momentum with which the linguistic gap in science is being bridged by innovative Africans paints a hopeful outlook for the future of AI on the continent.


This newspaper covers health and science in Swahili for local audiences in Tanzania

Tanzanian science journalist Dr. Syriacus Buguzi is the founder of MwanaSayansi, the first science and technology digital newspaper in Swahili, with an audience of over 10,000 and distributed through WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and on their website. Buguzi is a trained medical doctor who turned to journalism and has over 10 years of experience as a science journalist.  

He started carving his path in journalism while being a medical student by writing opinion pieces in addition to being editor-in-chief of the academic journal Dar Es Salam Medical Student’s Journal, a journal owned by the Tanzania Medical Students Association (TAMSA) that publishes academic work of students from across all medical schools in Tanzania

Buguzi joined Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen in 2011 as a science reporter. He grew within the organisation to become a news editor and helped start a health pull-out magazine for the newspaper in July 2016. His work has appeared in, Mail & Guardian, Gavi, The Independent and The Guardian. Buguzi holds a postgraduate diploma in Mass Communication and a master’s in Science Communication from the University of Sheffield. In 2014, he won the David Astor Journalism Award.  

Science reporting in Tanzania has had its challenges, especially during the pandemic as then President John Pombe Magufuli was among Africa’s most prominent COVID-19  sceptics, even declaring Tanzania to be “coronavirus free” and that the disease had been eliminated by the powers of God. Not only did Magufuli’s government stop publishing data on case numbers and ceased official communications on the disease, but it also enacted a law that criminalised reporting. Magufuli died in March 2021 from what officials stated as heart problems. There were suspicions that the real cause was COVID-19. It is under this context that Buguzi is launching MwanaSayansi. We caught up to him to talk about science journalism in Tanzania and the newspaper. 

Q. What prompted you to launch MwanaSayansi? 

A. During the pandemic, I realised that even though Kiswahili is the main language in our country, communities did not have access to science in that language. I got a small grant to create ‘Corona Swahili’ with the main purpose of spreading information in Swahili as most of the research and information was packaged and disseminated in English which was a disadvantage because fake news and misinformation were spreading fast.  After that, I left to pursue my master’s, but it got me thinking that we need a Swahili publication that can communicate scientific research and information to the masses. After my master’s, I quit my job and launched MwanaSayansi purposely to make all the newsworthy research converted into a news story, journalistically written, well-balanced and accessible to Tanzanians.  

Q. How do you manage to maintain the quality of reporting science in Swahili? 

A. Accuracy of information is the cornerstone of everything that we report on. The challenge usually is when dealing with scientific terminologies that are not in Swahili. In such cases, we either write a sentence out of a word, or fact-find another way of making sure that the same information is delivered without distorting the facts.  

We have the advantage that the whole nation speaks the language and we have always found a way of delivering information without losing the meaning, even if it requires communicating visually, we will do that as long as the audience understands the science.  

In a few instances, we reached out to Baraza la Kiswahili Tanzania, also known as Kiswahili council, to help us with terminologies. [The Kiswahili council is a government institution that manages and coordinates the development and promotion of the swahili language. They are the body mandated to help come up or translate words/terminologies that do not exist in Swahili].

Q. How has the audience responded since you launched MwanaSayansi? 

A. It has been quite positive because people like MwanaSayansi. This is evident from the comments we receive. We have also witnessed the impact of the publication. For instance, we did a story on research from a local university explaining the need to roll out a public transport system on rickshaws powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and how that would save the environment from pollution as well as cut costs of transport. That week, rickshaw operators started flocking to the university to find out if they could convert their rickshaws from petrol to CNG. The main researcher later told us that they didn’t even know of our publication, but they had so many people asking about the information they had read on MwanaSayansi. Other stories have also created public conversations and we know that we the audience is looking forward to our next issue.

Q. What are some of the challenges of running MwanaSayansi? 

A. First, starting a publication like this one in a country where you don’t have enough talent is tough. I have the difficult task of nurturing people, but I am happy I have managed to get a biophysicist student who is onboard and passionate about what we do. He has even written a front-page story for us.   The other challenge of course is financing because MwanaSayansi is not bringing in revenue yet. Right now, we fund it ourselves as a corporate social responsibility of ResearchCom, but we want in the future to have a sustainable business model. We have seen there are free newspapers in Europe like the Evening Standard, Metro, and the People Daily in Kenya and we are trying to learn from their models. We want to reach a stage where we have a model where we still distribute free of charge but get revenue. We don’t want to compete with sensational headlines for us to sell, but spread accurate science with a business model that makes us sustainable. 

Q. How was it covering the covid pandemic?  

A. COVID-19 reporting in Tanzania was very challenging as we didn’t have access to scientists or official information. The government was hiding information and statistics about COVID-19 as the then-president didn’t want our country associated with the coronavirus. It reached a point where you could not write that someone died of COVID-19, so we used to write ‘died due to breathing problems’. There was even a regulation passed in 2020, The Electronic and Postal Communications Act,  which outlawed reporting on any outbreak until the authorities allowed you to report.  

[The Electronic and Postal Communications Act was revised in 2022. The initial law stated that publishing “content with information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities”. Anyone contravening the law would face imprisonment for a minimum of 12 months, a fine of at least five million Tanzania shillings (US$2135), or both].  

It was challenging at the time to communicate science because the president openly issued statements about the virus and vaccination that enhanced negative attitudes toward COVID-19. It became harder to report because the misinformation or disinformation was enhanced by the authorities and scientists who were in support of the government. 

Q. How did you manage to still write stories when your reporting clashed with official government policy or senior government officials? 

A. Such stories I had to do for international publications. I couldn’t write it for a local publication at that time because no local media would accept it. In one instance, there was a case of a senior scientist from the national institution for science stating that COVID-19 vaccination was a form of neo-colonialism. Local publications could not accept a story critiquing that scientist. Those who published a story about that enhanced his words. There is a front-page splash in a local government newspaper saying that COVID-19 vaccination is neo-colonialism.  Even though I was writing the story for an international publication it was not possible to get Tanzanian scientists who were opposed to such views to lend their voices to the article. No one was ready to sacrifice their careers or jobs.  

Q. How would you describe the state of the media in Tanzania? 

A. The state of media was nosediving because of the restrictive laws. The kind of regime we had was making almost everybody tow the official line and up to date, there is still a high level of self-censorship when it comes to critical journalism in Tanzania.  

We are trying to empower journalists though the laws are still not good, so the level of critical reporting is low. However, there are more academic institutions training journalists and there is a growing number of new media initiatives like ours trying to make journalism better by doing unique in-depth reporting. 

Q. Which lessons have you learned along the way that you would like to pass along to upcoming science journalists?  

A. First, learn what science is all about so that you are not in a situation where you get differing opinions from scientists and report it like that. For instance, a scenario where some scientists are differing on a drug, and you do the story about their differing opinions. If they differ, what should I as your reader do? Should I choose who to follow between them?  

There is a responsibility for you as a journalist reporting about science that has to come through learning science and engaging the scientists. It is not necessarily a must that you have to have a science background, because I know good science reporters who don’t have a background in science, but they are thriving because they read widely, research, and embrace science.  

Also, get some relevant training or academic qualifications because when you go through the training, it gives you the confidence to do what you do and the authority over whatever you’d be producing. And when you are cornered somewhere about the basis of your story you don’t end up saying that you did the story because the source told you, or your editor approved the story. You need to be in a position to explain the story and why it matters.  

Source: Reuters.


Syriacus Buguzi on growing science journalism across Africa

“My dream has always been journalism, and I have always wanted to blend journalism with medicine,” says Syriacus Buguzi, a trained medical doctor, who has been a science journalist for over a decade. We caught up with Buguzi to talk to him about his career as a journalist and the first science newspaper published in Kiswahili that he founded on February 14, 2022

MwanaSanyansi newspaper is a product of the startup company, that Buguzi founded, ResearchCOM. The research communication company based in Tanzania, uses science communication skills, science journalism and media strategies to inform society about science research and its impact on people’s well-being. “We leverage the fact that research can make an impact on people’s lives only if its communicated and brought to the attention of both policy makers and people whose lives could be improved,” said Buguzi.

Buguzi is passionate about raising the profile of Tanzania’s scientific research output and innovation through mass media. He works with local scientists and other journalists enabling them to communicate complex, jargon-laden scientific information in more accessible, understandable and engaging forms for the general public.

Buguzi said “through our science writers craft articles and produce a science podcast to keep the public informed about science research and researchers, medicine and science in Tanzania”

You are a trained medical doctor and moved into journalism, why did you decide to make that move? How long were you a doctor and how long have you been a journalist?

It is not about leaving, this has been a process. Whilst still in medical school, I participated in various activities including journalism. I was studying basic journalism while still in medical school at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar es Salaam and I started writing articles and publishing articles firstly in the African Newspaper, in 2010 and then moved on to the Citizen Newspaper while still in medical school. By the time I completed my medical internship in 2013, my plans were to find a way to blend journalism with medicine, because I have always had dreams of doing journalism. In 2015, I needed to define myself, I had these big dreams and had graduated as a medical doctor and by then had started practicing at a private hospital, and I thought about what I wanted to do in the next 10 years and I decided to go into journalism. It has been a process than a matter of leaving one profession for the other.

Why did you start your publication, MwanaSayansi and what is the importance of having a publication that focuses on science and is published in Kiswahili?

During the pandemic, I learned that there was a gap in reporting scientific information to the public. The public in Tanzania predominately speaks Kiswahili, when you are reporting scientific processes/issues in English, you will likely get the majority of the population not getting the information. For a long time, I have always believed that scientific information doesn’t reach the end users in Tanzania, the majority speak Kiswahili and it was as if we were denying them the right to access information and during the pandemic that was evident.

Writing scientific articles or stories can be challenging as some scientific words can lose their meaning when being translated. How do you communicate a story effectively in Kiswahili without losing the silence?

That is one of the biggest challenges we are facing, Kiswahili isn’t a language that has many scientific words and at times it becomes difficult to translate, but we use dictionaries. We try to be accurate as possible, in order for the scientific words to not lose meaning. We have decided to not wait for the scientific words to be included in the language to start writing about science, our aim is for Kiswahili to grow with science and technology, the language should grow as the technology grows. Kiswahili has been declared the language of Africa, so there is a need for Kiswahili to grow further, as technology advances this language must grow.

As a science reporter, how do you ensure that your work is factual and accurate?

Being accurate and factual are the principles of journalism, and we abide by that. Before you speak of science journalism you need to speak of the basics of journalism. As a science journalist and a science newspaper, any conclusion we make needs to be backed up by scientific evidence. We decided to publish this newspaper, MwanaSayansi for researchers to communicate science with the public and what we produce is research evidence, we prefer articles that have been peer-reviewed and are reputable. We probe the science, we don’t just copy what has been written, we are critical of the science. Our number priority is t be accurate and factual.

There has been an uptake in science reporting, but yet, there are still few science journalists. What do you think needs to be done to get more journalists into science reporting, especially here in Africa?

There has been advocacy happening around the world about reporting and writing about science and we have seen many initiatives growing. However, in order to make this uptake increase, more advocacy is needed to sensitise the journalists, show them the potential of science journalism and try to create systems that will enable media houses to realise the importance of science stories. If journalists don’t see science articles published and editors ignore science stories because of the popular belief that science stories don’t resonate, it results in journalists trying to distance themselves from science stories. But if we prioritise science stories, it will mean more journalists will come on board. There is a need for journalists to go for training and I think for anyone interested in science journalism it is an opportune moment to tap into this opportunity and go for training.

How has the public reacted to your science publication? 

The reaction was quite interesting, we got unexpected positive feedback. We were thinking this is a scientific publication there won’t be much interest. Many people said that it was long overdue – to have a scientific publication in Kiswahili. The positive responses have encouraged us to create and deliver more content. We feel more enthusiastic to create content that is interesting, intriguing, and scientific that is easily understandable and empowers people, we don’t want to let them down. We anticipate for this publication to become bigger and a huge audience.

What have been some of the highlights of your career as a science journalist?

I have completed a masters from the University of Sheffield, which is a major highlight and is an indication of my efforts to link science with journalism. The opportunity to publish my work in international publications has helped me gain experience, but the most important thing is the ability to publish a science newspaper in Kiswahili – it is an idea I had for a long time. I moved from being a medical doctor to a science journalist, the process was not easy, it didn’t happen overnight but making that decision was a big achievement.

What advice would you give to upcoming science journalists? Or journalists who are interested in reporting on science and health?

One important thing, is that science journalists need to practice journalism, practicing means learning from people who are already doing it, striving to get the necessary skills to practice it. Also to understand that science journalism is not a platform to praise scientists but its a platform to discuss serious issues about scientific processes. Science journalism is a platform to question methodologies and help society to think through issues that are happening to them – questioning the scientific findings and highlighting the milestones. Journalists should invest in learning about science – it could be through studying, writing or attending short courses.

Source: Jamlab.

    We are a niche Media Company dedicated to communicating science, research and medicine by making it newsworthy and engaging. We use digital communication strategies and solutions journalism. Through story-telling, report writing, audio-visuals and mainstream media strategies, we help science researchers, health NGOs and academic institutions communicate better and strategically.


    Hose No:28, Mabibo External, Dar es Salaam, TZ.