Meet Justin Sègbédji Ahinon, Fon language activist

Photo provided by Justin Sègbédji Ahinon.

In 2019 as part of a social media campaign to celebrate linguistic diversity online, African language activists and advocates will be taking turns managing the @DigiAfricanLang Twitter account to share their experiences with the revitalization and promotion of African languages. This profile post is about Justin Sègbédji Ahinon (@justinahinon1) and what he plans to discuss during his week as host.

Rising Voices: Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Justin Sègbédji Ahinon. Actually, only a few people know that Sègbédji is also my name, so for most, I'm just Justin Ahinon. I've felt the need to use Sègbédji regularly and tell it to people asking my name about 2 years ago.

I've studied Applied Statistics and Economics. And currently I'm fixing the web (aka working web/digital projects stuffs) at Sèmè City, a special economic zone in Benin offering incentives for investment and job creation through higher education, scientific research and incubation of innovative business; while I was not initially supposed to have a career in software/web engineering.

I'm also involved in some open science/open access initiatives in Benin and in Africa, such as AfricArxiv, a digital repository for Africa/African specific contents, AfricaOSH, a gathering of people to promote open science & hardware on the continent, or Idemi Africa, an initiative to reinforce the presence of contents in African languages on the web.

RV: What is the current status of your language on the internet and offline?

I speak Fɔ̀ngbè, a widely spoken language in Benin, Togo, and some parts of Nigeria.

In terms of literature, the language has been the subject of many studies in relation to its history, structure, grammar, etc… While some of these studies are easily retrievable, many are not yet available because they have not been digitized, for example. Efforts still need to be made in this direction.

Also many authors have also made efforts to popularize it through tales, poetry and novels.

RV: On what topics do you plan to focus during the week that you’ll manage the @DigiAfricanLang Twitter account?

During the week on @DigiAfricanLang, I plan to talk about the place the utilization and the accessibility of (African) languages in tech.

More specifically, I will talk about the case of content production and management tools such as Medium, Tumblr, WordPress (much more); and how they position themselves in relation to content in languages other than the most widely spoken (French, English, Arabic or Spanish) and also how they make their platform accessible to people who want to produce content in these languages.

RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism for your language? What are your hopes and dreams for your language?

I was raised in an environment where I mainly spoke French, the official language of my country. Later, I had to learn English because I need to communicate with other people in the world.

For a long time I (voluntarily) ignored and did not really use my mother tongue. I later discovered that some languages may disappear, and some have already disappeared in regions such as the Caribbean, North America or Southern Africa precisely because they were not sufficiently popularized.

And Internet is now a powerful vector for popularization of these languages and I want to use my skills and experiences to make them better represented. My commitment to this cause is therefore a way of first appropriating my own language, historically, culturally, and at the same time to popularize it alongside with other underrepresented language on the web.

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