Thursday, December 06, 2012

My open prayer to Almighty God for Malawi

Photo Credit:

O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. Lord, holiness and righteousness belong to you only; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, including the people in government, and those scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you. We have not obeyed the Lord our God, for we have not followed the instructions you give us through your servants. 

Your wrath, Lord God, is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of your people. We have suppressed the truth by our wickedness. For although we know your and your ordinances, yet we have neither glorified you as God nor gave thanks to you. Instead, our thinking has become futile and our foolish hearts are darkened. In professing to be wise, we have became fools. Now we have exchanged your immortal glory and made ourselves equal to animals and creeping creatures.

We have followed the sinful desires of our hearts to sexual impurity and we are degrading our bodies with one another. Lord, you have given us over to our shameful lusts. Our women exchange natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, our men have also abandoned natural relations with women and are inflamed with lust for one another. Men are committing shameful acts with other men, women with fellow women. Now we are receiving the due penalty for our error. We have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. We are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. We are gossipers, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful. Day after day, we invent ways of doing evil. We disobey our parents. We have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

Now the solemn curses and judgments written in your book of law have been poured down on us because of our sin. You have kept your word and done to us and our rulers exactly as you warned us. Our enemies are laughing at us, they are mocking us and we are all filled with shame. Some are removing the landmarks set by our fore fathers. They want to violently take away the portion of our lake in the land of our ancestors. Hunger is looming and drought is approaching. You have commanded the clouds that they rain no rain upon the land because of our wickedness. The ground is parched and cracked because there is no rain in the land. The farmers are ashamed, deeply troubled and dismayed, and they cover their heads in shame.

Lord our God, you alone are merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against you in every way. In view of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn your furious anger away from your beloved nation Malawi. All the neighboring nations mock Malawi and your people because of our sins and the sins of our leaders. O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead before your throne. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. We confess our sins and we repent. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your beautiful land, the country that bears your name, lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear, O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for the nation that bears your name.

We know we have done wrong, but Lord, do not rebuke us in your anger or discipline us in your wrath. Turn, Lord, and deliver us; save us because of your unfailing love. May you open the floodgates of heaven and let the abundant rains fall in the land. Revive and rivers, lakes and streams. Make our land fertile again. Your word, Lord, is eternal and it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations. The laws of nature endure to this day, for all things serve you. As you promise to your servant Noah, we are sure that as long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. Bring us out of this prison of dry spell, that we may praise your name. Then the righteous friends will gather about us for you shall deal bountifully with us.

O God, bless our land of Malawi, and keep it a land of peace!

[This is a paraphrase of Daniel's Prayer of Confession (Daniel 9:4-19) and Paul's letter to the Church in Rome (Romans 1:18-32). There are also some scriptures from Job 24:2, Psalm 142:7, Psalm 119:89-96 and Isaiah 5:6]

Friday, May 25, 2012 Champion your support by supporting your Champions

Sports have been part of our lives from time immemorial. Almost every person is a fan of some sport in one way or the other. For example myself, I do not like football. I do not know more about football teams and their players. But I love cycling, cross country and hiking. I like watching vaulting and skiing though they are not played in Malawi. Sports are a fun.
Social networks have further the fun of sports. If you check statuses on Twitter and Facebook especially when great teams are playing, you will actually marvel at how tweeps and facebookers adore their favourite teams. The text messages that people send each other, the debates in public places, the expression of happiness in streets! Everything surrounding it depicts how people love sports.
Being a sports fan, Soyapi Mumba, saw the need to champion the support for his champions. He developed Owinna, a site to track competitions within Malawi and most popular ones in the diaspora. Owinna started as simple web page in January 2008. It was hosted under Soyapi's personal site, The site received a good feedback from netizens. On a binary date 11/11/11, Owinna was patented with Registrar of Companies in Malawi. - a sports site
 Four years later after the initial release, Soyapi decided to host it as a separate so as to improve the service that the application was providing. He changed the colour themes from blue to green, created a new logo and favicon and started supporting a mobile version of the site. In January 2012, launched launched as a part-time startup. The new Owinna site was developed with a simplistic design in mind. It does not have fancy things and it is fast to load even with sloppy Internet connections.
Now you can follow Owinna on Twitter and Facebook to get up-to-the-minute updates. By following updates from Owinna you champion your support within your peers by supporting your champions! The word Owinna is derived from a Chichewa plural owina meaning winners or champions.
Soyapi Mumba, is a Malawian software developer and blogger. As a developer, he has several applications to his credit. He developed xNumber Puzzle, a cross-number puzzle game that helps you exercise your brain. It is also available on Facebook. He has also developed other useful applications and plugins including a popular Firefox addon, SearchWith, which provides faster way to search highlighted text using various search engine services.
Personally, I owe him a lot, having ushered me to the deep realms of open source. Before I developed the first version of ChicSpell, the Chichewa spell-checker for, Soyapi had already started working with Prof. Kevin Scannell on collecting probably the first ever word-list for an electronic Chichewa spellcheker. When he abandoned it, I adopted it which I continue maintaining it with Prof. Scannell. He has also made contributions to other open-source projects including Ushahidi platform, Baobab Touchscreen Toolkit (initially developed by Mike McKay when he was working full time with Baobab Health), and Unicode for Malawi Currency and calendar system.
Having been in software development for more than ten years, Soyapi is now a full time open-source developer working for Baobab Health as the head of software development department. He is almost always on Twitter and Facebook but rarely posts updates as he is busy with Owinna and other cool stuffs. One thing I have learnt in him is that he very quiet and humble, not geeky but technically well-composed. Above all, he loves his name. You cannot miss it on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Github and almost everywhere on the Internet.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Please Don't Learn to Code Versus Please Learn to Code

I have been following the exchange of advices among technophiles around the world. This exchange has been as a result of of a blogpost by Jeff Atwood. Jeff is the co-founder of now under alongside Joel Spolsky. I have listed some of the the posts that have headlines around the world. I have deliberately left out forum discussions. 

There is one article by Rob Sobers of that was written way back in January but did not catch the attention of many. I have placed it just below that of Jeff. Except for these first two, the articles have been arranged in alphabetical order. I hope you will enjoy them:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How and Why I think I am Devastated: Face of Malawi Plagiarised My Blog Post

I was going through news posted on Hacker News on Y Combinator. Suddenly I bumped on a link that simply said “Plagiarism”, so I was curious to read it. In the article, Joshua Gross, complained that TheNextWeb plagiarised his blog post entitled The $144,146,165 Button. He even cited some sentences where TheNextWeb copied word for word. The article shows he is very much devastated, and I do understand now that he has a good reason why he is devastated like that.

On Friday 11 May 2012, I wrote an article about How and Why I think Malawi has to Move on with Software Localization. I published it on that day because it was the birthday of Professor Kevin Scannell of Saint Louis University, one of my friends and mentors in natural language technologies. Prof. Scannell is the developer of, a site that collects tweets and blogs in under-represented languages. Prof. Scannell and I have been close friends for close to 5 years now and publishing the post was a subtle way (quoting his words on chat) of saying happy birthday to him. I kept the post in my Kanjedza (that is the name of my laptop) since 30 April 2012 when I conceived it.

I developed the blog-post from a comment I made on a picture on Facebook. A friend of mine, Patrick Kalamula of PatKay Graphics, tagged me on a graphic captioned Microsoft Mawu, depicting Microsoft Word with a Chichewa interface. I was a excited about it, a wishful thinking I may call it. I was responding to Patrick's comment that he would not love working on a Chichewa word processor because he finds even the Chichewa bible hard to understand. I can actually hinted that I would just copy and paste-blog it. You can check my comment is still there on Microsoft Mawu.

Joshua Gross article on plagiarism made me think twice about my blog post. I did a simple search on Google to see how many have written something similar to what I just blogged. I was very much astounded to find that Face of Malawi plagiarised my post. I am have been very much devastated too.
What Face of Malawi have done is just making a word for word copy-and-paste of my post. They have not changed anything. I am sure they got it from Twitter where I posted soon after publishing it. What they have managed to do is to paraphrase the article title and add a picture on it. They were too quick to plagiarise such that they copied it before I edited a few things on it. The time I was writing this post, I could still see my silly mistakes on their post:
  • But language regulatory bodies and linguists always have great concerns over the “unsupervised growth” of terminologies. (I removed quotes in this statement because the phrase unsupervised growth was italicized and I wanted to keep formatting uniform.)
  • Chichewa is just 38% (5/13 — ija, Panopa, pa, ina, yake). (I left the word Panopa titleized)

  • I have always argued on elsewhere that it is volatile and unpredictable. (In my original post, I replaced the word Twitter with elsewhere and forgot to remove the preposition on)
You will also notice that the post on Face of Malawi is lacking some statements that I added later on:   
  • Both mean the same: "Some banks were opened long ago but they do not have a lot of customers"
  • The whole issue of localization comes to a bottleneck because there seem to be a tag of war between developers of new terminologies and users of such terminologies. Terminologists are fast developing new terminologies when the users are not ready or willing to use them. In languages of business, terminologies easily flow in. But that leaves other languages with the task of generating new terminologies or risk dilution.
They have not asked for my permission to repost it on their site. I am a simple blogger, they are a giant website. If you search my article on Google, their plagiarised article is appearing on top. It may look simple but this is distracting. My readers' traffic is technically being detoured from my original post to theirs.

I think what Face of Malawi have done is not good and should not be condoned. There are better ways of copying someone's work. They could drop me an email, asking for permission. Of course, I have no problems in anyone publishing my views but they should inform me first. I am proud to see my views being cherished out there. What I write on my blog are personal views and they cannot even defend why I wrote the way I did, and so they have no authority to plagiarise they way they did. I would ask them to apologise and recognise that I wrote it first. I am sure I have not offended anyone in publishing this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How and Why I think Malawi has to Move on with Software Localization

We are in the technological era and the use of ICT is not news any more. Even in the remote areas of Africa, we find someone using at least a mobile phone. It has been argued that even smart phones are becoming more popular in villages. This is good news, but not everyone is enjoying this to the maximum. Let's face the reality, a larger section of villagers are not enjoying the services that we all enjoy: blogs, social media (WhatsApp, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Skype, etc), you name them. Most of them just know how to make and answer calls. A few more are able to read and compose text messages, otherwise I have seen many more that do not even know what to do when text messages come on their phones.

I have always argued in various forums that in order to remove this language barrier, software localization is one of the best alternatives to make ICT appropriate to a target population. Localization of software involves adapting technologies to the linguistic, cultural and technical requirements of a target group of people. However if not handled carefully, software localization cannot achieve its intended purposes. One of the problems that native speakers find is to manage the influx of new terminologies that are begging their way into the language vocabulary. Generally, most people do not mind much about that as far as they communicate. But language regulatory bodies and linguists always have great concerns over the unsupervised growth of terminologies.

Somehow, leaving the terminologies to grow by themselves is very dangerous. Since a lot of terminologies that come in are loaned, they pose a lot of threat to the linguistic and phonological structures of the target language. For example, in Chichewa, the term banki is borrowed from the English word bank. The plural is banki or mabanki, and it is not clear yet which is the correct form. Regular users may not necessarily think that this is an issue, but for linguists it poses a lot of problems and inconsistencies in trying to grammatically categorise words like these. You may also wish to recall that Chichewa nouns affect sentence structure because they determine the right argument markers (called agwirizanitsi in Chichewa) to associate with. In Chichewa noun system, the noun banki belongs to class 9. Generally, class 9 plurals are in class 10. Thus, banki (sing. Class 9) => banki (pl. class 10) makes sense, while banki (sing. Class 9) => mabanki (pl. class 2/class 6) does not, yet it is the mostly used plural form. Compare the markers in the following two sentences: Banki zina zinatsegulidwa kale koma zilibe anthu ambiri. and Mabanaki ena anatsegulidwa kale koma alibe anthu ambiri. Both mean the same: "Some banks were opened long ago but they do not have a lot of customers") This is the case with other loanwords like ofesi (office), kapu (cup) et cetera. (For those that do not understand this number-based noun classification system: the word banki sounds to nicely belong to I-Zi class, but using mabanki creates a new classification, I-Ma, which is ungrammatical; just as pluralizations nkhuku => mankhuku and nyanja => manyanja can sound very awkward).

The worst case scenario is where the language becomes completely immersed into another language. Look at this Chichewa sentence in youth slang: Ndatrapa ngini ija magaye. Panopa ndikudona pa nide, titchekana boboo thayimu ina yake. Chichewa is just 38% (5/13 --- ija, panopa, pa, ina, yake). The rest is Chinglish: Chichewalised English. If we juxtapose it with an equivalent English sentence, it can be seen that this phrase is “skin-to-skin transliteratable” (forget about semantics here): I have trapped that thing, guys. I am downing to my den. We will check each other some time. So little by little English is eating away our language and if anything cannot done as soon as possible, we will lose out our beautiful language. Of course, I have a problem with youth slang. I have always argued elsewhere that it is volatile and unpredictable. As such, we cannot rely on it very much though we cannot deny the fact that it is influencing Chichewa language in general.

Linguists tell us that language (just like any cultural element) is dynamic. We take English as an example: In 1500-1600s, no one raised eyebrows if you spoke like this: I hath purposed to come unto thee, but was let hitherto. In this statement let means to prevent from. But you can agree with me that the word let now means allow as depicted in this phrase: Please let me go. This is exactly opposite to the original meaning . Similarly, the word gay does not carry the same meaning it used to carry some few years ago, because it is now more associated with sex orientation and not necessarily excitement. Chichewa has also changed overtime. For example, Chichewa that is in the widely used bible version, Buku Lopatulika ndilo Mawu a Mulungu, was translated by William Percival Johnson in 1912 and ever since it has not been modified. (By this, I am not referring to these parallel translations/versions: Malembo Woyera or Buku Loyera). There are some grammatical and semantical errors but Bible Society of Malawi is afraid to correct them (I don't know why). Leaving that aside, 1912 Chichewa is not the same as 2012 Chichewa. Exactly 100 years have passed and there are a lot of things that have changed about Chichewa language. For example, 1 Timothy 3:6 is translated as Asakhale wophunza. Wophunza means novice, but it took me time (and age) to grasp its meaning and understand that wophunza is the root for wophunzira (student). Nowadays, a better translation would be Asakhale wongobadwa mwatsopano (i.e. He must not be a new convert). In addition, in those days a town was called mudzi but today we know it as tawuni, and indeed tawuni is not mudzi (village). Given another 100 years or so, Pure Chichewa will not be the same.

The whole issue of localization comes to a bottleneck because there seem to be a tag of war between developers of new terminologies and users of such terminologies. Terminologists are fast developing new terminologies when the users are not ready or willing to use them. In languages of business, terminologies easily flow in. But that leaves other languages with the task of generating new terminologies or risk dilution. However, localization when viewed from a positive angle, it is a way of preserving a language. It is well-known that languages from the West are mostly associated with economic influence and are little by little subduing other indigenous languages.

In this technological era, every language that wants to survive has to move with fashion. English is fast adapting. Words like mouse, server, breadcrumbs, web do not have same meanings as they used to before 1960s. Similarly, words like blog, facebook (verb), google (verb), tweet (verb) have just born now with the invention of technology. So what is all this noise I am trying to make? We still need translation for our languages to survive and also for the larger section of Malawians that do not understand English. But we need to adjust with time. The language should retain its originality without imposing unnecessary rigour to contemporary readers/writers.