Ngugi and Mazrui in Digitalization Policy

Practitioner Insights into The Role of Language in Decolonising Digitalisation Policy


  • Nanjala Nyabola King's College London



Language, Kiswahili, Digitalisation, decolonisation, Kenya, Development, developmentalism, digital technology, policy


Digitalisation of public service provision has been and remains a pillar of the Kenyan government’s approach to development. Kenya has explicitly linked digitalisation to its ambitions for development – an approach that is echoed in the political campaign materials produced and distributed by all major political parties in the country. Yet the country’s digital policy continues to be developed primarily in English, as the countries continues to build and also receive digital technologies built elsewhere, primarily in English. This paper argues that in the context of postcolonial societies like Kenya and Tanzania, this has a distinct impact of deepening power differentials within the society that are rooted in ‘coloniality’ as defined by Grosfoguel. The use of colonial languages in the creation and dissemination of digital policy is an obstacle to decolonising the internet in postcolonial societies.
Building from Ngugi’s work on indigenous languages in public life, the paper argues that to properly map the terrain of decolonial praxis in technology, we must engage with the power differentials embedded in how languages are perceived and experienced in postcolonial societies. Languages, the paper argues, are not only a key component of colonial violence as Ngugi argued, but they also perpetuate the power disparities of incomplete decolonisation, including for example the perception of those who speak indigenous languages as their index language as being lower class and therefore more abstract to power. The paper then summarises a project developed by the author to create a lexicon for digital rights in Kiswahili as an example of some of the decolonial praxis that is necessary to addressing these power disparities in countries like Kenya and Tanzania. In this way, the paper not only proposes a theoretical argument for decolonisation but also offers a practical example of what meaningful decolonial praxis of digital technologies can look like. Overall, the paper argues that decolonisation of digital technologies is imperative to addressing the coloniality embedded in digitalisation policy in Kenya.


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How to Cite

Ngugi and Mazrui in Digitalization Policy: Practitioner Insights into The Role of Language in Decolonising Digitalisation Policy. (2024). Technology and Regulation, 2024, 63-72.