The African Interpretation Market
Our region has some of the most sought-after MICE destinations in the world. There is a high demand for interpretation services during multilingual events provided by a pool of highly skilled interpreters.
Main Working Languages
The main working languages used in the African market are English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and Spanish as well Chinese and Russian. And evidently, since Africa is a continent with rich linguistic diversity, African languages are also used in national parliaments and international meetings, with Swahili leading the pack.
Our services are sought by the African Union (AU) and its organs, the African Development Bank (AfDB), Regional Economic Communities (RECs), United Nations organisations and agencies, financial institutions, international NGOs and government institutions, to name a few. Other clients that know AIIC refer to the blue book (AIIC Directory) or its online version to find interpreters based on their needs. Using this tool and others, UN agencies have generated databases, which they use to contract interpreters for events across the world.
The Agreement Sector represents UN organisations that are signatories to the UNCEB-AIIC Agreement, which defines interpreters’ working conditions. The main UN organisations located on the African continent include the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) in Nairobi, Kenya, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) in Brazzaville, Congo.
The non-Agreement Sector comprises organisations that do not have a specific agreement with AIIC but have their own consultancy contracts with individual interpreters. The AU and its organs and the AfDB as well as institutions in the private market fall in this category.
The slump in global economic activity has not spared our industry. Budgetary constraints slashed event management allocations.
Consequently, the market has suffered a serious backlash and competition for offers is stiff. Under the circumstances, professionals with niche markets strive to secure their client base by excellence and professionalism.
A new development in the AIIC Africa Region is the increase of interpretation schools in the Region. Besides the European Commission and United Nations Office at Nairobi-sponsored interpreter training programmes run by the Pan African Masters Consortium in Interpretation & Translation (PAMCIT) in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, and Senegal. There are many other private initiatives on the continent. Cameroon, for example, which had one interpretation school for 25 years, has witnessed a five-fold increase in the number of schools.
These initiatives will go a long way in boosting the number of trained interpreters in the African market, and consequently, the supply of skilled professionals.
In a market threatened by economic constraints, the last thing we needed was the stealthy arrival on the scene of the deadly Coronavirus in 2020. Many meetings were cancelled.
As the world yearns for a return to normalcy after the Covid-19 curve drops, the glimmer of hope now lies in remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). Although it remains unknown how successful several initiatives launched to adjust interpretation practice to suit current changes imposed by the virus will be, it is crystal clear that the market will never be the same again. Technical guidance on RSI is crucial.
Hence the need for interpreters to envisage a major paradigm shift with training to harness technological assistance.