Kiswahili as a National and International Language


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Mar 11, 2006
Nimepata habari hii kutoka kwenye mtandao wa kiswahili jamani someni habari hii imetulia pia naomba maoni yenu.

Kiswahili as a National and International Language
By M.M. Mulokozi
Institute of Kiswahili Research,
University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


Kiswahili is officially one of the four national languages of the
Democratic Republic of the
Congo – DRC (former Zaire), and the national language of Kenya,
Tanzania and Uganda. In this
paper we shall, however, limit our discussion to the status and
situation of Kiswahili as a national
language in Tanzania. The situation of Kiswahili in the DRC, Kenya
and Uganda, and beyond,
will be highlighted when we discuss the issue of Kiswahili as an
international language in the
second part of this presentation.
The story of the rise of Kiswahili as a national language in Tanzania
is well-known and
we shall not repeat it here (cf. Whiteley 1969; Chiraghdin and
Mnyampala 1977; Khamisi 1974;
Mbaabu 1991; Heine 1990; Legere 1990). Suffice it to say that the
rise and spread of Kiswahili
from a community language to a lingua franca, and finally a national
language, was largely
demand driven in the socio-economic sense. This development was
assisted by many factors,
among them the following:
(a) The maritime trade;
(b) The caravan trade into the interior and the accompanying
commercial empire building,
especially in the Congo;
(c) The rise of Zanzibar as East Africa's commercial capital;
(d) The Bantu cultural complex, with its close affinity to the
Swahili complex, and its cultural
and political tolerance;
(e) The relative cultural and linguistic homogeneity of the Swahili
(f) The factor of Islam.
Most of the above factors, plus:
(g) German colonial language policy, which made Kiswahili the
language of the lower levels of
administration, education and the military;
(h) Christian missionary activity, including alphabetization, book
printing and publishing;
(i) The mass media, especially introduction of Kiswahili newspapers,
magazines and
periodicals, and, after 1950, the radio and television;
(j) Cultural activities, especially pop culture, such as music, games
and sports, ceremonies,
rituals, dances, dramas and movies;
(k) Economic and social changes, including urbanization, migrant wage
labour (notably
plantation economy), and the accompanying trade unionism, new
infrastructures, especially
the railways and roads;
(l) Nationalist politics (the Maji Maji war, the workers movement
from the 1930, the peasants
movements; the struggle for independence from 1940s onwards);
(m) The school system.
In this paper, we shall focus on the post independence period, that
is from about 1960 to the
present, with emphasis on the last decade, i.e. 1990-2000. We shall
look briefly at the process of
development and consolidation of Kiswahili as a national language in
Tanzania, the factors that
favored its adoption or acceptance, and the obstacles that have to be
overcome. For our present
purpose, we would define a national language as a language that is
widely spoken, understood
and accepted by a given national community as constituting their
common heritage, serving as
their collective cultural and political symbol and identity, and
expressing their common ideals
and aspiration.
On the "international" level, we shall review the spread and
consolidation of Kiswahili as
a sub-regional language in Eastern and Central Africa, its potential
as a pan-African language,
and its spread and status as a world language in the age of
globalization and the cyberspace.
Kiswahili as a national language in Tanzania
Tanzania comprises former Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which united in
1964 to form the United
Republic of Tanzania. The country has a population of about 33
million. About 120 different
languages are spoken. Kiswahili has been the language of Zanzibar and
the Tanzanian coast for
centuries. It spread upcountry in the 18th and 19 centuries, thanks
to the factors mentioned above.
Hence, at Tanganyika's independence in 1961, most people in
Tanganyika already spoke or
understood Kiswahili. Naturally, soon after independence, in 1962,
Julius Nyerere, the first
president, declared Kiswahili the national language, and made a
dramatic departure from colonial
practice by address the parliament in Kiswahili.
Nyerere realized that simply declaring Kiswahili the national
language was not enough;
policies, structures and programs for its development and
dissemination had to be put in place.
This was largely accomplished by 1970. Policies that directly or
indirectly impinged on the
fortunes of Kiswahili included the following:
(a) Adoption of Kiswahili as the national language: 1962
(b) Adoption of the policy of Ujamaa and self-reliance: 1967
This included creation of factories, state farms and Ujamaa villages
which brought together
people from different linguistic backgrounds, hence enhancing the use
of Kiswahili;
(c) Adoption of Kiswahili as the official language of government: 1967
(d) Adoption of the policy of Education for Self-reliance: 1968
This included adoption of Kiswahili as the sole language of
instruction in primary schools;
This entailed translating most of the existing government documents,
forms, labels,
designations, etc. into Kiswahili. It also meant that the Advanced
Kiswahili Examination
was now compulsory for all senior civil servants who did not have the
requisite Kiswahili
language qualifications;
(e) Abandonment of the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations :
1970 (?)
Henceforth a student had to pass Kiswahili in order to get a
certificate (prior to that, one
had to pass English),
(e) Adoption of the Cultural Policy (Sera ya Utamaduni): 1997
The following governmental structures that were put in place to
implement the new policy on
(a) Creation of the Ministry of Culture: 1962
(b) Creation of the IKR: 1964
(c Creation of Tanzania Publishing House 1966
(d) Creation of the national Kiswahili Council BAKITA: 1967
(e) Creation of the Department of Kiswahili at UDSM: 1970
(g) Establishment of EACROTANAL: 1976
(f) Establishing of Institute of Kiswahili and Foreign
Languages, Zanzibar – TAKILUKI: 1978
(g) Establishment of the Zanzibar Kiswahili Council (BAKIZA)1986
(h) Creation of Mfuko wa Utamaduni Tanzania
(Tanzania Culture Fund): 1998
This is in addition to pre-existing structures/institut ions, such as
Radio Tanzania, Sauti ya
Zanzibar, Newspapers, publishing houses such as EALB, and NGOs (such
as The Poet's
Organization, UKUTA, established around 1958). The impressive list of
institutions does indicate
that the government of the day was committed to the promotion of the
national language, since
many of these were government-funded. Yet, there was a catch that was
to have serious
consequences later, as we shall show. That catch concerned the
language of education.
By 1970, Kiswahili was already by and large accepted as the national
language by
practically all Tanzanians. Most national activities in Tanzania,
including most government
business, parliamentary debates, primary courts, primary education,
etc. were being conducted in
Kiswahili. Only one area of contention remained, i.e. secondary and
higher education.
The Five Year Development Plan of 1969 noted this problem, and
proposed to introduce
a gradual change over of the medium from English to Kiswahili, so
that by 1974, Kiswahili
should have taken over as the sole medium of secondary education.
Unfortunately, this did not
happen. Meanwhile, a heated national debate regarding "English-versus-
Kiswahili" in education
raged on between 1965 and the early 1980s. The draft Makweta Report
on Education (1982)
proposed that Kiswahili should become the medium of secondary
education from 1985. The final
version approved by government and issued in 1982. But the government
had a different opinion:
it directed that English should remain the medium of secondary and
higher education, apparently
This unleashed the language debate anew. The government and pro-
English elite defends
its position in various fora, and is duly rebuffed by the pro-
Kiswahili group. The debates take
place mostly in the media, but also occasionally in journals, books,
seminars, and parliamentary
sessions. While the debaters may have changed, the arguments have
not: The pro-English
arguments are largely technical and international: They reject
Kiswahili for now (if not for ever)
because there are not enough scientific terms, not enough books, the
cost would be prohibitive,
we need an international language ; English is the doorway to science
and technology; we have to
communicate with other peoples. Some like Nyerere add that if we
change the medium to
Kiswahili English would die, since there would be no incentive to
learn it. The pro-Kiswahili
debaters emphasize the pedagogical aspects, that children learn
better in a language that they
know best; the general lack of English mastery among teachers and
pupils; the failure of English
to deliver "the goods" up to now; the alienating role of English in
Tanzania; the danger of
sacrificing knowledge to foreign language acquisition; the need to
democratize education,
national and cultural pride, etc.
When Benjamin Mkapa became president in 1995, he cleverly evaded the
question by directing that the debate should continue. And so it
In 1997, the Ministry responsible for Culture issued the Cultural
Policy document, which
was duly endorsed by the parliament. The policy, for the first time,
recognized the other
indigenous languages (besides Kiswahili) as a major national
heritage, and proposed that they
should be studied, researched and documented, and that they should
serve as a resource base for
the national language (Sera ya Utamaduni, page 17-18). It also
proposed that
Mpango maalumu wa kuiwezesha elimu na mafunzo katika ngazi zote
kutolewa katika lugha
ya Kiswahili utaandaliwa na kutekelezwa.
A special action plan to enable education and instruction at all
levels to be given in
Kiswahili shall be prepared and implemented (Translation: M.M.
(Wizara ya Elimu na Utamaduni, Sera ya Utamaduni, p. 19).
A meeting held at Arusha on 24-28 May 1999 to discuss and lay down
strategies for
implementation of the Cultural Policy proposed that a program of
implementation of the proposed
changeover of the medium should be prepared immediately so that
Kiswahili can become the
medium within five years, starting from Form I and moving up
gradually. The National Kiswahili
Council (BAKITA) was entrusted with the task of coordinating the
drafting of the program,
which task has now been completed. We are now eagerly awaiting the
government's reaction.
What is certain is that the initiative for change in the sixties and
early seventies came
from above, and was thus given political sanction and the needed
resources. That is why it
succeeded. Today, the pressure for change is coming from below, and
the government does not
seem to be willing to move along with the democratizing forces. Hence
the impasse.
One possible reason for this obstinacy on the part of the government
is the changed
socio-economic and ideological reality. The so-called collapse of
communism changed the
political and economic landscape in Tanzania and Africa generally.
Tanzania, like other small,
formerly one party, states, was forced to "liberalize. " The
liberalization ushered in so called
"pluralism" which really meant multi-partism politically, and "free
enterprise" economically.
With the government divesting from economic management, foreign
capitalists, mostly from
South Africa, Europe and the Far East, rushed in to fill the vacuum.
This has increased control of
the economy by foreigners and their local, mostly non-patriotic
collaborators. These in turn have
acquired a stake in, or are in a position to pressurize, the
government. As a result, formerly
patriotic or people-oriented agendas have been abandoned.
This, coupled with the current atmosphere of globalization and Anglo-
hegemony over the world, has ensured that the national culture,
including language, is sidelined
in favour of foreign, mostly Anglo-American, culture and language.
This phenomenon is also reflected in a new disturbing development on
the education
scene - the rise of the English medium primary schools,
dubbed "Academies" by their proprietors.
Partly perhaps in reaction to the pathetic state of government
schools, and partly as an expression
of rejection of Kiswahili and fascination with English as the
language of the new elite, parents
who are able and willing are herding their mesmerized little kids
into these schools, where they
are taught to sing English lullabies, play English games, worship
English gods, recite English
snow-and-daffodils rhymes, etc. So far these schools are doing good
business financially if not
pedagogically. That their hybrid products might eventually fit into
neither Tanzanian nor English
society is a matter for the future, and does not seem to worry the
parents at present (on Kiswahili,
globalization and the future see: Mdee, J.S and Mwansoko, H.J.M
(eds): Kongamano la
Kimataifa: Kiswahili 2000: Preceedings. TUKI, 2001; Kihore, Y &
Chuwa, A.R Kiswahili katika
Karne ya Ishirini na Moja. TUKI (no date)
The main obstacle in the way of the flowering of Kiswahili as a
national language in Tanzania is
the absence of a viable, robust national economic base that can
engender a proactive bourgeoisie
and a strong working class, and hence foster patriotic policies. This
situation has led to: (a) The
current economic, outward-looking liberalism that has inevitably
fostered outward-looking
cultural and linguistic policies; (b) The rise of a compradorial, non-
patriotic, Anglophile
bourgeoisie that is bent on enriching itself at the expense of the
national interests; (c) The erosion
of self-confidence among Tanzanians, especially the youth and the
elite, reading to a resurgence
of a slavish, aping mentality and practice, known in Kiswahili as
kasumba, which had been more
or less successfully combated in the 1960s.
These factors have encouraged admiration and worship of foreign
things, including the
huge Japanese cars known as shangingis, and foreign cultural
manifestations, including music,
cinema and videos, dress, technology and languages. Concomitantly,
they have led to rejection, or
being ashamed, of ones African traits and practices, including skin
colour and hair, beliefs,
religion, languages, names, music, etc.
The reaction of the common people, who are the victims of these
developments, has been
mixed. Some have resorted to strikes, street riots and anarchist
actions; some, out of frustration,
have taken the spiritual route and joined the mushrooming born-again
churches, many of them
linked to American churches; and some have rejected the Western
values altogether and opted for
Eastern ones (the Muslim youth) or traditional African ones (cf. the
resurgence of traditional
religion and rituals, e.g. MIDEA in Kilosa).
The other obstacle in the way of Kiswahili is a legal one: Kiswahili
became the national
language through popular proclamation and practice, but not legally.
There is no law passed by
parliament declaring Kiswahili the national language. The
Constitution of Tanzania of 1977,
which was written in Kiswahili, does not even mention Kiswahili as
the national language.
The final obstacle is competition from English, which also vies for a
national status in
Tanzania, and has ample material support from Britain and America,
and significant moral
support from within Tanzania. The final show-down between the two
languages is yet to be
Factors favouring Kiswahili
The same factors that favoured the spread of Kiswahili in the past
two centuries are still at work
today. The demand for Kiswahili is still there, not only in Tanzania,
but also in the neighbouring
countries. The phenomenal urbanization now taking place means that
Kiswahili is becoming the
mother tongue of millions of Tanzanian town-dwellers who speak no
other language; the failure
of efforts to promote English means that even "educated" Tanzanians
are more comfortable
speaking Kiswahili than English (thus students at the University of
Dar es salaam currently
conduct their social and political activities in Kiswahili, not in
English as was previously the
case).1 The liberalization has brought about unprecedented increase
in Kiswahili-language private
newspapers, television and radio stations.
On the political level, multipartyism has even made the need for
Kiswahili more evident
– whoever wants to rule Tanzanians has to be able to campaign
successfully in Kiswahili so as to
get votes. Parliamentary debates are still conducted in Kiswahili, so
are most public functions.
On the social level, the increasing mobility, intermarriages and
interactions are blurring
the ethnic differences, kneading all Tanzanians into a more or less
homogeneous nation. Popular
culture (such as music, fiction, drama, festivals, etc) is also
entrenching Kiswahili more and more
into the social fabric.
Problem areas for the future
Three problem areas remain to be addressed in future. The first area
is secondary and higher
education. Teaching at these levels is still formerly conducted in
broken English, though in
practice most teachers in secondary schools resort to Kiswahili to
make themselves
understandable. The other area pertains to the law courts (district
and high courts), which still use
English to record judgements, although the sessions are usually
bilingual. The final problem area
is science ( including social sciences) and technology. Swahilists
will have to work hard with
professionals in different fields to develop an adequate corpus of
terminology in all fields, and to
write or translate books and papers from those fields into Kiswahili.
On the international level, Kiswahili has scored more marks than was
thought possible twenty
years ago. Kiswahili is now spoken or understood by about 80-100
million people in the
following countries:
- D.R. Congo: 15,000,000
- Burundi: 2,000,000
- Kenya: 20,000,000
- Rwanda: 2,000,000
- Tanzania: 32,000,000
- Uganda: 8,000,000
- Others:2 1,000,000
TOTAL 80,000,000
The following four anecdotes may serve to illustrate the demand for
Kiswahili as an international
language within Africa and beyond.
Anecdote 1
This first anecdote was narrated to me by a Malawian politician of
the Indepedence struggle,
Kanyama Chiume when we met at the UDSM on 21 September, 2001. He said
that in May 1959,
a meeting of all leaders of freedom movements was convened by Sekou
Toure in Conakry,
Guinea. The leaders who attended the conference came from
both "French speaking" and
"English speaking" countries. Among the participants were Chiume
himself and Patrice
Lumumba of Congo. The delegates duly assembled in the conference
room, but for the first two
hours nothing happened because the delegates had no common language
in which to
communicate. It was Kanyama Chiume who saved the day. He proposed
that since the
Francophone comrades could not communicate with their Anglophone
counterparts, why not use
an African language to bridge the gap? Then he went on to propose
Kiswahili as that language.
Lumumba came from Eastern Congo and could speak Kiswahili and French.
Chiume came from
Nyasaland (now Malawi) and could speak Kiswahili and English. It was
therefore proposed that
the Francophone delegates would speak in French, Lumumba would
translate their speeches into
Kiswahili for Chiume, and Chiume would translate them into English
for the benefit of the
Anglophone delegates. Likewise, the Anglophone speeches would be
translated into Kiswahili by
Chiume so that Lumumba can in turn translate them into French. Thus
the meeting went on
successfully. 3
Anecdote 2
In 1965, the Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara, went to Eastern Congo
to try and organized a
guerilla war in collaboration with Laurent Kabila and others, against
imperialism. He and his
Cuban comrades soon discovered that in order to operate in the Congo
bush they needed to learn
Kiswahili, which was the main language of the struggle. Thus the
Cubans had to adopt Kiswahili
noms de guerra, such as Moja, Mbili, Tatu, Nne, Tano…Kumi, Ishirini,
Arobaini, Sitini, Agano,
Baraka, Bendera, Tembo, etc. Che himself was known as Tatu. (Cf.
Ernesto Che Guevara 2000:
Anecdote 3
In 1988, I had an opportunity to visit Zimbabwe for the first time.
While strolling in the city, I
and was surprised to come across a pub labeled "Nyama Choma." Later,
I went into a shop to buy
some item, and as soon as I spoke, the shop attendant, a young man in
his thirties, asked me in
Kiswahili: "Wewe unatoka Tanzania?" "Ndiyo, umejuaje?" I answered
back. He explained that
he could tell from my English accent. Henceforth we switched to
Kiswahili, and he explained to
me that he was a former freedom fighter, and was trained at
Nachingwea in Tanzania; that's how
he came to learn Kiswahili. [I had a similar experience in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2000, where
a female shop attendant and a manager of the hotel in which I was
staying spoke to me in perfect
Kiswahili; they had both lived or studied in Kenya for a while].
Anecdote 4
In 1986, I was in Britain on a short fellowship. I went to Glasgow in
Scotland one weekend to
visit a Tanzanian friend who was studying there. In the evening we
went to a pub for a drink.
There were a number of local customers, mostly old or aging men. We
sat in one corner and
talked animatedly in Kiswahili as we drank our beer. Then, after
about thirty minutes, an old man
who had been sitting alone in another corner came over to our table
and said in perfect Kiswahili:
"Hamjambo mabwana? Nimekuwa nikiwasikiliza kwa muda wote. Nadhani
mnatoka Tanzania.
Habari za Tanzania?" He then offered to buy us a drink, and conversed
with us in Kiswahili for a
while; he told us that he had been a British government official in
Kenya before Independence.
These five anecdotes ( and one could give a lot more) contain one
message: That
Kiswahili is indeed a widely spoken international language that can
crop up in the most
unexpected corners. Its recent development in this respect has indeed
been spectacular.
In Kenya, Kiswahili has been gaining in strength since the mid-
eighties, thanks to a
deliberate push by government. It was made a compulsory subject in
all secondary schools; the
products of the schools are the new young Kenyan adults whose command
of the standard
language is discernibly better than that of their parents'
generation. The expansion of University
education in the eighties and nineties has also produced many
Kiswahili scholars and teachers,
probably not less than 2000 graduates a year. As a result, Kenyan
schools now have a cadre of
well-trained Kiswahili teachers whose products will also hopefully be
good Kiswahili speakers.
The Kenyan Kiswahili print media (newspapers) has not expanded, but
the book
publishing media has expanded considerably. Kenya is currently
producing more Kiswahili
general and text books than Tanzania, and its publishing and
distribution network is still intact,
unlike in Tanzania where publishing has largely collapsed. The
broadcasting media (radio and
TV) is also doing quite well though its expansion lags behind that
observable in Tanzania.
Kiswahili programs dominate the main radio and television channels,
and Kenyan Kiswahili
soaps and to dramas, such as Tausi, are extremely popular in
Tanzania. This has somewhat
popularized Kenyan Kiswahili in Tanzania, so that some Tanzanian TV
dramas are now
employing it to humourous effect.
Yet Kenya still has more work to do so as to introduce Kiswahili in
all spheres of public
life, including parliament, government operations and education. At
present, Kiswahili is mainly
used at political rallies, and in commerce, culture (e.g. music and
drama), religion and sports.
Mugambi (1999: 117) complains that in Kenya Kiswahili is more of an
academic and political
language, but is yet to serve an integrative function. The Finish
example shows that such a
function can also be performed by literature, such as a national folk
epic like Kalevala (Mulokozi
In Uganda, the use of Kiswahili has also expanded gradually, in spite
of resistance from
hard-core Baganda traditionalist. More Ugandans are now interested in
learning Kiswahili, and
the government has, from next year, made Kiswahili a compulsory
subject in primary schools. If
this policy survives after Museveni, it may in future produce a new
generation of Kiswahili
speaking Ugandans (including Bugandans) who will probably not be so
hostile to the language.
The recent revival of the East African Community has brought East
African nations and
peoples even closer together, and Kiswahili is obviously stepping in
to fill a possible linguistic
vacuum in the arrangement as the only viable potential language for
the Community.3
In Rwanda and Burundi the unfortunate genocide of the early nineties,
and the
subsequent upheavals have paradoxically increased the knowledge and
use of Kiswahili in those
countries. This is partly because of the millions of refugees who
fled to neighbouring countries,,
acquired Kiswahili in the process (since the language is widely used
in the refugee camps), and
are now coming back armed with the language. Moreover, the new regime
in Rwanda and its
army is made up largely of former refugees, people who grew up in
Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya
and the Congo, and are therefore fluent Kiswahili speakers. They are
thus more disposed towards
promotion of Kiswahili in Rwanda.
The same case applies to the DRC. There, the new Kabila regime is
Eastern and hence Kiswahili speaking, not to mention the fact that
the young Kabila himself grew
up in Tanzania.
Briefly, we can say that within Eastern and Central Africa, Kiswahili
is now in a better
position than ever before, and its demand is on the increase. The
peoples of this area have
realized that they need this language to be able to survive,
cooperate and operate effectively in the
Kiswahili is taught as a language in more than 100 (my estimate)
universities and higher
education institutions in worldwide. This estimate does not include
the many African-American
black schools in the U.S.A that teach Kiswahili as a second language
to black students. Most of
the universities teaching Kiswahili are in the U.S.A, but there are
also famous schools of
Kiswahili in U.K. (SOAS), Germany (sevaral universities) , Russia (St
Petersburg and Moscow
State University), France, Belgium (Gent and Antwerp), Italy
(Naples), Switzerland, Austria,
Netherlands, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, China, Japan, Oman
and Mexico. Within
Africa, Kiswahili is taught in more than 10 universities in Tanzania,
Kenya, Uganda, DRC,
Madagascar, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria and Libya. Though it is not
possible at this point to give an
estimate of the number of students, it is safe to assume that
Kiswahili is the most widely taught
African language in the world.
The media and publishing
Kiswahili is used in more than 100 radio and TV broadcasting stations
worldwide. About ten of
these are in Tanzania and Kenya. Other African countries that
broadcast in Kiswahili include
DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Uganda, South Africa. Many
Asian and European
countries also broadcast in Kiswahili. In America, apart from the
Voice of America, there are
many black FM radio stations that have Kiswahili programs. The
Swahili services of the BBC,
Deutsche Welle and Voice of America appear to have the widest reach.
In book publishing, Kiswahili has been the favourite target language
of translations from
different world literatures. In the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, numerous books from
English, French and Arabic were translated into Kiswahili. At the
height of communism, many
books from China, North Korea and the Soviet Union were also made
available in Kiswahili. In
this sense, one can say that Kiswahili gained from the cold war. With
the collapse of communism,
books from China, Korea, and Russia are no longer being as widely
translated into Kiswahili.
However, more classics from all over the world are still being
translated. Recent ones include
Gogol's The Government Inspector and Elias Lönnrot's Kalevala, not to
mention books by
African luminaries such as Achebe, Soyinka, Ngugi, Mongo Beti and
Ousmane Sembene.
In the early 1980s, UNESCO decided that the 8-volume General History
of Africa should
be translated into at least 3 African languages (apart from Arabic)
for a start: Hausa, Fulfulde and
Kiswahili. The Kiswahili translation is now ready and all the eight
volumes have been published.
They form a monumental contribution to the Kiswahili scholarly
repertoire, and a landmark in the
history of Kiswahili translation.
The Pan-African movement arose among the black people of the Diaspora
in the nineteenth
century, and reached its peak between 1910-1950. Freedom fighters
such as Jomo Kenyatta and
Kwame Nkrumah were products of that movement, so was the Organization
of African Unity
(established in 1963). From the beginning, pan-Africanism had a
cultural and political agenda
(return to Africa, defense of African values and heritage, equal
rights for Africans, unity of all
Africans, freedom of African countries from the colonial yoke, etc).
However, the movement
rarely emphasized the revival or promotion of African languages. It
was only in the sixties that
some African scholars began calling for a pan-African language. The
first call was made by Wole
Soyinka of Nigeria in the mid-1960s. He proposed that Kiswahili
should be declared the
continental language of Africa (cf. Mulokozi 2000).
In 1985, this call was taken up by the Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei
Armah, who wrote:
There is one African language admirably suited to function as our
common ancillary
language. That is Kiswahili. It enjoys structural and lexical
affinities with a lot of African
languages over large areas of the continent: East, South, Central and
even the lower West.
Flexible and highly absorptive, it can take inputs from practically
every African language in
its future development. .. The technical problems likely to arise are
soluble. It may be
desirable, for instance, to simplify the syntax or at least to
streamline it. In addition, the
existing vocabulary would have to be constantly enriched, as in every
living language. This
could best be done in a conscious, systematic way, by drawing from
the vast lexical
storehouse constituted by the continent's languages, especially those
of the West and the
South. That might facilitate final acceptance as our common language,
since each region
would recognize its genius in the common pool..." (p. 832).
African governments heeded this call by admitting Kiswahili into the
OAU; otherwise, not much
else has been done todate.4
Conclusion: Towards the future - Kiswahili, globalization and ICT
Everybody is now talking about globalization and information and
communication technology
(ICT) and we too are expected to do the same. But before we do that,
let us recap what we have
said up to this point. We have argued in this paper that the
development and expansion of
Kiswahili as a national and international language has usually been
dictated by demand, both
economic and social. So long as such a demand exists, Kiswahili will
continue to develop and
expand. In this process, Kiswahili will face obstacles from both
within and without. From within,
the triumph of Kiswahili may arouse narrow nationalism among certain
groups or nations, and
these could be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians to hamper the
adoption of Kiswahili as a
national or pan-African language in some of the countries. Within the
Swahili communities also,
there might arise similar chauvinistic sentiments seeking to
reconfine Kiswahili to its "original"
coastal Islamic shell. Such sentiments are already in evidence, but
being ahistorical, will probably
not have much impact. However, if they were to suceed, they could
trigger a negative reaction
from the millions of those who are abandoning their languages in
favour of Kiswahili.
A more serious obstacle is the threat from foreign languages,
especially Arabic, English
and French. It might be much harder for Kiswahili to win this fight,
in the short term, mainly
because our ruling elite cliques are mesmerized by things foreign.
The current
English/French/ Portuguese speaking elite that has ruled and ruined
Africa is unlikely or perhaps
unable to abandon its Europhilia. A new generation with less kasumba
will have to take over first.
Certainly the French, Britons, and Portuguese will do everything in
their power to ensure that
their languages remain dominant, for language for them is a
political, economic and strategic
question. Arabic is less of a threat on the national and sub-regional
level, but it can be on the
pan-African level.
As far as globalization is concerned, Africa is currently on the
receiving end: we are
simply being globalized, just as we have been for the past 500 years.
Yet there are areas in which
we too can globalize the world if we are serious enough, areas in
which Africa excels, such as
certain cultural and scientific manifestations, and African
languages, in this case Kiswahili. Since
globalization in the modern sense is impossible without ICT,
Kiswahili speakers, promoters and
lovers need to be proactive in this area by:
- Developing the language actively and quickly in the areas of
science and technology;
- Developing new teaching and research programs that take into
account the current
global trends and needs, especially in the area of ICT;
- Developing new up-to-date teaching and reference materials,
including online and
electronic instruction materials;
- Developing Kiswahili-based computer programs, software, and copora;
already there
are some Kiswahili-speaking computer programs that can serve as
examples (e.g. the
Google Kiswahili language search engine; programs reportedly
developed at the
University of Helsinki (Hurskainen 1995; Sewangi 2001), and the
electronic CDRom
version of IKRs bilingual dictionaries issued in March 2002);
- Translating all relevant up-to-date information in various fields
available in foreign
languages into Kiswahili;
- Above all, we need human resources grounded in ICT and Kiswahili
studies; we need
to train and train and train more and more and more young people.
That is the best
way to ensure sustainability.
In order to suceed in this endeavour, Kiswahili developers, promoters
and teaching
centers in all parts of the world need to work together and cooperate
and coordinate their
activities more and more so as to learn from one another, share
resources, and reduce costs. Such
cooperation can be through joint projects, fellowships, scholarships,
external examining,
conferences and electronic interaction.
____________ _________ ____
1. When I served as an oral English examiner during the
matriculations exams at the UDSM in 2000, more
than 50 per cent of the students who appeared for the oral interviews
could not formulate correct English
sentences. They therefore resorted to short one word or single-phrase
answers even for questions that
needed explanations or brief narratives. Moreover, many supervisors
of masters and doctoral dissertations
complain about the poor mastery of English shown by their students.
2.Others include speakers residing in countries such as:
Somali/Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe,
Comoro, South Africa, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, India, UK, USA,
3. I am grateful to Mzee Kanyama Chiume for checking and correcting
this anecdote through electronic
4. The Nation Group in Kenya introduced an English language East
African weekly, the East African, in
the mid-nineties. It seems to be doing well. The IPP Media Group in
Tanzania is currently in the process of
introducing a Kiswahili East African magazine to be known as Afrika
ya Mashariki.
5. Kiswahili has been used in the UNESCO General Meeting in Paris. In
sub-regional organizations such as
SADC, it has not been used. The reason given recently by the
Tanzanian foreign minister is that the venture
would be expensive. And in a just-ended Conference of leaders and
specialists from the Great Lakes
Region (April 2002) held in honour of the late Mwalimu J.K. Nyerere,
the participants reportedly called for
promotion of Kiswahili as the language of the Great Lakes Region,
creation of a sub-regional organ to
coordinate its development, and encouragement of its use as a medium
of education (reported in Mtanzania
April 11, 2002: 2)
Armah, Ayi Kwei 1985 Our Language Problem. West Africa (Magazine). 29
April 1985, London: pp. 831-832.
Chiraghdin, Shihabuddin andMnyampala, Mathias 1977 Historia ya
Kiswahili. Oxford University Press, Nairobi.
Heine, Bernd Kiswahili [from Sprache, Gesselschsft und
Communikation] ,Tr. Abed S. Tandika. In Legère, K (ed) 1990:
Hurskainen, Arvi 1995 A Computer Archives of Kiswahili Language and
Folklore: General Description. In Mlacha and
Hurskainen (1995: 1-15)
Khamisi, AbduM1990 Swahili as a National Language, in Legère, K (ed):
Legère, Karsten Recent Development of Kiswahili, in Legère, K (ed):
Legère, Karsten (ed) The Role of Language in Literacy Programs with
Special Reference to Kiswahili in Eastern Africa. A
Contribution to the International Literacy Year. DSE, BAKITA, Kenya
Kiswahili Association, Goethe Institut-Nairobi.
Mbaabu, Ireri 1991 Historia ya Usanifishaji wa Kiswahili. Longman
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na Fasihi Simulizi ya Kiswahili. TUKI,
Dar es Salaam.
Mugambi, Peter J.M Language and Identity. Chemchemi: International
Journal of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty
of Arts, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, pp. 114-117.
Mulokozi,M.M 1992 Kalevala and Africa. Nordic Journal of African
Studies - NJAS (Special Issue on Language, Tradition
and Identity), Vol. 1, No. 2, Helsinki/Uppsala: pp. 71-81.
Mulokozi,Mugyabuso M2000 Language, Literature and the Forging of a
pan-African Identity. Kiswahili 63: 71-80.
Sewangi, Selemani S Computer-Assited Extraction of Terms in Specific
Domains: The Case of Swahili. Ph D Thesis,
University of Helsinki.
Tanzania 1969 Second Five Year Development Plan 1969/70 - 1963/74.
Government Printer, Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania 1984 Educational System in Tanzania Towards the Year 2000:
Recommendations of the 1982 Presidential
Commission on Education as Approved by the Pary and Government
(Makweta Report). Government Printer, Dar es
Tanzania (no date: 1997?) Sera ya Utamaduni.Wizara ya Elimu na
Utamaduni, Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania 1999 Ripoti yaMkutano wa Taifa wa Sera ya Utamaduni.Wizara
ya Elimu ya Utamaduni, Dar es Salaam.
Whiteley,W1969 Swahili: The Rise of a National Language. Methuen,

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