Africans have been called upon to develop Kiswahili and other African languages to make them globally competitive.
Delivering the keynote address during the official opening session of the 2nd EAC World Kiswahili Language Day celebrations in Kampala, Uganda, Kiswahili language scholar and University of Dar es Salaam academic Prof. Fikeni Senkoro further said that languages have become commodities on the global stage.
Prof. Senkoro said that there is an urgent need to develop Kiswahili and other languages to make them marketable in people’s daily lives and business transactions.
Prof. Senkoro said that most Africans worship foreign languages due to their colonial heritage thus the division of the continent into Anglophone (English), Francophone (French) and Lusophone (Portuguese) linguistic zones.
“The place of this language in the midst of multilingualism is multi-faceted. It includes the foreign languages that were forced on us through colonialism, which gave us the derogatory labels of Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone Africa. It also has to do with attitudes, strategies, policies and lobbying by Africans themselves regarding their languages,” said Prof. Senkoro.
The Kiswahili scholar said that the other challenge for the language had come from negative perceptions and singled out Uganda where Kiswahili had been viewed as a language of the army and police.
The don, however, observed that all was not lost as the Kiswahili language sphere is spreading across East and Central Africa, adding that some EAC Partner States had already established National Kiswahili Councils to promote the language.
“The positive attitude towards Kiswahili amidst multilingualism aims at achieving unity and cohesion among the people of East Africa/Africa in general through identifying and working towards having a lingua franca for Africa. This will entail going through different policies and declarations from the AU, EAC and SADC,” said Prof. Senkoro.
“As we examine the challenges that we face regarding Kiswahili and multilingualism, we must look on the positive side so that we identify the opportunities that evolve from the situation,” he added.
Prof. Senkoro emphasised the importance of using other local languages to teach Kiswahili and gave the examples of South Africa and Zimbabwe where the Zulu and Shona languages respectively were already being used to teach Kiswahili.
He said the teaching of Kiswahili through other languages was possible because all languages have meeting points.
Noting that there are approximately 200 million people spread across East and Central Africa and other parts of the world, Prof. Senkoro advocated for the teaching of Kiswahili through African philosophies or ideologies including Ubuntu, Humanism, Ujamaa and Pan-Africanism.
“It is very possible that the Pan-Africanist spirit originated from African philosophies contained in African languages. We can refer to the philosophies and outlooks by the leaders of different African countries immediately after independence, such as Ubuntu, Humanism (Kenneth Kaunda), Ujamaa (Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere), and others,” said Prof. Senkoro.
Prof. Senkoro recommended that there is a need to ensure that Kiswahili is gradually adopted as a medium of instruction in those areas where it is well spoken, and a taught language where it is not.
The don further recommended that competition between individual language groups with regards to the selection of the appropriate lingua franca for Africa should be discouraged “and in their stead it should be stressed that the choice of Kiswahili is backed by research and data that shows how this language will make Africa speak in one, unified voice regarding the matters that affect their lives.”
“There is a need to revive the East African Publishing House to be owned by the East African Community through which printing, publishing and distribution of Kiswahili teaching materials will be carried out,” added Prof. Senkoro.
Making a presentation titled ‘Kiswahili, Multilingualism and Pan-Africanism,’ Prof. Kenneth Simala, who teaches Kiswahili at Masinde Muliro University in Kakamega, Kenya, said that one of the weakest fields of scholarship on Pan-Africanism is the relatively little research that has been undertaken on the Kiswahili Language.
Prof. Simala, who was the pioneer Executive Secretary of the East African Kiswahili Commission, said that a key principle of Pan-Africanism as an ideological movement is commitment to the promotion of political and cultural solidarity and identity.
“Questions of language and identity, therefore, have played an important role throughout modern African history. Over the years, Kiswahili has acquitted itself well to be the most suitable language and single most critical factor in the construction of African identity and has the capacity to unite Africa and contribute to its development,” said Prof. Simala.
Prof. Simala said that the new status of Kiswahili at EAC, SADC, AU and UN levels as an official language comes with hopes, expectations and even fears to individuals, communities, nations and organisations, adding that the new position of the language at national, regional and global levels gives premium to Kiswahili as a Pan-African language of identity.
“It is, therefore, important for the EAKC to coordinate and promote the development and use of Kiswahili, while acknowledging, recognizing and respecting existing multilingualism in Africa. This can be done by setting innovative directions and harnessing modern technologies that are inevitable in the 21st Century,” said Prof. Simala.
Officially opening the celebrations, Uganda’s 1st Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for EAC Affairs, Rt. Rebecca Kadaga, said that 21 African countries use French as the official language with a few others using Spanish and Portuguese as their official languages.
Kadaga that the prospects for the development of Kiswahili in Uganda were bright noting that a good number of Ugandans had earned doctorates in Kiswahili from Makerere University, Kampala while a national Kiswahili Language Teachers Association had already been established.