On the international Kiswahili day and President Samia’s admirable diplomacy

“USIKATE tamaa” (never give up hope), is part of what we are taught by the holy books. But It nearly happened to me. Last month, when I celebrated my 88th birthday, I had seriously considered giving up this demanding activity of writing weekly articles for this column, relying on the Biblical saying of “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak”. Fortunately however, before I made that decision, in came this encouraging message from Facebook, (the social media that also publishes these articles since they are not restricted by any copy right privileges).

The message said that the readership of my articles which are published by Facebook had, as of that date, reached a total of 10,123, 446. Wow . . . The fact that such large numbers of people are actually benefitting from my weekly presentations easily convinced me to abandon taking that selfish decision and gave me the needed energy and strength to “soldier on”.

My weekly articles will therefore continue appearing in this column, as usual. Today’s presentation will focus on two significant events which occurred simultaneously last week, and which, I believe merit penning a special presentation.

They are: (a) the international Kiswahili Day (which falls on Saba Saba day) and (b) President Samia’s diplomatic engagements during her visit to the Republic of Malawi last week. For reasons of protocol, we will commence with President Samia’s diplomatic achievements during her visit to neighbouring Malawi, at the invitation of her host, Malawi President Dr Lazarus Chakawe.

The word “diplomacy” means “the activity of managing relations with other countries”. Last week, Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan, made an official visit to the neighbouring Republic of Malawi.

This is, of course, a normal activity for Presidents worldwide. But what is particularly significant in this case, is the nature of official functions which she performed during that visit there (which were all well publicised by the social media for everybody to see).

I wish to refer specifically to the rather unusual event of inaugurating, (jointly with her host the President of Malawi), the new sports jerseys for the Dar es Salaam Young Africans Sports Club (YANGA) in the precincts of Malawi’s IKULU and thereafter, both Presidents attending a football match between YANGA and the host Malawi team, the Nyasa Big Bullets.

These activities were the main events that had been planned for celebrating Malawi’s independence anniversary.

In my humble, considered opinion; there is a significant lesson to be learnt from these seemingly ordinary events. In my History course at Makerere University College, Kampala; we were taught a subject option titled: “The Diplomatic Relations of the Great Powers”.

But this was all about the ‘conduct and management of the personal relations between the Rulers of certain specified European nations’. I am inviting our readers to take note of the emphasis I have placed on the expression the “personal relations between the Rulers” of the relevant countries.

This is because what we saw in the ‘unusual’ events referred to above, is entirely different for, in my opinion, it symbolises the cordial relations existing between the people of these two countries and not only between those between the Heads of state.

This is totally unlike the diplomatic relations between the European Ruling individuals, referred to above. In this connection, I would like to draw special attention to the political significance of these events by narrating the story of the past ‘sour’ Tanzania/Malawi relations of yester years.

These past sour relations were a creation solely of the then President of Malawi, Dr Kamuzu Banda; who unilaterally attempted to alter the lake Nyassa boundary between Tanzania and Malawi, which was inherited from the British colonialists at the time of independence of our countries and which the then “Organisation of Unity” meeting in Addis Ababa in 1963; had vowed to maintain and respect. But suddenly and surprisingly, around the mid1960s; President Kamuzu Banda woke up one day and issued his “unilateral declaration”, attempting to alter this boundary.

He arrogantly claimed that “the whole of Lake Nyassa belongs to Malawi” and even re-named it “Lake Malawi”. He did not stop there, for he went on to prohibit Tanzanians who live near the shores of Lake Nyassa from carrying out any fishing or other activities in that Lake, by alleging that in so doing, “they would be “trespassing on Malawi Territory”!

These uncouth pronouncements, naturally created considerable tension on the part of Tanzanian President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and the ruling party TANU.

Fortunately, they did not lead to any physical or armed confrontation. But still, the TANU Youth League cadres went to the crazy extent of composing and singing some provocative dance songs, such as “Lina wazimu Banda” and a few such others. In such sour circumstances, it would have been unimaginable for the President of Tanzania to visit Malawi. I do realise, that we cannot erase history, whether in its oral or written form.

However, because this narrative relates to those ‘bad old days’ in our diplomatic history, I submit that they should best be erased from our individual memories and forgotten by “letting bygones be bygones”. Basically, the story has been told here solely for the purpose of signifying the great importance of President Samia’s refreshing diplomacy, of broadening the meaning of “diplomatic relations”, from its old confines of ‘relations between individual rulers’, to ‘relations between the people’ themselves (in this case between YANGA (wananchi) of Tanzania and the wananchi of Malawi); which is a spotlight on President Samia’s admirable diplomacy. On the International Kiswahili Day.

Viewed from the political and cultural perspective; the expression “SABA SABA” is extraordinarily resilient. For several decades, this expression was carrying a very high political content and respect, for it represented the birthday of TANU (the Tanganyika African National Union), the political party that liberated our country from colonial domination and thereafter became and remained the country’s “Ruling party” for more than thirty years continuously.

under the then “one party” political dispensation, first as a de facto one-party State, from Independence to 1965 and thereafter as a de jure one party State; up to July, 1992; when the country became a constitutional multi-party State. That is when ‘SABA SABA’ lost its political meaning, prominence and significance. But it has bounced back into cultural prominence, when it became officially recognised as international Kiswahili Day.

Indeed, as the holy books say, “God’s ways are flawless and his timing, always perfect”. Kiswahili has, progressively, been promoted to an international language. It was only last year, when Kiswahili was elevated to one of the official languages to be used by the East African Community in its official communications, including the proceedings of its Legislature.

A little back in 2019; Kiswahili was accepted by SADC, for use as one of the official languages in its official communications, including the proceedings of its meetings. It has also been accepted for such use by the African Unity Organisation.

And now, the United Nations world organisation has declared SABA SABA Day as international Kiswahili Day. This is what I meant when I referred above to the “extraordinary resilience” of that expression.

The lost political glory of SABA SABA Day ‘Saba Saba’ is the Kiswahili expression for the ‘seventh day of the seventh month’.

That particular date is of immense political importance in the history of Mainland Tanzania, for the sole reason that it was precisely on that date, way back in 1954, that the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the political party that brought independence to this country, was born.

Thus, right from the year of independence in 1961, “SABA SABA” Day was always and consistently, celebrated as a public holiday, to commemorate its political significance as the official commencement date of the struggle for the country’s independence. It was, therefore, truly saddening for some of us, to witness the ‘withering away’ of that date’s political significance. And it was further saddening, when it was replaced by purely commercial events which, although they are of great benefit to the country commercially, but they have no political significance whatsoever.

I am here referring to the now dominant annual “Trade Fair” events that now take place annually, which has led to the re-naming of ‘Saba Saba’ day as “siku ya Wafanya bishara”. But since ‘SABA SABA’ Day’s significance has now bounced back culturally through its recognition as international Kiswahili Day and since Tanzania is generally regarded as the Kiswahili’s spring board to the rest of continental Africa; this prestigious international cultural recognition is, in my humble opinion, adequate ‘compensation’ for its lost ‘political’ glory.

I also remember that there was this ‘comic story’ taking its rounds during the early 1960s, that “Kiswahili was born in Zanzibar; grew up and matured in Tanganyika (now Tanzania Mainland); fell sick in Kenya and died in Uganda”. But, surprisingly, it was only last week, that the Ugandan Minister of State for East African Community, Hon. James Magode Ikuya, embarked on a vigorous defense of Uganda regarding this matter. He was reported in THE CITIZEN of July 6 th , 2023; as having defended Uganda against accusations of “not embracing Kiswahili”; in the following words:-

“Claims that Ugandans are apprehensive of embracing Kiswahili, are only a myth” and added that “the perception that Kiswahili had no place in Uganda, is mere rhetoric and contrary to the reality on the ground.

Uganda has been wrongly or rightly seen as a pariah state in the promotion of the Kiswahili language”; he is reported to have said. It is most unlikely that Minister Ikuya (of the current young generation) was aware of that very old ‘comic story’ regarding Kiswahili having been “killed” in Uganda; but the apparent close connection therewith, is not only intriguing, but also instructive in some aspects.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s crucial role in the promotion of Kiswahili. It is only ‘fair and just’, that in any such discussion relating to the promotion of Kiswahili, Mwalimu Nyerere’s crucial role should be remembered and fully appreciated. Thomas Carlyle (1795 -1881), the Scottish Historian and essayist; said the following in his book titled Heroes and Hero-worship”: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men”. I believe that many people would readily agree that Mwalimu Nyerere was one such ‘great man’ for, even after his death, he continues to be remembered and highly respected; not only by Tanzanians, but also by many other personalities beyond our borders; as exemplified by the recent establishment at Kibaha, of the “Mwalimu Nyerere Leadership School”, for the training of political cadres from across Africa.

Mwalimu Julius first showed his determination to promote Kiswahili in all Tanzania’s government operations right from the beginning of his founder Presidency, in January, 1963, when he issued an Executive Order directing them to use of Kiswahili in all their communications, where possible.

But his personal efforts to promote Kiswahili, are best illustrated by his supreme endeavours to provide proof, that the Kiswahili language is also capable of being used even in highly sophisticated scholarly undertakings; when he translated into Kiswahili the Holy Bible’s New Testament, to which he gave the title “Tenzi za Biblia”; plus two of William Shakespeare’s famous Plays, “Julius Caesar, and “The Merchant of Venice”.

piomsekwa@gmail.com /0754767576

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