Revisiting the political history of Zanzibar

“History is too important to be left to Historians alone”, so the gurus said.  This is the month of June, 2023.  The  lovers of our country’s political history   may be interested in this little piece of  our country’s  history;  which  is that on June 24th, 1963;  Zanzibar was granted the status of “self-government”  by the British colonial Authorities.  This was the final constitutional  step,  on the way to Zanzibar’s independence.

Under  the  colonial system of  governance;  Zanzibar was categorised as a “Protectorate”,  which meant  ‘a country  which was ruled by another Authority, but  under British government protection’. And in the case of Zanzibar, that  other ‘ruling Authority’  was the Arab Sultan.

Thus, according to the relevant historical records, the  ‘Zanzibar Protectorate’  was granted that  constitutional status   on June 24th, 1963; and was  soon  followed by the granting of independence to that  same Arab ruling Authority, on 10th December, 1963.

This record  may help to provide a better understanding  of  the basic reason for the ‘glorious revolution’ which removed that  imposed  Sultan’s  government,  only a month later during the night preceding January 12th, 1964.  In  other words,  it was a heroic rejection of  this new form of colonialism.

However, this little piece is only a “curtain raiser”, before the  main   presentation, which  will focus  on a different  matter  whose title is  “The progressive growth and development of Kiswahili as the language of communication in government business,”  We will now direct our readers’ attention to that other  matter.

We must first  recognise  and appreciate, the Kiswahili language’s   positive critical role, and its immense contribution, to the relatively  easy success of  the liberation movement in Tanganyika  in achieving the country’s independence from  British colonialism; for  it  was  this language which enabled Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, together with  his TANU colleagues and associates;  to reach all the areas of this geographically vast country, in order to deliver the  ‘message of liberation from colonialism’  directly to the people living in those diverse areas, and  belonged to more than a hundred different  ethnic groups, each having its own language or dialect.  But fortunately, at least the majority of them could understand these liberation messages that were delivered in Kiswahili.

The  growth and development of Kiswahili.

In my article of last week in this column, I referred, albeit very briefly, to the directive that was issued by President Julius Nyerere, in January 1963, to all government establishments; to  use Kiswahili, instead of English,  in all official  government business communications.

But this directive was not merely ‘whimsical’, or a sudden wish by President Nyerere to do something that was unusual or unnecessary.  His was a well thought out design for  the country’s transition to the official use of the  national  language in all  the  young  nation’s  government, and  other public affairs  transactions.  This is clearly demonstrated  by  his  decision to address the first  Parliament in Kiswahili, on the occasion of its  official opening under the new Republican constitution, on 10th December, 1962; which was quickly followed by the January directive referred to above.

Thus, it was in the process of  implementing  that directive, that  the National Assembly formally resolved,  on 12th February, 1963; to adopt Kiswahili as the official communication medium in  our Legislature.

This was a complete departure from past practice, when  all parliamentary proceedings had been conducted solely   in English.  Indeed, it is for that reason that  it had become necessary to  administer  an  oral  “English language proficiency test” for those MPS who had been elected to the ‘Independence  Parliament’, in  September 1960, whose curriculum vitae  showed that they had not  completed  even  primary education.  Bibi Titi Mohamed, who had been elected to represent the Rufiji constituency, was the only one who required to take this test, which she did, and passed.

As a result of this National Assembly resolution, we had to take fast action to look for appropriate Kiswahili words for the parliamentary technical words and phrases which had no Kiswahili equivalents at that material time.    However, in some cases, this conversion to Kiswahili became a process of “trial and error”;  in the sense that  some  of such technical names and phrases  had no Kiswahili equivalents;  a fact which made it necessary for us  to  invent, or  create, our own such equivalents.

Thus, for example, we had to find a Kiswahili name for the institution  itself,  i.e. the ‘National Assembly’, or ‘Parliament’, for which we created the  single word ‘BUNGE’.  And for the description  “Member of Parliament”, we adopted the  word  “Mbunge”.   For the  Honourable “Speaker”,  we initially adopted the word “Khatibu”;  but that was soon discarded, for being  unsuitable. Instead of which we created   the word “Spika”.   We also had to find  Kiswahili equivalents  for  phrases like  the “Order Paper”, for which we adopted  the words “Orodha ya Shughuli za Bunge”;   “Government  Bills”;  for which we adopted the words “Miswada ya Sheria ya Serikali”;  “Government  Motions”,  for which we adopted the phrase “Hoja za Serikali;   et cetera.

Those were the humble beginnings of the use of the Kiswahili language, as a medium of communication in government business transactions.  It has been a long journey, to where it  is today;  when it has been adopted as one of the official languages of communication in some of the international forums, such as the ‘East African Community’, the ‘Southern African Development Commission’, and the ‘African Union’.

Mwalimu  Nyerere’s   efforts in promoting Kiswahili

The story of the growth and development of Kiswahili would  certainly  be  incomplete, without mentioning  Mwalimu Nyerere’s personal role and efforts that he invested  in its promotion.

His  eagerness to promote Kiswahili, seems  to have been  partly  based on his own sincere  love for this language; and this is evidenced by his early adventures into the rather exclusive  field of Kiswahili poetry; as well as in his  astonishing  efforts in translating  some of the ancient  scholarly  and  highly sophisticated  works;  namely  the New Testament of the Holy Bible;  and  two of William Shakespeare’s famous Plays,   Julius Caesar; and  The Merchant of Venice.  With regard to his adventures into Kiswahili   poetry,  I  can  vividly  remember the piece which he penned  in welcoming Tanganyika’s independence, which was appropriately titled  “Kulikucha kuchele, na kulala kukomele”.

 The publication which contains  the Kiswahili version of the New Testament, is titled “Tenzi za Biblia”.                                                                                                                  .                                    

And in respect of his astonishing efforts  in translating  these heavy, scholarly literature  volumes;  there are two  aspects which are truly amazing.   The first wonder, was  just  how  he was able to  render so many  lines of dense Shakesperian  old  sixteenth century English verse, into Kiswahili.

This, perhaps, provides proof of the richness of the Kiswahili language, in the sense that it is capable of  being used  even in such highly  sophisticated and  scholarly  undertakings.  But the second wonder, was how he managed to get sufficient  time  for  concentrating  on these  intellectually demanding tasks, when at the same time,  he was already  engaged  heavily  in  the political business of liberating the country from British colonialism; plus putting the new nation on a proper footing, following the achievement of independence.    But that was  Julius Kambarage Nyerere,  the founder President, and father of our nation.

 But  Kiswahili  was not  as a language of instruction in schools

We are, presumably, all aware  of the  serious discussions  which  are currently taking place regarding the use of Kiswahili as a language of instruction in the country’ education system. This same matter was also raised at one point during Mwalimu Nyerere’s presidency; and  I happen to have been directly  involved.  It occurred during the preparations for a  meeting of the TANU National Executive Committee, that was  scheduled  to be held  in  April, 1974;  in  Musoma.

This meeting had been convened, primarily  for the purpose of giving  consideration to  proposals for  some major reforms, that were intended  to be introduced  in the country’s  entire  education system,  with the aim of achieving the goal of “Education for Self-Reliance”  that had been announced  in  the 1967 ‘Arusha Declaration’ policies.   That meeting was also expected to consider proposed reforms  in  the procedure for students admission to the University of Dar es Salaam, for that  same purpose of incorporating the need for  self-reliance at  the tertiary  education level.

I was then the Vice Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, and President Nyerere  had asked me to prepare  a  ‘Discussion Paper’ which would help to  guide the deliberations of that important meeting.   The Minister of Education,  Reverend  Simon  Chiwanga,  had  got wind of my assignment,  so he asked me  to include  his  Ministry’s  proposal to make Kiswahili the medium of instruction in  the country’s  entire  education system.

I  of course obliged,  and crafted it  in  the following words:  “That Kiswahili shall be progressively introduced,  to replace English as the medium of instruction,  in  the country’s  entire  education system, including  the secondary and tertiary levels”.   Thus, when  my assignment  had been   done and completed, I submitted  the final draft   to  Mwalimu Nyerere,  for his scrutiny and approval, or other instructions.

That is when he called  me to  express  his strong disapproval of  Minister Chiwanga’s  proposal.   Therefore, I  deleted it from the  ‘Discussion Paper’ that was presented  to the  Musoma  TANU  NEC meeting.

But during the meeting itself, Mwalimu Nyerere  disclosed  that this  proposal had been suggested to him,  and explained why  he had rejected it.   “We cannot avoid training our students in  English, for English is the Kiswahili of the world today;  and we will only be doing  irreparable harm  to  ourselves,  if we remove it from  our education system”;  he said.

That position may probably have  drastically  changed  by  now; so we can only wait to see the outcome of the on-going discussions regarding this matter.

We may now return to the point of the vital contributions that Kiswahili has made generally;  and  look at the    fundamental contribution which was made by Kiswahili  in facilitating  the country’s governance, which should also be  properly  appreciated.  This was in respect of promoting public acceptance of new major development policies; and thus made their enforcement very much easier.  This includes the new policy of Ujamaa, which was  introduced  by  the  “Arusha Declaration”,  in February 1967;  which introduced new words  and phrases like:  “Jitegemee, usiwe mnyonyaji,  “usiwe kupe;  or  “Usiwe bepari,  Ubepari ni Unyama”;  et  cetera.

All  such words and phrases emerged  spontaneously, and  were being  enthusiastically  chanted especially among the youth;  as  a way of  demonstrating  their full support for the new  ‘Arusha Declaration’  policies;  and they greatly assisted in creating a clearer public understanding of the true meaning  of these policies;  and this greatly  helped to generate  higher compliance  levels.

 Enter President John Pombe Magufuli

It  was  the late President Magufuli  who secured the acceptance by the Southern Africa Development Commission (SADCC)  of Kiswahili  to be used as one of its official languages of transacting its business.  The late President John Pombe Magufuli  was, apparently, also  a  keen  lover of Kiswahili;  for in his State Banquets which he hosted for Foreign Heads of State who visited Tanzania, he always proudly used  Kiswahili   in his welcoming speeches.

His contributions  to the spread of Kiswahili to other countries include his efforts in ‘marketing’ Kiswahili in the countries which  comprise  the South African Development Commission (SADCC).   /0754767576.

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