TZ 62nd birthday: Kiswahili paved road to independence

MWALIMU Julius Kambarage Nyerere was a crusader for peace, justice and unity. His ambition to unifying and instilling freedom spirit among Tanzanians got boost through the use of Kiswahili. By using Kiswahili as a communication language, he did his best and his good job is recognised beyond Africa.

Kiswahili was declared an official language in Tanzania in 1967.

However, before that, it played a great unifying role during the independence struggle. Due to this diversity, Mwalimu Nyerere’s first strategy was to emphasize the use of Kiswahili as a national language to play a unifying role, while individual tribes maintained their ethnic language.

Through Kiswahili, Mwalimu Nyerere united 120 tribes into a unified state, preventing the tribal conflicts that plagued much of Africa. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Ali Hassan Mwinyi, were strong supporters of Kiswahili during and after independence in 1961.

Tanzania has so many things that would make one feel contented to introduce himself before people of other nations. In 2015, the then President, Jakaya Kikwete delivered his first speech in Kiswahili at the AU Heads of State Summit in 2015.

The decision by President Kikwete to use Kiswahili when bidding farewell at the AU was one such moment we don’t see quite often. Speaking at the 25th African Union Heads of State summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Kikwete simply did one of those honourable things.

This was a rare thing to have been done by him at such a big meeting. Subsequently, his successor; the late Dr John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was a staunch advocate of Kiswahili on both domestic and international platforms. He promoted Kiswahili from the time he took over power in 2015 until his sudden demise in 2021.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan began to promote Kiswahili domestically almost immediately after taking office, signing Act No. 1 of 2021 which calls for the use of Kiswahili in the judiciary.

The law provides for extended use of the language in all judicial proceedings. It also provides for all proceedings that were recorded in English to be interpreted and translated in Kiswahili. The culmination of all these efforts by Tanzanian leaders and other stakeholders resulted in Kiswahili being recognized by UNESCO in 2021. Meanwhile, every year on July 7, International Kiswahili Day is observed.

Furthermore, the African Union began to use Kiswahili as its working language. As of today, Kiswahili is not only the Tanzania’s national language, but the East Africa Community (EAC), Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Africa Union’s (AU) official language. Globally, the United Nations (UN) through the UN Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 23, 2021 declared July 1 every year as the Kiswahili Language Day.

It is the first African language to be recognized in such a manner by the UN. Kiswahili with its epicentre rooted in Tanzania in six decades has emerged also as a chief tool for fostering global peace, solidarity and inclusive sustainable development.

Economically, the development milestones achieved in Tanzania within 62 years of Independence is attributed to the growth of Kiswahili language, as pivotal factor for peaceful interaction and co-existence among citizens in production.

In Tanzania today Kiswahili is used in all levels of government, trade, art and schools. At school primary school pupils are taught in Kiswahili and switch to English in lower and high secondary school and universities however the national language remains as the core subject. In 2022, President Dr Samia during the marking of the Kiswahili day said the country has played a crucial role in development and spreading of the language.

Dr Samia mentioned various strategies on spreading the use of the language globally including establishment of Kiswahili learning centres at Tanzania’s embassies abroad.

She further revealed that the commemoration of the World Kiswahili Day paves way for increasing budget allocation and improvement of infrastructure at councils and institutions dealing with Kiswahili development including training teachers and speakers Ms Samia emphasized that the government is committed to promoting Kiswahili through the national strategy to market Kiswahili language globally by empowering institutions which teach Kiswahili.

A Kiswahili 10-year strategic plan was launched on July 7, 2022 by the Vice President, Dr Philip Mpango to heighten environments for the country to reap immense benefit from the language. Gracing the inaugural ceremony of the plan, Dr Philip Mpango urged all Tanzania embassies abroad to set up Kiswahili teaching centres.

He directed the established centres to obtain the linguistic experts registered by the National Kiswahili Council (BAKITA) and BAKIZA’s data base in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar respectively, to teach at the established embassies’ centres.

Reacting on the move, Linguistic Expert, Dr Ahmad Sovu who doubles as Kiswahili Lecturer at the Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial Academy commends the government move to establish Kiswahili training centres in different embassies across the world saying it is a swift way of making it go global due to production of many cross-border speakers.

Dr Sovu says so far government has established Kiswahili training centres in Netherland, South Korea, Italy, Nigeria, and Türkiye. He noted that so far at the Kiswahili training centre in South Korea about 380 native South Koreans have been taught the language. Dr Sovu commends President Samia’s initiative of promoting cultural tourism through the Royal Firm Tour as it has brought many foreign tourists.

He said apart from pursuing their leisure ambitions they also learn Kiswahili. Comparing Kiswahili in 1960’s and today, Dr Sovu said the language has increased vocabularies due to development of science and technology as the world digitalization gathers pace.

“The future of Kiswahili is global, so far it is spoken at international level” Dr Sovu says. According to UNESCO, Kiswahili is among 10 most widely spoken language in the world with more than 200 million speakers, the language is one of the lingua franca in many countries within East, Central, Southern Africa and Middle East.

The then Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Dr Damas Ndumbaro who is now the Minister of Culture, Arts and Sports said during the UN Kiswahili Day last year that the language is the only true Africa symbol. He called other development partners to follow suit by adding Kiswahili to their own websites, noting that when delivering a message to people using the language they understand, the message can be easily understood.

“It is high time now the UN adopts Kiswahili as its official language, and we believe when we are celebrating the next 78th United Nations (this year) anniversary will be using Kiswahili. This will be after it has been accepted by the UN,” Dr Ndumbaro appealed to the global organ. For his part, Director General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay on the occasion of World Kiswahili Day this year said Kiswahili plays a role in ensuring the African continent achieves its full potential, a goal that UNESCO also works towards, through its Global Priority Africa.

“In addition to being a language of trade, diplomacy and unity, Kiswahili is a rich source of cultural expression,” Ms Azoulay said.

She said in the face of the digital revolution UNESCO commits to realize the potential of Kiswahili is also realized online through designing guidelines for the regulation of digital platforms highlighting the importance of linguistic diversity in content moderation. Today Kiswahili is taught as the subject in school and universities in Africa especially in EAC and SADC member states and in other continent including North America, Europe and Asia.

In August 2022, Tanzania and South Africa signed a drafted Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) focused on the cooperation in basic education, especially Kiswahili teaching in the latter.

After witnessing the signing of MoU, Tanzania’s Education, Science and Technology Minister Prof Adolf Mkenda and his South African counterpart, Ms Matsie Angelina Motshekga agreed to form a technical team that would facilitate the teaching of the language in SA.

Reacting on the MoU, Tanzania’s High Commissioner in South Africa, Maj Gen (Rtd) Gaudence Milanzi said the plan which is being finalised will enable Tanzanians Kiswahili experts to train South African primary school teachers first before the language is taught in various institutions.

“South Africa has the third largest economy in the continent and Tanzania becomes the first country to spread Kiswahili in therein, this facilitates trade between Tanzania and South Africa,” he said.

Due to the growing influence of Kiswahili language in the globe, in 2018, South Africa approved the language to be taught in public, private and independent schools across the country. High Commissioner Mr Milanzi said some South African universities have already prepared plans to teach Kiswahili.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has decided that Kiswahili will be taught as an elective language course from 2023, with the aim of launching it as a major subject in 2028.

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