Tanzania’s role as world celebrates Kiswahili Day

What you need to know:

  • Ahead of World Kiswahili Language Day today, the government announced that it had set aside 100 acres for the construction of a university that will teach Kiswahili, which is increasingly gaining international prominence
  • Kiswahili unified many nations during liberation struggles, but with the advent of the university, hopes are high that it will grow even further

Dar/Arusha. The government said yesterday that it has set aside an area of 100 acres for the construction of a Kiswahili university.
The area, located in Bagamoyo district in Pwani Region, will also serve as a cultural centre, according to the minister for Culture, Arts and Sports, Mr Mohamed Mchengerwa.
He was speaking during a Kiswahili symposium themed; “Contribution of the Kiswahili Language in the Liberation Movement”.
The conference was a continuation of the celebrations to mark the World Kiswahili Language Day, which is being celebrated for the first time in the world today after the Unesco declaration.
Mr Mchengerwa raised the issue of the college after former minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Bernard Membe, expressed his desire for a Kiswahili university in Africa to be built in Tanzania due to the country being the founders of the language.
In his remarks, Mr Membe said that if Tanzania contributed to the use of the Kiswahili language in the liberation of African countries, the university would help spread the language quickly across the globe.
“Minister you must go to the World Education Organization (Unesco) where they have the money for this. Ask them to complete the construction of the college and the government will contribute a little because if we could use that language in search of liberation, why should we fail in constructing the college to safeguard our language,” said Mr Membe.
Responding to the issue, Mr Mchengerwa said that the plan to have the college already exists, and they have already allocated 100 acres of land on which to manage funding, construction will begin immediately.
Speaking about the forum, he said apart from celebrating Kiswahili Day it also provides an incentive for the community to encourage young people to get rid of the opium of using a foreign language on the basis of being seen as intellectuals or people with development.
“But also, through this forum they will learn a lot about the contribution of Kiswahili to the liberation of the African continent,” said Mr Mchengerwa.
For his part, the Vice-Chairman of CCM-Mainland, Mr Abdulrahman Kinana, who was the guest of honour at the forum on behalf of the Retired President Jakaya Kikwete, said despite the existence of many Kiswahili opportunities in the world, Tanzania has not yet used it properly.
“A good interpreter needs to master at least three languages,” insisted Mr Kinana.
He cautioned that efforts to promote Kiswahili within and outside the country, should not mean ignoring other key languages.
The former Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) stressed English is spoken by about three million people globally.
Therefore, experts hired to teach Kiswahili abroad should be fairly fluent in English to enable them to communicate effectively in those countries.
Mr Kinana, a former senior public official, told an audience at Julius Nyerere International Conference Centre that nearly a half of China’s population of 1.4 billion now speak English unlike a few decades ago.
“For Tanzanians to be competitive in teaching Kiswahili there, they have to master the languages used in those countries,” he reiterated in a debate broadcast live by TBC 1.
According to him, the Kiswahili market globally estimated to be worth $1.6 billion, was benefitting Kenya and somehow Uganda “and not we Tanzanians”.
The market combines the cost of hiring teachers, publication and sales of books and other literature, promotional materials in the media and the like.
Globally, English speakers include one billion native speakers and about over two billion people who speak it as a second language.
Mr Kinana’s remarks were echoed by a former diplomat and business tycoon Ami Mpungwe who warned Tanzanians not to despise English because the country was part of the globalized world.
He added that the majority of French for historical reasons had for generations looked down on English but that it was no longer the case.
Millions of French people known for their obsession to culture, fashion and elegance, have been forced to learn “and speak” the Queen’s language.
He cautioned that although Tanzanians must be proud to be the home of Kiswahili, the country was part of the global village that spoke different languages.
He also specifically cited English, saying it remains number one global language of business, industrialization and digital transformation.
He expressed his reservations on politicising the Kiswahili debate at the expense of the global languages that are key for communication and diplomacy.
“I pity seeing politicians at the podiums playing down English while their children are enrolled in the English medium schools”, he observed.
The significance of English emerged recently during the Commonwealth Summit in Kigali, Rwanda which saw two more Francophone countries joining the bloc.
One of the reasons was that English was more an authoritative language of business, diplomacy and science and technology unlike French.  
July 7th this year has been proclaimed the International Kiswahili Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific Organization (Unesco) from this year.
The Day will be marked in order to drum up support for the language which has lately won popularity in some African countries and regional bodies.
Only on Tuesday this week, Uganda announced that Kiswahili will now be an official language and a compulsory medium of instruction in schools.
To date, Kiswahili is a national language of Tanzania and Kenya and maintains the status of both the official and national language in Tanzania.
It has also been adopted as an official language of the East African Community (EAC), the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).
During a media briefing here on Tuesday the EAC secretary general Peter Mathuki said Kiswahili is already an official language of the Community.
The EAC will mark the International Kiswahili Day today in Zanzibar at the headquarters of the East African Kiswahili Commission (EAKC).
The institution was established by the Community to coordinate all matters pertaining to the language in terms of research, teaching, learning and development.
Speaking in Zanzibar yesterday, the Isles minister for Information, Youth, Culture and Sports Tabla M. Mwita said Tanzania should use its comparative advantage to benefit from Kiswahili promotion.
 He wondered if the country had enough  competent interpreters and translators and publishing houses or the Kiswahili literature that could be in demand.
In the United States, for example, an estimated 100 universities offer Kiswahili courses, including the world-famous Harvard University.
Contributing to the topic at various times, some analysts said the plot to despise the language started long time when while at school, those who could not speak English were seen as stupid.
“I remember during our days as students, those who could not speak in English were to wear a banner that read as: “I’m stupid because I speak Kiswahili”. That was too bad,” said chief Maiko Shangwe from Katavi.
Mr Merinyo Mwafrika, one of the authors in the country, said that they have a responsibility to develop and spread Kiswahili as a way of promoting and enhancing Tanzanian culture.  
“Well, for writers, Kiswahili is a direct (self-employed) job when they write their books and sell them at the consumer market in a variety of fields,” he said.
Another author, Mr Ibrahim Gama exudes preparations are well-going for selling Kiswahili and making it as a product.  
Further, Dr Mwanahija Juma, executive secretary of Zanzibar Kiswahili Council said the celebration of the day means a lot to its stakeholders because it makes the language to be known worldwide, thus providing more opportunities.
Prof Mugyabuso Mulokozi, an expert in Language and Literature said the day meant a lot to Tanzanians and Africans in general because it means that the language and its speakers will now be respected and their identity upheld.