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AFRICA: Can Kiswahili bring national integration in Rwanda, Somalia and Burundi?

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CHANGE OF GUARDS – Kiswahili is a language that developed as a result of early interaction of the Shiraz from Persia (Iran), Arabs from Oman and Yemen with native Africans who occupied the cost of East Africa and the adjacent islands in the Indian Ocean. As a result of trade, spread of Islam, conquest and to a less extent intermarriages, a new language developed comprising a mixture of Arabic and native African languages words. Consequently, the native people of the coast and islands lost their indigenous tribal identity, language and customs. They came to be known as Waswahili and adopted Kiswahili as their language. The Waswahili people adopted the Swahili culture which is Islamic in nature and identifies with Persia and Arabic roots. Later, the coming of Indians, Pakistanis, European explorers and missionaries also helped to further enrich the Kiswahili language. That is why Kiswahili words like Chai (tea) is Indian and Pakistan, Meza (table) is Portuguese, Shule (school) is German, Jumaa (Friday) is Arabic. Kiswabili language is dominated by Bantu dialect words followed by Arabic words.

Though comprising about 17 different dialects, it was two major dialects that took root into the interior of East Africa. The Kiunguja dialect penetrated mainland Tanganyika from the island of Ungujja (Zanzibar). The Kimvita penetrated Kenya from the Island of Pemba, Lamu and Mombasa. Both Muslim and Christian Missionaries used Kiswahili to spread their respective religions into the interior of Tanganyika. The German colonialists used Kiswahili as the language of administration in Tanganyika. In Kenya, the Christian Missionaries who pioneered formal education from Mombasa used a combination of Kiswahili, English and the native languages as the medium of instruction.

During the struggle for independence in Kenya, Kiswahili was used as the language of mass organization. The first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, gave his inaugural speech to Parliament in Kiswahili where he declared the agenda for the promotion of Kiswahili. The 1964 Omude Commission of Inquiry into education recommended the need to teach Kiswahili but not to be made examinable at the end of primary school. However, the commission left the teaching and examination of Kiswahili optional to individual secondary schools. In 1969, President Kenyatta declared that Kiswahili was to be used in Parliament. The then Acting Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, vehemently objected to the introduction of Kiswahili language in parliamentary proceedings. He argued that Kiswahili was full of Arabic words and therefore a foreign language that was only understood by only 40% of Kenyans.

In 1974, President Kenyatta declared Kiswahili as the language of parliamentary proceedings. The following day, it was drama in Parliament as parliamentarians attempted to debate in Kiswahili prompting the move to be abandoned there and then. The 1976 Gachathi Commission recommended that Kiswahili be compulsorily taught and examined at the end of Primary School. This recommendation was not implemented until 1985 following the 1981 Mackay Commission which made the teaching and examination of Kiswahili compulsory up to Grade 12. In an attempt to coerce Parliament, President Moi nominated two MPs who spoke only Kiswahili.

In 1998, a National Kiswahili Association was formed with the responsibility of promoting the Kiswahili language and promotion of other Kenyan indigenous languages. The institute sponsored the 2000 Bill making Kiswahili the national language that was passed by Parliament. The Bill also called for the creation of a National Language Council charged with the preservation and development of other indigenous languages of Kenya. The new 2010 Constitution made Kiswahili one of the two official national languages. Article 7 makes Kiswahili and English as the two Lugha Rasmi (official languages) of Kenya. Article 7(1) retains the previous status of Kiswahili as Kenya’s national language.

English is the medium of instruction throughout the education system – from nursery to university. In primary schools, students are taught English, Kiswahili and indigenous languages. Assessment of performance at the end of primary school is based on basic competency to read Kiswahili and English. Kiwahili is compulsory and examinable in secondary school. Two out of the seven public universities offer Bachelors, Masters and PhD in Kiswahili. However, English is used to teach Kiswahili throughout. The law still recognises the use of English as the language of proceedings in the High Court and Court of Appeal. Even judicial officers who fully understand Kiswahili insist that evidence submitted in Kiswahili be translated in English by Court Clerks.

Elsewhere, in Parliament, commerce, and government business, English is widely used. With slightly above 50 indigenous languages, several TV and radio stations broadcast in English, Kiswahili and indigenous languages. Only one newspaper is in Kwahili. Therefore, the promotion and use of Kiswahili in Kenya is backed by law and practice. With the equal promotion and practice of Kiswahili, English and the indigenous languages, Kenyans have an advantage over most of the East African Community. That is why Kenyans easily fit into any neighboring state’s economic set up thus their so-called aggressive business acumen.

In Tanganyika, Kiwahili was used by both the Islamic and Christian faith to spread their respective religions. German colonialists used Kiswahili as the language of administration. Its was also used as the language of instructions in schools. When the British replaced the Germans after Word War One, Kiswahili continued to be used as the medium of instruction for the first four years of the lower primary education. English was used in government offices, upper primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions. During the struggle for independence, Kiswahili was used as the language of mass mobilisation. Upon attaining independence in 1961, Kiswahili was proclaimed to be the national language. The English language was portrayed as the language of the defeated and devilish colonial, imperialist and capitalist, Britain.

In an effort to destroy the British colonial legacy, the English language fell victim. All schools, most of which were missionary run, were nationalized and an entrance system to secondary schools and tertiary institutions based on ethnic quotas and not academic competency was introduced. Elementary schools, lower courts and government departments and agencies were simply ordered to start using Kiswahili. President Nyerere translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Merchant of Venice into Kiswahili. The colonial education system continued to come under immense attack.

The heaviest blow came from the declaration of a creation of a socialist state in 1967 using the infamous Arusha Declaration. The March 1967 Policy document, Education for Self Reliance, set an agenda to prepare for life in rural areas where the English language was not needed for the majority of primary school leavers. It made it clear that English was for the very few who needed to continue to secondary schools. In the same year, an Act of Parliament created the Kiswahili Commission (BAKITA) charged with promotion of Kiswahili. Throughout 1970, the promotion and development of Kiswahili took effect. The English language died and Kiswahili took its place as the de-facto national language. Kiswahili became the language of government, Parliament, and medium of instruction in primary schools. English remained to be studied only as a second language in schools. Kiswahili was adopted as the language of proceedings in lower courts but proceedings were recorded in English.

The 1982 Presidential Commission of Inquiry into declining education standards noted lack of proficiency in both English and Kiswahili. It recommended that Kiswahili as a medium of instruction be extended to secondary and tertiary institutions. The government rejected the recommendation by arguing that work on Kiswahili planning and development was necessary before the transition could be affected. President Nyerere warned that it would be foolish for Tanzania to reject English. The 1984 National Linguistic Policy recognized Kiswahili as the language of the social and political spheres as well as a medium of instruction in primary schools and adult education. English continued as the medium of instruction in secondary, technical and higher institutions of learning.

With liberalization of the early 1990s, private individuals and agencies were encouraged to invest in education to supplement government efforts. Private schools adopted English as the medium of instruction in Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools.
Public schools continued to use Kiswahili as the medium of instruction in primary schools. At the end of the primary school, the same national examination is set in both English and Kiswahili for the minority private schools and majority public schools students respectively. Upon reaching secondary school whose medium of instruction is English, the students from the private primary school background excel while those from the Kiswahili medium public schools struggle on with the language barrier. The trend follows the academic ladder upwards and into the employment market.

The teachers in public secondary schools lack the proficiency in English as a medium of instruction. The English Medium private schools attract teachers from neighbouring counties thus the frequent rounding up and deportation of thousands of foreign teachers by Immigration Services. In 1998, the government announced a plan to make Kiswahili the language of instruction throughout the school system including tertiary institutions by 2001. The Ministry of Education argued that the policy was aimed at reversing the declining education standards. However, the policy was not implemented and in 2015, government announced a decision to make Kiswahili the medium of instruction throughout the school system but still it was not effected to date.

Tanzania is a multilingual country with about 120 indigenous tribes and languages. Some 90% speak Kiswahili, 15% speak English while 10% speak Kiswahili as their mother tongue (Waswahili). Though there has never been any piece of legislation, Kiswahili is treated as the official national language. No single radio, TV or newspaper broadcasts or publishes in any of the indigenous languages. There is no single piece of written literature in any of the indigenous languages. The use of indigenous language by individuals is associated with tribalism and sectarianism. It is argued that the promotion and development of Kiswahili helped to bring unity and avoid tribal violence and civil strife.

In Uganda, save for a few border communities, the use of Kiswahili is alien. Museveni has been pushing for the promotion of Kiswahili arguing that it will bring unity. His 1995 Constitution makes Kiswahili as the second official language to English. In 2017, the National Curriculum Development Center plotted to have Kiswahili as a compulsory subject in secondary schools. Recently, cabinet approved the creation of the National Kiswahili Council charged with the promotion and development of Kiswahili as the second national language. It is yet to be seen if Uganda will adopt the Kenyan or Tanzanian model of Kiswahili. Unfortunately, the motive behind Museveni’s promotion of Kiswahili is far from national integration but evil designs. Its promotion and development is not a national priority. With increased regional trade and interaction of people, Kiswahili will automatically be Learnt by those who need it.

If the use of Kiswahili can promote national unity and integration, then it should be adopted by civil strife prone African countries like Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia whose respective sole indigenous language has not brought about national integration.


—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: November 03, 2019 at 01:25PM

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