UNESCO Announces July 7 As World Kiswahili Language Day. See Why

Celebrating Kiswahili culture (Photo credit: Travel Dudes)

Kiswahili or Swahili is the first African language to be honored by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO). This is due to the declaration that was made in Paris on Nov. 23, 2021, during UNESCO’s member states’ 41st session.

Recognizing Kiswahili globally will celebrate the multicultural enrichment and way of life of the African people in general. So, why Kiswahili language when there are numerous other languages spoken in Africa?

Kiswahili words
Kiswahili words (Photo Backgroud Credit: Meruyert Gonullu @Pexels)

Why Kiswahili or Swahili Language?

At the moment, Swahili is among 10 of the most spoken languages in the world. It has over 200 million speakers who mainly come from East Africa, Southern Africa, and Central Africa. Interestingly, Swahili is also used in the Middle East.

The East African Community (EAC), the African Union (AU), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) use Kiswahili as one of its official languages. Globally, the language is taught in many tertiary institutions.

As a matter of fact, Kiswahili was established as a unit of United Nations Radio in the 1950s. It is also the only language from Africa integrated within the United Nations’ Directorate of Global Communications.

What Does this Declaration Achieve?

This declaration is a key instrument in facilitating regional cohesion as stipulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030. At the same time, it has helped in the effective execution of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA). The agreement seeks to form the world’s largest free trade area in Africa. This will be achieved by connecting about 1.3 billion people living in Africa.

Kenyan Coast, Mombasa County
Kenyan Coast, Mombasa County- ho (Photo Credit: Oluwatobi Akindunjoye @Unsplash)

Why July 7?

The date marks several important days in Africa. On Jul. 7, 1954, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and the first president of Tanzania, chose Swahili as the unifying language of his country. Later on, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was the founding father and president of Kenya followed suit. He used the language to mobilize Kenyans during the struggle for independence.

On the same day in 2000, another landmark event took place in the East African region. The almost dysfunctional EAC was revived to stir up the spirit of cooperation among the East Africans.

Incidentally, the citizens of the countries that formed the EAC spoke Kiswahili widely. The countries were Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Thereafter, South Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda joined the community forming the larger EAC. Starting from Jul. 7, 2022, World Kiswahili Language Day will be observed officially all over the world.

Some of the Swahili people cuisines
Some of the Swahili people cuisines (Photo Credit: Murtada Mustafa @pexels.com)

Reactions Trailing the Announcement

The proposal entered in the Journal of Namibian Studies: History Politics Culture to introduce Swahili in Namibia’s education curriculum was not taken positively. At least not by Dr. Cohen Sabao who feels that imposing the language on learners is a form of colonialism. He feels as though it is a betrayal of the African indigenous languages. According to him,

“Accepting Kiswahili as a language for national cohesion and African identity can be seen as another form of colonialism. Kiswahili would dwarf local languages and these would continue to be underdeveloped and regarded as somehow inferior.”

He argues that indigenous languages are not fully developed. According to him, the languages do not have a chance to be incorporated into the African educational curriculums. Others, however, welcomed and celebrated this declaration.

An Interesting Snippet About The Language

The structure of the Kiswahili language is a blend of Arabic and Bantu languages. It has acted as a unifier between larger African communities. Additionally, it is used as the main trade or business language along the African coastal region. Kiswahili has the potential of making it into the school curriculum of western countries. What do you think of this development?

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