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World Kiswahili Language Day: Should Kiswahili Be Adopted As Africa’s Official Language?

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In a not-so-surprising move, the Ugandan Cabinet has voted in favor of adopting Kiswahili as the country’s official language. Consequently, the language will be made compulsory in primary and secondary schools.

In 2019, the Uganda National Kiswahili Council was set up to monitor the introduction of Kiswahili as the second official language. The decision is in line with the bloc’s decision to make French, English, and Kiswahili its official language during the East Africa Community (EAC) Summit in February 2021.

Part of the statement on the Cabinet’s resolution read, “Cabinet recommends examinable and compulsory teaching of Kiswahili language in secondary and primary schools. Also, there would be a training program for Parliament, Cabinet, and the media”.

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

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Since Uganda’s independence in 1962, English has been the country’s lingua franca. However, the move to make Kiswahili the second official language was proposed in 2005. Inasmuch as it was taught in secondary schools, it was optional for the students since 2017.

In 2017, it was adopted by EAC as the region’s official language. Kiswahili is widely spoken in the region. In Tanzania, it is both the official and national language. For the record, EAC is made up of DRC, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. DRC formally joined the bloc in April 2022.

The status of Kiswahili in EAC member states

President Yoweri Museveni announced Kiswahili as the country’s official language (Photo credit: Premium Times Nigeria)

From Southern Africa to Eastern Africa all the way to Comoros Islands, there is a large number of Kiswahili speakers. The directive by the Ugandan authorities was passed on 10 June 2022 after the joint drill by the bloc’s armed forces. Authorities believe the directive will ease communication as well as foster unity, trade, and culture among the EAC member nations.

Apart from Tanzania, Kiswahili has massive speakers in other countries in the bloc. Since 1964, it has been Kenya’s national language and got its official status in 2010.

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In Burundi, it has been compulsory for all primary school pupils since 2007. Rwanda only adopted Kiswahili as an official language in the same line as the bloc. The African Union (AU) also adopted it as an official language in 2004 alongside French, Arabic, Portuguese, and English.

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Southern African Development Community (SADC) also took the bold step of making Kiswahili its fourth official language n 2019 alongside French, Portuguese, and English. As of 2021, there were about 200 million Kiswahili speakers around the world. In 2021, UNESCO decided to honor July 7 as World Kiswahili Language Day.

Should Kiswahili be adopted as Africa’s official language?

As the globe marks the first World Kiswahili Language Day, there is a growing call for Africa to move away from all neocolonial attributes including languages. This means adopting its local languages as the official language.

Inasmuch as Kiswahili is still a regional language, it has the largest number of speakers compared to any other language on the continent. The idea of having Kiswahili as a pan-African language was first proposed in the 1960s by President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president. He used the language to unite the people following the country’s independence.

For Kiswahili to become a pan-African language, it needs political will. Consequently, it will need financial investment and economic imperative to make the language attractive to other regions of the continent.

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Kiswahili or other dominant indigenous languages should not be an alternative to Portuguese, French, and English. Rather, the aforementioned languages should be an alternative to Africa’s indigenous languages.

However, not everyone thinks highly of the language. Some think making the language official in Uganda was a bad idea considering the fact that Luganda was more widely spoken.

If you believe in Kiswahili as a pan-African language, perhaps, it is time to sharpen your knowledge of the language. We highly recommend getting “Learn Swahili Quickly and Easily by Laurence Wood”. But, do you think having a pan-African language will ever be a reality? Use the comment option below to share your thoughts.

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