CENSUS

Swahili people have a right to exist

Their presence on the East African Coast spans centuries.

In Summary

• It is now utterly disturbing to receive reports of certain misinformed census officials refusing to acknowledge that Swahili as an ethnic community exists.

• There are many people who think that since Swahili is the national language and everyone speaks the language, then there cannot exist a Swahili community. 

The Swahili people exist. They are not part of another ethnic grouping neither are they a conglomeration of smaller ethnic groups. They exist purely and simply as the Swahili ethnic community. They are predominantly found in the East African Coast from the Coast of Mozambique, Comoros Islands, Tanzania’s Coast, Zanzibar Islands, Kenya’s Coast and a few on the Somali Coast.

Their presence in these areas spans centuries. So predominant were they that their language was adopted by many other communities who now speak various forms of the Swahili language. Their culture and way of life have remained intact; from clothing to cuisine to architecture along the Eastern Africa Coast.

It is now utterly disturbing to receive reports of certain misinformed census officials refusing to acknowledge that Swahili as an ethnic community exists. Haki Africa has received complaints from individuals who during the census gave Swahili as their ethnicity but were told to choose a different ethnic community.

 

The census officials mostly referred them to choose Bajun as the closest option. Yet, Swahili community exists and is also listed in the census software under Ethnicity/Nationality as number P16. It would appear that the census officials were not properly trained and do not even know their own software. Clearly, this will lead to gross misrepresentation of the Swahili community and coastal people in general.

Over the years, the population of Swahilis and other communities at the Coast has always been grossly undercounted due to lack of awareness on the importance of the census. In 1999 as well as 2009 many locals, including Swahilis, missed out on the census and this has had far-reaching consequences for the region. Failure to get counted not only means that revenue allocation for the region will be low and affect service provision but will also affect representation of the region in national processes, including the number of representatives in the National Assembly.

No language exists without a community. The fact that the whole world speaks English does not mean that England and Englishmen/women do not exist

Since the last census, the Coast region has seen tremendous growth in population as a result of increased childbirths, migration to Coast from other regions as well as refugees influx. However, to confirm this, residents have to show up and be counted in the census. Moreover, census officials must be well informed to ensure they reach out to all and document the correct information.

Insinuating that certain communities such as the Swahili do not exist only dilutes the exercise and raises questions about its veracity. One would assume that in an area such as Coast, census officials would at least be aware of the communities existent in the region. It is a gross injustice to see that in the Coast itself, the officials are misleading Swahilis to select other ethnic communities.

Another problem that is unique to the Coast is the transfer of people for the census. Various leaders have been quoted urging their people to be counted where they come from and not where they live. The Coast has the highest number of internal migrants compared to any other region in the country.

From Lamu to Chale, Taveta to Hola, the Coast has played host to people from many different ethnic communities that have found hospitable locals who welcomed them to live amongst them. That during census leaders are now asking their people to go back and get counted where they come from is hypocritical and selfish as this will harm the very migrants who will be disadvantaged when they return to the Coast where they live.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, which is spearheading the census, must do service to all communities and regions, including the Swahilis and Coast region. To begin with, the issue of acknowledging Swahili as a community must be clarified and measures taken to address the matter.

There are many people who think that since Swahili is the national language and everyone speaks the language, then there cannot exist a Swahili community. This is far from the truth. No language exists without its community. The fact that the whole world speaks English does not mean that England and Englishmen/women do not exist. Kenyans must acknowledge, learn and respect the community that gave the country its national language.