INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE

Give Swahili its rightful place

In Summary
  • Some of the ways would be upscaling its use in marketing & branding messaging about our country
  • Its embrace by top leadership and mass media will heighten its appeal and use especially in formal settings
Tanzania's President Suluhu Samia.
Tanzania's President Suluhu Samia.
Image: COURTESY

The events following the demise and send-off of Tanzania's John Pombe Magufuli had their fair share of lessons for the East Africa Community and Africa.

The historical moment gave us lessons on cohesion within various organs of power and government; inter-country relations; African leadership ideological points of departure and convergence; social welfare infrastructure such as health; power transition and diplomacy.

Another issue that played out was the place of the Swahili language in the East African region and Africa. With awe, one would appreciate the innate passion and mastery of “our” language displayed by the Tanzanians, especially President Samia Suluhu in her addresses.

Indeed, it is in its rich, deep diction yet simple accentuation that African leaders got Suluhu’s message that she is poised to take Tanzania to the next frontier as the first female President in the region.

When she said, “walio na shauku kuwa mwanamke ataweza kuwa Rais, aliye mbele yenyu hii leo ndio Raisi wa Jamhuri wa Muungano wa Tanzani”, the message was intended to reverberate.  

It was a statement of intent that could not have been relayed any better by any language other than the language of the Tanzanian nation. Many visiting top-ranking officials, interestingly, also spoke in Swahili, resonating with the context. In a sense one would experience, during the proceedings, a united bloc of Africa not only because of the sad subject but the use of the language.

The country and the region must feel privileged to have one of the most resilient languages, which has weathered concerted degradation attempts during the colonial period to a point of now being embraced across the world.

Socio-linguistic and scholarly contexts have varied standpoints regarding evolution, adoption and the use of Swahili, especially its pure and correct variant.  Being the national language of most of the Eastern African nations, adopted as the official language of the East African Community and African Union,  commanding over 100 million speakers in East Africa, it would be apt to revisit the old cyclic discourse on the socioeconomic place of the Swahili language to position our continent, and particularly Kenya.

We should therefore redouble its use, commitment and strategic positioning. Some of the ways would be upscaling its use in marketing & branding messaging about our country; embrace it during national occasions and even intersperse its use in international fora and symposia we proudly and regularly host as a country. Critically, is its embrace by top leadership and mass media to heighten its appeal and use especially in formal settings.

The country and the region must feel privileged to have one of the most resilient languages, which has weathered concerted degradation attempts during the colonial period to a point of now being embraced across the world.

As Swahili moves in all directions of the world and influences a diverse arena of scholarship, teaching and commerce, let us as originators not be left with a shell. Instead, we should each strive to proudly position, Swahili including in corporate circles, as our treasure for the rest of the world to revere and reference.