3 January 2018

Tanzania: Kiswahili to Be Universal Lingua Franca

THERE are mixed feelings about whether Kiswahili language should be used as a medium of communication in schools and public forums or promoting it to an international language.

Mr Ali Omar, General Secretary of CHAUMMA party, and a vocal politician, says focus should be on building a vibrant economy along side promoting three International languages: English, Spanish, and French, before thinking of Kiswahili.

"I wish, I could, direct all schools and learning institutions to ensure all students understand and speak English. It's only through English we can develop, not Kiswahili," Mr Omar said. He argues that Kenya is far ahead economically because of English, while Rwanda is on track to becoming a strong economy in the region because it decided to use English in addition to its traditional French.

"Let Zanzibar and Union governments improve English because it is still being used even in schools," Mr Omar said. The politician was also of the views that Korea, China, and Russia, are only promoting their national languages after becoming economically powerful, adding: "We should copy from emerging economies. Even Arab countries are not promoting Arabic because what they need is economic growth."

Omar's views about Kiswahili and those of the others were targeted at a two-day 'International Kiswahili Workshop' organized by Baraza la Kiswahili Zanzibar (BAKIZA). Main speakers at the workshop said people need to be well informed and educated about Kiswahili as it grows internationally, an opportunity they can use socially, economically, and politically as most countries in Africa have already accepted to promote the language.

At the workshop which attracted academicians, authors of different Kiswahili writing articles/poems/book, artists, and learners of the language from abroad, participants discussed and agreed to support the call to promote Kiswahili.

Officiating the meeting on different occasions, President Ali Mohamed Shein and his Vice Ambassador Seif Ali Iddi called on native speakers to promote Kiswahili by speaking it correctly, and avoid distorting or mixing with other languages like English.

Dr Shein told the gathering here that it is possible to develop and strengthen the use of Kiswahili in the country and internationally should everyone in the country be committed and take a role. In his speech at the opening of workshop on 'Kiswahili' here, Dr Shein challenged every Tanzanian to use standard Kiswahili as the best way to promote it in the region and globally.

"Use standard Kiswahili without mixing it with English, cutting the words shorts, and wrong use of the words. This has been undermining the development of Kiswahili," Dr Shein said at the workshop held at the former House of Representatives debate chamber.

He said if every person uses standard Kiswahili carefully, the plan to make it one of the International languages can be achieved in the near future, as par East African Cooperation (EAC) and African Union (AU) approved agenda.

The president said "We already have the 'EAC Kiswahili Commission' offices in Zanzibar, a place considered to be the birth of standard Kiswahili. Let us use the opportunity by applying required Kiswahili." He said that it is the role of the Kiswahili councils in the Zanzibar and Tanzania mainland (BAKIZA and BAKITA), to ensure only acceptable Kiswahili is spoken, used in forums and in arts/music and in the media.

The Vice-President Mr Iddi said that Kiswahili is now marketable language, admired globally an opportunity for Tanzanians to promote it by organising exhibitions so that different works from Kiswahili can be known to people.

"I think regular exhibition Kiswahili arts and publications can be helpful in promoting and advertising the language. There have been a lot of good work from Kiswahili, but remain unknown to the public including foreigners," Mr Iddi said.

He also advised members of the business community to use Kiswahili extensively in their work, and also help sale books in the local language so that people in need of publications in the local languages can easily access.

Ms Nathalie Arnold, one of the Kiswahili learner and users from the US said the language was fast growing with more people getting interested as about 200 Universities teaching the East African main language. She said "learning and knowing Kiswahili language is beyond just communicating. It is an opportunity to understand East African traditions, and research in the region with vast history."

Ms Arnold said that since Kiswahili is about learning the culture of the People of East Africa, even Universities in the US were now teaching Kiswahili urging people in other countries to learn the East African language. Dr Mohammed Seif Khatib, Chairperson, 'Baraza la Kiswahili Zanzibar (BAKIZA)' and one of the stakeholders Prof Alwiya Saleh said that there is enthusiasm for learning Kiswahili and this was an opportunity for native speakers.

"By using standard Kiswahili, without mixing it with English, will definitely attract more learners from abroad and also encourage people to use it correctly," said Dr Khatib adding the objective of organising BAKIZA's 'First International Kiswahili workshop' was to share ideas on how best can the language reach as more people as possible.

At the workshop participants asked the government to come up with a policy that will push forward Kiswahili along with implementing reforms on education; announced during the retired President Jakaya Kikwete's administration in 2015 that education in Tanzania would have Kiswahili as the sole language of instruction.

Currently, public education in Tanzania is bilingual, as at primary level, students are taught in Kiswahili, with English a part of the curriculum as a language subject. At secondary school level, and all the way up to university, the learning process is reversed, with English becoming the medium of instruction.

The idea of having Kiswahili language as a medium of communication and teaching in education, has since received mixed views from people, with some arguing it is still too early to change, while others welcomed the idea.

Kiswahili, commonly called Swahili in the west, has been the foundation through which Tanzania has built its sense of national cohesion for the people from different ethnic groups, own languages and cultural traditions. Researchers say Kiswahili was built from Arabic, Bantu, English and German.

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