Africa: Kiswahili As Africa's Symbol of Cultural Independence

(file photo).

"I do not want my house to be walled on all sides and my windows to be stuffed.

I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any one of them.

Mahtma Gandhi

THE GOOD NEWS this week was the announcement that Kiswahili has become the fourth official language of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

This announcement, according to this newspaper's front page report early this week was made by the new Chairman of SADC, President John Magufuli at the closure of the 39th summit of Africa's regional leaders in Dar es Salaam.

He said that SADC member countries have officially adopted Kiswahili as their fourth formal language with South Africa, declaring its determination to start teaching it in its schools, starting next year.

Said our President: "Tanzania is ready to support South Africa in its resolve to learn Kiswahili." He went on: "Tanzania's founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere played a big role in liberating various countries on this continent - actually many African freedom fighters were trained here and Kiswahili was their major language of communication."

Indeed, a landmark of any country's given culture is language - a language that distinguishes a given country from another or is regarded by a given country as its 'lingua franca' or mother tongue.

As could be read between the lines in the quote at the launch of this perspective by India's founding leader, Mahatma Gandhi, a country's given culture is something that can't be washed away in favour of foreign cultures.

For us in Tanzania, Kiswahili is spoken almost practically by all nationals. It is therefore a national language, prominent as a cultural heritage.

It is spoken largely in both East and Central Africa - as far as the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda - and the traditional East African countries of Kenya and Uganda.

Now the question here is: to what extent do the State and ordinary people revere this language formerly and informally.

Looking back at the history of this country since independence, much as Kiswahili has been revered generally in terms of communication and formal address, but has not been embraced adequately enough as other nations do.

As a case in point, it is English that has been used by our leaders at State functions in honour of visiting foreign leaders and Heads of State such as state banquets.

But the leader who has made a tremendous departure from the embrace of foreign languages to reassert our cultural independence is the current President, Dr John Magufuli.

President Magufuli, since his tenure of office has spoken Kiswahili in formal receptions and banquets to welcome foreign leaders, and not English.

We saw him this week addressing his colleagues from 16 member countries of SADC.

This initiative, has for a large extent, enhanced our cultural independence as a people and a nation. In the words of one western scholar, Cees Hamelink, Africa and other countries in the developing world, have been victims of colonialism's "cultural synchronisation".

He says in his book, Cultural Autonomy in Global Communications (1980) former colonies had ignored their original cultures if favour of that of the colonial powers. Says he: "The process of cultural synchronisation implies that a particular type of cultural development in the metropolitan country is persuasively communicated to the receiving countries.

"Cultural synchronisation implies that the traffic of cultural products goes massively in one direction and has a synchronic model. "The metropolis offers the model with which receiving parties synchronise.

The whole process of local and social inventiveness and cultural creativity is thrown into confusion and definitively destroyed. "Unique dimensions in the spectrum of human values which evolved over centuries rapidly disappear."

Going by the study by this author of the quotation you have just read, the aspect of language towards our cultural independence here and other countries in Africa and the developing world had fallen victim to the "massive cultural synchronisation" by the metropolitan powers.

To this date, most of us ordinary citizens, find nothing-wrong mixing Kiswahili with English when we chat normally! Actually, some of us do so as a signal to show that we are "educated"! This is what has become known as Kiswa-English! Good Lord! Unfortunately, few if none, have criticised this trend of mixing two languages in one sentence - actually as far as our own Parliament as a case in point.

One hears Members of Parliament speaking "Kiswa-English" with wanton abandon! Now in the intervening period, and this what has prompted this perspective, there have been excellent initiatives to reassert our country's cultural independence and launch the struggle to reject cultural synchronisation prevalent over the last half a century of our political independence.

The Magufuli administration appears to have embarked on reasserting our cultural independence as we saw him last weekend addressing delegates of SADC member countries in Kiswahili.

As could be seen since assuming office, President Magufuli himself loves to speak in plain Kiswahili and very rarely does he mix Kiswahili with English. But most of our officials have been more comfortable in English than Kiswahili - our national language!

So the time has come for us to enhance our cultural independence, which is the dynamo of our political independence. We should go further: no more Kiswa-English in our ordinary chats, least of all in our National Assembly - Parliament.

This stance will deepen our cultural independence above western cultural synchronisation.

The earlier a parliamentary rule is enacted forbidding the mixing of Kiswahili with English in one breath, the better. For people who have seen nothing wrong to mix two languages in one breath, this may be a little difficult.

But before uttering an English word in one's remarks, a parliamentarian making remarks should immediately apologise and go ahead to explain the English word in Kiswahili before proceeding as a gesture of respect to our national language.

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