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The East African : Oct 13th 2014
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE OCTOBER 11-17,2014 VII wahili will su≥vive the next centu≥y in the region rather the “visible” elite occupying the echelons of power? Kiswahili is the language of trade and social interaction in most urban centres in Kenya and Tanzania and the rest of the region. Kiswahili is the national language of Kenya and Tanzania. Additionally, according to Kenya’s 2010 Constitution, Kiswahili shares with English the status of official language. However, during national holidays in Kenya, affairs are conducted in English including the president’s official speech as is the case in Uganda. Do the Japanese celebrate their national holidays in English or French for fear of invisibility? What purpose does a speech in English serve but to speak to the few foreign envoys attending the celebrations? Do the English celebrate their important days in Luganda or Kinyamwezi to pander to the whims of Ugandan and Tanzanian envoys and or nationals in England? Does this signify the impending death of Kiswahili? There is a joke doing the rounds about the tragic and brief “life history” of Kiswahili. There are various versions of the joke. One states that Kiswahili was born in Tanzania, it journeyed to Kenya where it caught a fever, and continued travelling despite ill-health up to Uganda where it succumbed to the fever and was interred. Of course, this is a fallacy. Kiswahili has never caught a fever, neither has it ever died. And what is more, the principal’s gloomy prophecy about the death of Kiswahili is far-fetched and unrealistic. To the East African masses who use or herself had she she feared for me ioned that I am an n Shaaban Robert’s reads Kiswahili?” obody would buy my n Igbo!” en in Igbo, TV host even have heard of ant her a live TV inagues wouldn’t have elfie with her or joshand. It appeared evident from our conversation that I had by writing in Kiswahili rendered myself invisible to the world. I was acutely aware of the fact that Adichie didn’t know me and would perhaps not even remember our postbreakfast show banter. Yet I was not quite convinced about my invisibility. To my mind, invisibility to the world is not synonymous to invisibility to the East African world. Kiswahili is the lingua franca of the East and Central Africa region with an estimated 150 million speakers. Kiswahili is the official language of nl n i ad is th hi ba ly aware of the n market. invest in radio dcasting in sed you can h this. The ili media in the ad and ugly is investors are ct that Kiswahili em em invisible but the East African Community and is the only African official language of the African Union. And yet East African presidents and leaders seldom muster the courage to use it in EAC and AU meetings. This is the case, despite the fact that the bulk of them, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania, traverse the landscape using Kiswahili to woo the “invisible and insignificant” masses to vote for them during elections campaigns. Are the political leaders in fear of the invisibility associated with using African languages? Is Kiswahili the language of the invisible masses The managing director of the Chineseowned Star Times satellite TV company launching the station’s Kiswahili only channel for which there is a great market. Left: A student receives a prize for good performance in Kiswahili. Picture: File it in their trade and daily inter-ethnic and regional interactions, Kiswahili is far from being sick or dead; it is as robust and vibrant as ever, their most reliable vehicle of communication. Although the wananchi of East Af- rica do not all have the same level of competence in Kiswahili, they view it as the veritable lingua franca. Adichie might have been right in wondering “Who reads Kiswahili?” It may seem that the masses who watch Kiswahili on TV or listen to it on radio do not have the same enthusiasm for reading Kiswahili literature. But more and more publishing entities are investing in publishing Kiswahili books in the region. Would this exponential increase in the number of Kiswahili texts happen if publishers did not envisage a substantial market of willing readers, nay buyers? Kiswahili is taught as a mandato- ry subject in Kenyan and Tanzanian primary and secondary schools and Uganda has lately joined the bandwagon. Apparently, Uganda is poised to be- come the next best home of Kiswahili. Ugandans are slowly and surely being disabused of the nefarious notion that Kiswahili in Uganda is synonymous with the brutality of Idi Amin’s A street person reading a Kiswahili newspaper. Picture: File Kiswahili-speaking soldiers and their successors. It is, after all, the language of the masses of the East and Central African region. And publishers are more than keenly aware of the promising Ugandan market. Media owners who invest in ra- dio and television broadcasting in Kiswahili have realised you can never go wrong with this. The appetite for Kiswahili media in the region, the good, bad and ugly is guaranteed. These investors are cognizant of the fact that Kiswahili does not render them invisible but visible. In sum, those who predict Kiswahi- li’s demise and play down its rightful place as the language of the peoples of East and Central Africa, purvey a lie I refuse to buy. I am not sure I will be alive in the next 100 years, but I am sure as death that Kiswahili will be alive and kicking and thriving in its cradle in East Africa and beyond. Prof Ken Walibora is quality man- ager of Kiswahili Media, Nation Media Group.
Oct 6th 2014
Oct 20th 2014