This is a blog about me and the things that make me laugh, smile, hurt or cry!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Swahili

I have decided to take up a language class. Instead of heading down to the local Alliance Francaise culture centre or the British Council to learn French or improve my English, I will be huddled in a small room with a Mzee (elder or old person) learning Kiswahili.

Frequent Kenya Airways travelers will be familiar with the official greeting on all KQ flights, "Karibuni mabibi na mabwana" or, welcome Ladies and Gentlemen. My other Kiswahili phrase is "Funga mkapa unapoketi" - fasten your seatbelt while seated. Lol. They don't actually say that, but you read it all the time on the seat back in front of you.

So, why have I opted for Kiswahili above Portuguese or Spanish? One of these fine days, when Masuka is invited to speak at the African Union, I will be representing Africa and I want to speak an African language. Current Tanzania President, Jakaya Kikwete proposed Kiswahili as an official AU language in 2004. In the same year, Swahili was recognised as an official AU language ...more.

While trying to learn more about the language, I came across 'Swahili baffles African Leaders' in this BBC article. It tells the account of how Mozambican President, Joachim Chissano addressed the AU assembly in Swahili. The ensuing discussion/comments of this BBC article, highlight how many people do not view language as an important thing at all.

I think this is very sad. There are many languages that are widely spoken in Africa. Swahili was the first indigenous African language adopted by the AU. From what I have come to understand, a few others were considered, but discounted because of ethnic sensitivities since they are also widely associated with a people/tribe/ethnic group as well. These are, Hausa, Fulani and Zulu. I don't know how true this background information is, but it definitely makes sense to me. At least in Bantu speaking East, Southern and (parts of) Central Africa, we can all understand at least some Kiswahili, making it an ideal choice over foreign languages imposed on us by our former colonial masters.

In Zambia, we have seven official languages, some more widely spoken than others. Language is very closely linked to identity. As many young people grow up unable (or unwilling) to speak their mother tongue, we need something drastic to ensure we are proficient in our own languages. The challenge for Zambia is that most of our languages are not written, the vocabulary is undeveloped and even the lowly literate find reading the local language mentally exhausting.

This is why I love travelling to East Africa where they have entire newspapers written in Kiswahili talking about science, economics technology etc. This is what we need.

In Africa, we have so many nations, so many people, so many languages and even more problems such as poverty, disease, corruption and conflict that divide us from one another. I think it would be fantastic if Africa could speak one language. Kwame Nkurumah wrote that Africa Must Unite, and I think that all of us speaking Kiswahili is one way we can do that.

Please take time to read more on the history of Swahili on wikipedia; on Swahili language and culture and at the Nairobi Institute of Swahili.

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