Harness Kiswahili for unity

The existence of a common language, Kiswahili, is one of the unifying factors in the East African region. And it has spread across the continent and beyond.

Today, July 7, is being marked as the World Kiswahili Language Day, reinforcing its value to the countries where it is widely spoken and others that wish to be roped into it. This day was adopted by the Member States of the United Nations General Assembly following a resolution tabled by Kenya and Tanzania.

The inaugural East African Community (EAC) Kiswahili Day was held in Zanzibar. Interestingly, the second one was marked in Kampala last year, and the third celebrations kicked off on Friday in Mombasa, though the Swahili heritage is more pronounced in Kenya than in Uganda.

With 200 million people in East Africa and worldwide speaking Kiswahili, it is a key tool for unity. The choice of Mombasa for today’s celebrations is significant because of its historic contribution to the growth of the language.

The Nation Media Group (NMG), a key player, as the publisher of the Kiswahili newspaper, Taifa Leo — published in print and online — is partnering with others to spearhead the Kiswahili fete.

From its origin on the East African coast many years ago, Kiswahili is today spoken in 14 countries. Apart from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kiswahili is also spoken in South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Comoros. There are also Kiswahili speakers in Oman and Yemen in the Middle East.

South Africa and Botswana are today teaching Kiswahili in schools, while Namibia is also interested. There is, therefore, a need to boost this by investing in Kiswahili publications.

This regional lingua franca has also gained ground in academic circles. It is now taught in universities globally. Kiswahili, which is an official language of the African Union, should be used more to enhance regional unity.