The Future of Kiswahili in Africa
Kiswahili has acquired an important status in East Africa, namely in
Tanzania where it is not only a national language, but the language of
education, business, research and even politics. Tanzanians and Kenyans
would speak the language. It is also widely used in Uganda, despite the
fact of having been associated with the Idi-Amin regime and his army. Kiswahili
users are found in other countries such as Comoros, Oman, Congo, Madagascar,
South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and the
Central African Republic. With the new political development in the region,
Kiswahili seems to be gaining a new role and new ground notably in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo and the geopolitical reconfiguration in
the Great Lakes region.
2. The RDC and Central Africa
The recent changes in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, has seen a dramatic remapping of
language in the country. Lingala, the language of the army and the capital
city Kinshasa, has suffered a setback with the arrival of a leadership
from the Kiswahili speaking areas. Not only Kiswahili has become the language
of the army, but also the language of the administration with Lingala taking
the second position. The president is called Mzee--the old man--, a label
made famous by Jomo Kenyatta and today Julius Nyerere. The rooting of Kiswahili
has affected the following areas:
The language of politics and the army.
The new currency is issued in French, English and
The knowledge of Kiswahili is becoming more important because of renewed
ties with Great Lakes countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
3. The Great Lakes Region and Kiswahili
Until quite recently, Kiswahili
was the African language that tied together the three countries of East
Africa. It had relative importance because there were other common means,
such as a common colonizer, a common cultural background, and common language
of education and business (English).
Recently, there seems to be proposals to work toward an economic and
even political integration of Great Lakes countries such as Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At a recent meeting,
President Munseveni circulated a 48-page paper entitled Towards A Closer
Cooperation in Africa advocating such a union. These are the main points:
The plan has its enthusiasts, but has many skeptics even in Uganda itself.
The formation of a union government of Central and East African States.
According to the July 17 issue of The Monitor, the Government paper, Munseveni
reveals: "I have already spoken to most of the leaders of these countries,
and the majority of them have not dismissed the idea. This is a good beginning."
The union would be responsible for "external defence, foreign affairs,
common market affairs, common services and scientific research," said Munseveni.
a union government of the five would have a population of approximately
92 million, a land area of 703,842 sq. miles. "Overnight, these countries
would be transformed into a medium power in political, diplomatic, economic
and military terms comparable to Iran."
Robert Mukasa. Copyright © 1998 The Monitor - Kampala. July 16.
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