By Frank Kweronda
Kiswahili has been fronted as the language of identity within the East African Community (EAC), with key symbols of integration. The Swahili language or Kiswahili is a Bantu language and the mother tongue of the Swahili people.
It is spoken by various communities inhabiting the African Great Lakes Region and other parts of Southeast Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, some in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kiswahili is a lingua franca and one of the few African languages spoken worldwide. It is one of the fastest growing languages in the world which is also the official language of the East African Community. Uganda Government recognises the importance of Kiswahili as a regional and international language that can foster unity among the people of Uganda.
Given this background, the Government of Uganda needs to lay rigorous strategies for the development and teaching of Kiswahili in order to put the country at the same footing with other East African Partner States.
As we think of integrating with other countries in the region, we must note that Kiswahili is the official language in Tanzania and Kenya. It is also used as a medium of communication in major urban centres in mainly Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
There is need to promote Kiswahili, be it in schools or any other informal way where Ugandans can have at least basic knowledge of it. “It should be taught in schools from primary up to secondary. It is not clear how we are part of the EAC and still fail to promote the language.”
Nobody can underestimate the role of Kiswahili in Uganda as well as in the EAC. Our children and the population need to explore the opportunities that come with integration and this language is a major tool.
One of the ways in which Kiswahili establishes and reinforces unity among the diverse ethnic groups of East Africa is through cross border trade. There is a high volume of trade between border groups in all the countries. This border trade is largely conducted in Kiswahili which is a language common to the communities of the region.
The language also helps minimise border conflicts in the East African region. It does so because the language repertoire common to all helps them to view themselves as a people belonging to one large divided but linguistically united region.
East African people have had joint political ventures. Some of the political activities go back to colonial time. They jointly agitated for independence as members of the Pan African movements but also as East Africans who spoke the same language: Kiswahili. Even after independence there is a lot of link politically. Uganda leaders attend national celebrations in Kenya and Tanzania and vice versa.
A friend I talked to had this say: “And it is such a beautiful language....I have no regrets having learnt it early in life! Besides it could ease communication across the borders in the EA region. The dialects may vary but it is better than nothing at all”.
In Tanzania and Kenya the language is taught in schools. In Uganda it has been on the school curriculum but very few schools have been teaching it.
We need to come out of this cultural bondage and understand that we are in the EAC (East African Community), where millions speak Kiswahili. Not many people in Tanzania will understand you when you speak English.”
Therefore as we continue with the reforms of having EA integration, let’s not forget the Swahili language a one of the tools.
The writer is a civil engineer