June 26, 2010
June 25, 2010
*Plans to elevate Kiswahili to UN working language status underway*
By HEZEKIEL GIKAMBI
Kiswahili might soon become a working language of the United Nations,
joining the league of six prominent languages in the world if a proposal by
Swahili scholars goes through.
The scholars met in Nairobi in December 2009 under the Afro-Arab Cultural
Institute (AACI), from Bamako, Mali in collaboration with the Ministry of
National Heritage and Culture of Kenya in a symposium aimed at charting the
future of the language.
Among the aims of the conference was to fight for the recognition of the
language by the UN.
"It is only a matter of time and East Africa will have found a bigger export
to the world than tea and coffee and that is Kiswahili," said Prof. Kimani
Njogu who chaired the conference.
Prof Njogu who heads a national Kiswahili association, Chama cha Kiswahili
cha Taifa-CHAKITA expressed optimism that the language stands a high chance
of being considered.
The language that made history by becoming the first African language to be
recognized as an official African Union language would give Africans and
more so East Africans reason to be proud of their region.
Spoken by close to 120 million people worldwide, Swahili is both a national
and official language in Tanzania.
In Kenya, the Committee of Experts, led by Nzamba Kitonga has proposed the
elevation of the language that is currently a national language to official
language status in their draft.
"If this proposal passes, it will be a step ahead of time in the century for
the language," said Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Dr
Bitange Ndemo who closed the conference.
He said if the new constitution is passed the way it is the government would
have 2-3 years to put every documents and its transactions in the internet
and later all governments documents in Kiswahili.
He promised to give two of the proposed Kiswahili-only digital channels to
the scholars to advance the language.
The official languages of UN are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian
and Spanish and presentations to the body are made through the said
If a participant doesn’t understand any of them, he carries with him a
translator who translates his statement to any of the six languages.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Heritage and Culture Dr Jacob Ole
Miaron who opened the conference appreciated the proposed Draft Protocol for
the establishment of the East African Kiswahili Council, saying it would
assist in the growth of the language.
“This would play a major role in enhancing political, economic, social,
cultural, education, scientific and technological development in the
region,” he said.
Efforts to have Swahili as an AU and UN language began in 2005, when a
proposal was made by the scholars to AU ministers of culture, who met in
The ministers accepted the proposal and forwarded it to the Heads of States
who adopted it in a summit held in Khartoum Sudan, under the chairmanship of
President Mwai Kibaki.
"It was welcomed passionately by former Mali President Alpha Oumar Konare,
who served as Chairperson of the African Union Commission from 2003 to
2008," recalls former Director of Culture, Anami Silverse.
Other institutions represented in the two-day conference included Academy of
African Languages (ACALAN), African Union, and the League of Arab States.
Apart from taking Kiswahili to UN working language status, the conference
that brought together scholars from 14 African countries and several Arab
states, also sought to document the history of the Afro-Arab relations in
the development of Kiswahili language.
"We also want to enhance the existing cultural relations and cooperation
between the Arabs and Africans in this century and beyond," said Prof Njogu.
Giving his presentation in Arabic, Prof Ayman Ibrahim Al A’sar of Al-Azhar
University in Oman, currently a Lecturer in Arab studies in the University
of Nairobi said the relationship between Arabic and Kiswahili, which has
lasted more than 2,000 years, have immense benefits to both people.
Prof Ibrahim Noor Sharif a Kiswahili Scholar from Oman recommended the
enhancement of institutional linkages by establishing exchange programmes
between Kenyan institutions and those in the Arab world.
"Cooperation can also be enhanced through visits, workshops and regional
discussions on cultural and education matters," he said.
Arab is to Kiswahili what Latin is to English, a major source of ‘loan’
words and original donor of its earliest alphabet.
Kiswahili being a Bantu language and more so, the most Arabicized Bantu
language contains a great diversity of expressions.
“This would rekindle the significance of cultural diversity amongst the
African and Arab communities," said Prof Alamin Mazrui, a Kenyan scholar.
“This will further cement the relationship and make the African continent
first and foremost to own up the language,” he added.
The University of Nairobi came under attack from Tanzanian Scholars for
lacking an independent Kiswahili department while universities in Japan,
Germany and other foreign countries have fully fledged Swahili departments.
Prof Njogu challenged local leaders to improve on their masterly of the
language and use it often so as to give it an international appeal.
Kiswahili is the most popular African language taught alongside African
studies in over 150 universities in the USA only.
Mr Malonga Pacifique a Kiswahili lecturer at a University in Kigali, Rwanda,
underscored the growing need to embrace Kiswahili as an international medium
*The writer is the Education Features Editor, *
*with **Taifa Leo, a Kiswahili publication *
*of the Nation Media Group- Nairobi Kenya.*
June 10, 2010
On June 20th, the Inner City Muslim Action Network is hosting one of the nation and world's most unique events: Taking it to the Streets 2010, a Muslim-organized street festival featuring Mos Def, Brother Ali, Tinarwein, the Reminders, OneBeLo (from Binary Star) and more. This festival is groundbreaking in its vision and execution. I will be writing more about it and the relation between hip-hop and Islam in America later. For now, check out the schedule online