World Kiswahili day: Why Kenyans still not Fluent in the language


Kenyans together with the rest of the world today joined in the marking the first-ever World Kiswahili Language Day.

Kiswahili is currently one of the official languages in the East African Community, African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The credit goes to the declaration by the 41st Session of the UNESCO member states in 2021 that declared July 7 the World Kiswahili Language Day.

Kiswahili has also been seriously considered as a language and as an area of study in many universities in Europe, the US, Canada, and Asia. Now, the language is recognized globally.

Kiswahili was made an official language in the country after the promulgation of the 2010 constitution, meaning, it can be used as an official mode of communication in any office.

Even with all the efforts made, the majority of Kenyans still struggle to express themselves as the language takes a beating from variants such as sheng.

One of the reasons why Swahili language adoption has slowed is because the country has long struggled with colonial mindset. Mr Nyongesa  a Kiswahili editor explains.

According to Nyongesa, the new post-colonial rulers helped colonial prejudices to thrive against African ways, where some were more black Englishmen who despised all things African.

“You would be punished at school in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s in Kenya if you spoke your mother tongue but rewarded for speaking English. In some schools in the 60s and 70s, you would be punished for speaking Kiswahili,” he narrated.

He calls on the government and policymakers to work together to prevent colonial prejudices against African culture.

He said, this has impacted on Kenya’s education system where a ‘mzungu’ education frowned upon things African; language, religion, and traditions.

The editor argues that because of this, Kenya was and still is embroiled in a culture that seems to think that knowledge of English reflects intelligence while knowledge of the native language reflects a lack of education and therefore ignorance.

His sentiments are echoed by Dr Khamisi Babusa, a Kiswahili lecturer at the Kenyatta University (KU) who advocates for the formation of the Baraza la Kiswahili (Kiswahili Council) to spearhead language promotion activities in the country.

According to Babusa lack of impending policies are some of the challenges holding the country back, calling for affirmative action

Hezekiel Gikambi, a Kiswahili Scholar and author, says there is an urgent need for Kenyans to adopt Swahili as an official language and as a beautiful cultural product to be embraced, just like Tanzania.

Also Read: GetBundi a Tech Platform, Targets Youths for STEM Learning in Africa.

“We need to have a national structure to recognize our heroes and experts who have moved Kiswahili to great heights in Kenya,” Gikambi notes.

The likes of the late Prof Ken Walibora, Prof Sheikh Nabhany, Prof Mwenda Mukuthuria, and the late Ahmed Nassir, Gikambi says, should be feted in memory of their contributions.

“The living equivalent should be awarded while still alive. A case in point is the Lamu-born Ustadh Mahmud Abdikadir Mau, who is right now at the University of Bayreuth in Germany working on classical Swahili poems that are written in Arabic scripts. We have a few Kenyan poets who have such abilities and knowledge,” he says.

However, Gikambi admits that the country is making commendable steps and that progress is visible.

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