• August 5th, 2020

Opinion: The pandemonium of the Swahili (Kiswahili) language in Namibia

Dr VN Sazita

Allow me space in your newspaper to share my views on the introduction of Kiswahili in Namibia and other African countries. Egalitarianism, or equalitarianism, is a school of thought within political philosophy that prioritises equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines are generally characterised by the idea that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status. Egalitarianism is the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

The Kiswahili or Swahili language dates from the contacts of Arabian traders with the inhabitants of the east coast of Africa over many centuries. Under Arab influence, Swahili originated as a lingua franca used by several closely related Bantu-speaking tribal groups. The oldest known example of written Swahili dates to the early 18th century. Swahili was initially written in an Arabic script through east African people’s contact with Arab traders. Efforts to standardise the Swahili language were undertaken by British colonial authorities in the 1930s.

Swahili has now been adopted as a Bantu language spoken in Tanzania, Burundi, Congo (Kinshasa) Kenya, Mayotte, Mozambique, Oman, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and the USA. Around 5 million people speak Swahili as a native language, and a further 135 million speak it as a second language.

Swahili, or Kiswahili, belongs to the larger Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. The name comes from the plural of the Arabic word sawāhil which means, ‘coast’. ‘Ki-’ is a prefix attached to nouns of the noun class that includes languages. Swahili developed mainly from two languages: Arabic and Bantu spoken along the East Coast of Africa. The language (Swahili) borrows heavily from these two. It developed when the Ottoman Empire (Muslim Empire) established a territory in the African East Coast and they interacted with the local Bantu people.

What is so special about introducing Kiswahili while the African continent is endowed with original God-given languages, tribes, kindreds, nations, races and ethnic groupings? President Julius Nyerere was a convert of the Moslem world and he wanted to convince the whole African continent to be converted the way he was converted – what would that help Africans with? Let Nyerere-ism be his own whims and let Africans live their lifestyles. Perhaps Nyerere and his cohorts or proponents of the ideals of such a dream of appending Kiswahili to the continent’s countries are not aware, as we shall see later of Nyerere’s U-turn from introducing Kiswahili in Tanzania in this article. It is not just introducing Kiswahili to the people of this continent, but it is something that comes with massive costs and disruptive societies. One cannot introduce something that he himself worships and thinks that other people would sip the juice he enjoyed.

The views relating to the introduction of the Kiswahili language in an African schoolware is found not to be auguring well since the excitement of the majority seems to ignore the hallmark of the challenges and the demises of this desire. When one is extremely excited about something, they tend to overlook some serious repercussions of such an excitement. The Swahili language is basically of a pseudo-Bantu (African) origin. It has borrowed words from other languages such as Arabic probably as a result of the Swahili people using the Quran written in Arabic for spiritual guidance as Muslims. Ultimately it came to be applied to the people and the language. 

Today, Nyerere rests in peace and what he dreamt for the nations of Africa to be good is not as he perceived. Societies have changed and are no longer the way he envisioned. Nyerere’s counterpart Gadhafi also had a dream of a United States of Africa. Where did it go? People should not just dance at the vibes of people who tell them stories about the beauties hidden somewhere where they personally have never landed a foot to walk and enjoyed those beauties. Africa is severely struck with poverty, unending suffering, escalating unemployment, unending expensive life being introduced to them and ills of hunger. Why not address these and do away with capturing other states with cheap entertainment such as Kiswahili. Africans should know that countries that started Kiswahili want to benefit from those who never spoke Kiswahili by sending their Kiswahili so-called expatriates to subdue other nations in a way of getting jobs at the expense of the nationals of those countries. 

The development of the Kiswahili curriculum would be costly to develop by those expatriates and the countries will bear such unnecessary costs. The cultures and lifestyles of many Africans will be influenced by the Moslem culture as it had been observed and as stated hereof that the Moslem culture has influenced some parts of Africa untrimmed. We see how Nigeria and other nations of Africa have been influenced by the Muslim influence. I fully respect the Moslem culture and would not dispute it in any way since it is theirs and is respected by everyone else. Can Africans therefore, learn to be content with what God has given them and only concentrate on developing their own lands? Yesterday was a complaint of European colonisation and we succumbed to that, today is another complaint of Chinese colonisation and we have succumbed, tomorrow is Kiswahili and we plan to succumb. Where to, oh Africa? 

If a Kiswahili host country is Zimbabwe or Botswana or Zambia that accommodates all teaching posts from Grade 1 – Grade 12 and from Degree, Diploma Year 1 in tertiary and semi-tertiary institutions, how many Kiswahili foreign nationals would be accommodated in Zimbabwe or Botswana or Zambia as the host country? Now Kiswahili nationals from other African states will infiltrate Zimbabwe or Zambia or Botswana or any African country and overwhelm it? How many jobs would Zimbabweans have in their own country?

Beware of xenophobia; it is on its way in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa because of the introduction of Kiswahili. On the business front where those proponents of Kiswahili are saying that the Kiswahili language would help in communication platforms for ease of conducting business, there is no truth lying beneath for us. The truth is: African countries do not need Kiswahili for this purpose. African countries have a common pattern of trade which is South to South (African countries are trading with China, India, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.) and the North to South pattern in which African states are trading with European and American countries. Where then is Kiswahili going to work? Africans have also introduced the learning of English, German, Spanish, French, etc. and now Kiswahili; how many languages does Africa want to import? Namibia immediately after independence embraced the development of literacy programs. Where are they today? Kiswahili is not African, but for a handful of countries in Africa. And let it be used there because it is a necessity for them and not for Africa as a whole. However, as a scholar, I do not have any ulterior motives relating to the Kiswahili in any way.

The culture, religion, customs, values and norms that the Constitution boasts about in Namibia and other African countries would all bow down to the Kiswahili language. Pogroms and skirmishes would result when the societal fabrics get lost from their roots and importing other cultures. Let Tanzania and countries that widely speak Kiswahili continue with Kiswahili and please let Africans remain committed to their societal fabrics. 

Immediately after independence, Kiswahili became the language of most government activity, including the parliament and interdepartmental communication.  The statement of intent that Kiswahili would ultimately be the medium of instruction at all levels of education provided more promise for Kiswahili.
English was no longer the medium of instruction in primary schools; its use in public diminished, and it no longer enjoyed exclusive status as the language of politics and administration. The loss of status for English and negative attitudes toward it led to an atmosphere in which English was neglected in schools.

At the same time, Kiswahili, cultivated as a national language and a marker of Tanzanian identity, acquired a high prestige status and thus a competitive advantage vis-à-vis English. Consequently, Tanzanians’ potential exposure to English was drastically narrowed, although English remained the medium of instruction in secondary and higher education and the ticket for upward mobility in education and obtaining high income jobs.

However, the crucial question regarding English being the victim of the policies that promoted Kiswahili is: What about the rest of the education system? If English is the only problem, a change of the medium back to English would probably correct the situation. Unfortunately, the entire education system is in a serious crisis that is not attributable to promotion of Kiswahili.

A look back shows how this situation developed. By the end of the 1970s, Tanzanian education was in decline. Illiteracy and attrition rates were on the rise again, primary school leavers were deficient in many essential skills, and schools no longer provided environments conducive to education because of the switch to Kiswahili. The president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, then commissioned a study of the causes of educational decline.  The causes of the crisis in education provide insights on why English ceased to be an effective instructional medium and why the language policy became impossible to implement.

It was then concluded in 1984 that the Tanzania government reaffirmed the position of English as the medium of instruction in secondary and higher levels of education, rejecting the 1982 recommendations to change the medium of instruction to Kiswahili. Then-President J. K. Nyerere argued that if English was not used as the medium of instruction, it might die in the Tanzanian community. Nyerere was concerned because English is widely used around the world, especially in science and technology, and that when schools use English as the medium of instruction, they provide exposure to the students and thus open their minds to world knowledge.

Here again we see President J. K. Nyerere refuting Kiswahili as a language to be used in Tanzania and spearheads the track back to the use of English in order to reposition Tanzania with the rest of the world. So, Namibians should know that: No one reads a closed book. Only an open book can be read. Concealed democracy cannot rule any society, only transparent democracy will rule a society and steer it in a directed path. What a valid experience Nyerere himself had come to experience as he himself confessed!
So then: The writing is on the wall for Africans to be brainwashed. Learn what you learn and know what you have learned and whether that would have an impact in your livelihoods and lifestyles for genuine Africans who want to stand for their constitutional rights in which freedoms and equality of all languages are sanctioned.

In conclusion, the dilemma in language policy is universal. On the first premise the need to use local languages in education is crucial because they are the most accessible to the people, they emphasize local relevance, they enhance self-determination, and they encourage creativity in education, but will be influenced by terminology, technology and modern science.  The second premise entails that every country needs international languages such as English and French as windows to modern science and technology around the world. If we overemphasise one premise, it will adversely affect the other. The best way to approach this for Namibia is to make appropriate use of the available languages and develop them than inclining on inclinations that are in a parallelogram and paradoxes of a pandemonium state.

* Dr VN Sazita is a senior lecturer at the International University of Management. Views expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily that of the International University of Management.

Staff Reporter
2020-01-17 07:49:23 | 6 months ago


  1. User
    Asnat Shauri

    Wow! Thank you for this well-written article Dr. Sazita. As a Swahili speaker from Tanzania, I feel attacked by these words (joking)! I understand your point that we Africans have to embrace what is ours and we should never forget our languages and values. Since you mention it that Swahili is the most spoken African language, why don't other Africans learn it too? I think Namibians have a golden opportunity to learn Swahili and use it so that they can be able to integrate more with the East Coast. We Sub-Saharans need a common understanding of more than just Swahili but many other things to build up our economies and societal knowledge. I tried to use all my English since it is not my language.

  2. User
    Mcfallen Macha

    Dear Dr. Satiza I totally understand your economic concerns related to introducing Kiswahili in Namibia, However; there is bigger picture we are all missing by only focusing on the current economic returns. Think of the future mutual trade benefits that will smoothly being carried out by The Africans who have the sense of trust and brotherhood because they only speak the same language. As of today, If Tanzanians meet Congolese or Kenyans with Rwandans or Zambian and Ugandans in USA, Europe or Asia feel closer and one than how Namibians will if they meet their Botswana or SA Neighbors. Believe me I am living in the massive international community and I am telling you from experience. This kind of brotherhood feelings is what building networks and business cooperations, and feelings of pride to our mother land. Just as you mentioned earlier Kiswahili is the most spoken African Language and yes it had long time broken the country boundaries, it is no longer a Tanzanian or Kenyan Language, It is African, We Should embraces something of our own and through it we will not jus earn the respect but the brotherhood which will foster our regional integration and development through wider share of our products like Art and music market. While you have reservations to why Namibian should learn our own African Language just know in Europe and USA is the fastest growing taught language in the High learning institutions. Why do they learn ? While you think this is Kind if the East African language, I will tell you I know several West Africans, Nigerians and Ghanians and few South Africans Teaching Swahili in The prestigious European and American Universities, These could be Namibians if Namibia started earlier. The idea that Swahili is the product of other languages, yes because every big language existing on earth today is somehow a product of Roman, Slavic and General Asians, Just like Portuguese French and Spanish E.t.c So that’s not the problem to have some Arabic and Portuguese, while the largest content of vocabulary and grammar remains that of Bantu. Remember, the first pride of the people is their language, we have tribes in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, e.t.c and Kiswahili has never interfered with that. But we all feel proud when you go everywhere and you are sure that someone will understand you because you speak the language which is belong to both of you. Kiswahili is the gateway to our UBUNTU spirit, we Should embrace it as we claim our long stolen African dignity, Swahili is no longer the property if Tanzania or any other country but it’s is The Property of Africans. How much longer shall we keep singing praises of the foreign languages of the people who we have nothing in common and Claim it to be our own while at the same time when you mention it everyone thinks of different world to your own, or when he/she does you a far will only connect you to the history of your fathers who was treated as the last class humankind? Our tales, our idioms, our saying our traditions and customs are best fit in our African languages, we should tell our grand children some days that we decided to reclaim our dignity by starting building up our African common language.