• June 6th, 2020

Swahili will promote Africa’s dignity at the UN

I was fortunate to recently attend the launch of the  RUDN-IUM Centre for Russian Language and Pre-Graduate Studies in partnership with the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University), in  an effort to foster the internationalisation of tertiary education and promotion of international collaboration. 

The launch being an extension of the solidarity that existed between the then Soviet Union and the people of Namibia was graced with the presence of Namibians who received both academic and military training in the Soviet Union during the harsh years of the freedom struggle. 

At this launch I was particularly impressed by the lingua fluency of some of the Namibian graduates from the then Soviet Union who spoke at this event, notably  Dr Kalumbi Shangula, who spoke  fluent Russian at this event. 

What prompted me to write this article is the keynote address that was delivered by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Relations Netumbo Ndaitwa who emphasised the power of language in international diplomacy.
Her well-crafted presentation prickled a provocative question in my mind about why Africa is not campaigning for the introduction of Swahili at the United Nations.   I started to reflect on the ongoing campaign to have Africa gain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, a campaign that seems to have no coordination as African leaders are unable to convince the world and they do not exuberate confidence in their pursuit of this noble objective. 

The reason for this lackluster performance is perhaps the stereotyped image of Africa that results from our leaders’ own failures to govern the continent. The stereotype is that Africa cannot govern the world at that stage if charity is denied at home.      

Therefore, this political target, noble as it is, appears unattainable under the current conditions in which the cradle of humanity finds herself  dehumanised, despotised, war-trodden and poverty-stricken. 

The gloomy TV pictures of a continent that cannot feed its own people, panic-stricken women fleeing from endless wars in the DRC, Sudan, Central African Republic and elsewhere with hungry babies clutched on their backs; a continent suffering from the scourge of malaria, Ebola, cholera and HIV and Aids epidemics; a continent whose leaders keep running to the West to beg for donations. 

This is despite  African leaders, academics and diplomats - dining, wining, shining and smartly dressed at the AU Head Office in Addis Ababa and at international conferences.  Mostly men in their splendid suits. Visions after visions are crafted and re-casted to provide the impression that development is taking place on the continent. But as soon as the deadlines are approaching without tangible results, these visions are re-casted without explanation. 

In retrospect, these myriads of problems that confront Africa at home weaken our campaign to be accorded a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, at the same level with the five permanent members of the Security Council, referred to as the super powers.   

Very recently, our president Dr Hage Geingob made this passionate call at the UN for the continent to be accorded a Permanent Representation in the UN Security Council.
If this attempt proves futile, the Namibian President can craft a unique agenda for African recognition at the UN where he once served his party as a representative.  

He could recast his own vision away from 2060 to the most tangible target of introducing an African language, particularly SWAHILI as a tool of power and self-respect for Africa at the UN.  
A campaign of that nature will put Namibia on the map of continental politics. Our country is in that unique position to sell this idea to Africa because our freedom was partly achieved though African solidarity.  It is one of the ways that we can reward Africa. 

African academics and researchers could join hands with our leaders and diplomats to have Swahili find its way to the doorsteps of the United Nations, at par with other UN officially recognised languages.  
Although this may be perceived as a low-key strategy compared to the hardcore demand for a permanent seat, this approach holds several benefits.

Firstly, language as a manifestation of culture would be accepted as a personification of the African continent in the UN structures. To reject the call for the recognition of an African language would be tantamount to rejecting the personality of Africa because of race, language, creed, culture and ethnicity. 

Secondly, to arrive at which state in Africa will represent the continent permanently will lead to sub-regional rivalries. Swahili is spoken in many African countries and may not be contested.

Finally, looking at the current status of Africa as already alluded to in this article, it may prove more strategic to start a fresh campaign against cultural hegemony. Despite the utility of foreign language as a tool of commerce and knowledge, it was initially introduced in Africa as a tool of cultural hegemony. 
To fight this, Africa needs to return to the academic trenches of Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness for inspiration. 

* Dr Rukee Tjingaete is a critical scholar who specialises in media studies. This article is written in his own capacity. 

New Era Reporter
2019-03-01 10:13:34 | 1 years ago

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