Culture, Africa

Africa celebrates 1st World Kiswahili Language Day

Swahili spoken by more than 200 million people in Africa, Middle East

Andrew Wasike   | 07.07.2022
Africa celebrates 1st World Kiswahili Language Day

NAIROBI, Kenya

The world and most African countries marked Thursday as the first World Kiswahili Language Day.

Swahili is considered one of the top 10 most spoken languages in the world. And in Africa, it is the most widely used native language.

The language, which enjoys national status in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, is also widely spoken in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

Kenyans gathered at the Kenyatta International Conventional Center to celebrate the use and importance of Swahili as one of its official languages and a common language in Africa.

”Today is a historic day because UNESCO member states declared the 7th of July as world Swahili day,” said Tourism Minister Najib Balala. “This is our pride because the United Nations have acknowledged our African language.”

Last year UNESCO adopted a resolution that proclaimed July 7 as World Kiswahili Language Day.

Swahili is a mixture of languages from different countries and takes 40% of its vocabulary from Arabic. It was initially spread by Arab traders along the eastern coast of Africa.

It is spoken by more than 200 million people in Africa and the Middle East and has been honored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Scholars want Swahili taught in classrooms across Africa. Swahili professor Kandagor Mosol at Moi University in Nairobi said the spread of Swahili as an African language has been a challenge because of political will.

“In Kenya, most politicians will not want to talk in Swahili, yet they understand Kiswahili. So, when you lack the political will in any country, then the usage of any language will actually become a challenge,” he said.

Uganda adopted Kiswahili as an official language Tuesday and recommended teaching the language be made compulsory and examinable in primary and secondary schools.

South Africa became the first southern African country to offer Kiswahili as an optional subject in schools in 2020, raising hopes for the growth of the language considered lingua franca in East Africa.

July 7 was picked as Swahili Day after a request by Tanzania because it was the day 68 years ago that then-Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere declared Swahili as a vital tool to fight for independence.

Since becoming the official language in Tanzania, neighboring countries have officially adopted Swahili.

Swahili speakers are spread out in more than 14 countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Comoros and as far as Oman and Yemen in the Middle East.

Southern African countries, including South Africa and Botswana, have introduced Swahili schools, while Namibia and others are considering the measure.

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