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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

`Time National Kiswahili Council woke up`

17th February 2012
Mwalimu Nyerere used Kiswahili to unite more than 129 tribes of Tanganyika against British colonial power. (File photo)

Deceased President Julius Kambarage Nyerere (“Mwalimu”), if, after 50 years of Tanganyika’s Independence, was to rise from his grave at Butiama for a few days’ sojourn this side of the grave, would summon the National Kiswahili Council to castigate it for mal-performance or substandard performance in the promotion of the language.

Mwalimu, long before he died, admitted that there were silly things that his regime did but he also stated that there were many good things which the regime achieved.

Among the many good things, Mwalimu did a lot for Kiswahili. He used Kiswahili to unite more than 129 tribes of Tanganyika against the British colonial power and won Independence for Tanganyika on December 9, 1961. He addressed Tanganyika’s parliament in Kiswahili on December 10, 1961. In 1967, under Mwalimu’s leadership, the National Kiswahili Council Act, No. 27 of 1967, cap 52 of the Laws of Tanzania, Revised Edition (R.E), 2002 was passed.

It established the Council as a body corporate with perpetual succession, capable of suing and being sued. The Act created sources of the funds for the Council and vested the Council with capacity to hold, purchase and otherwise acquire and dispose of any property, movable or immovable, for carrying out the purposes of the Act.

The Act spelt out the functions of the Council as being to: promote the development and usage of the Kiswahili language throughout the United Republic; co-operate with other bodies in the United Republic which are concerned with the promotion of the Kiswahili language and to co-ordinate their activities; encourage the use of the Kiswahili language in the conduct of official business and public life generally; encourage the achievement of high standard in the use of the Kiswahili language and to discourage its misuse; co-operate with the authorities concerned in establishing Kiswahili translation of technical terms; and publish a Kiswahili newspaper or magazine concerned with the Kiswahili language and literature;

Further, to: provide services to the Government, public authorities and individual authors writing in Kiswahili with respect to the Kiswahili language; in co-operation with any organization or institute or such other like body of persons and individuals, follow up, advise and co-ordinate activities aimed at promoting Kiswahili; in co-operation with any organizations or institute and other various national organizations; co-ordinate research relating to Kiswahili within the United Republic; on specific request of any writer or translator, be responsible for the inspection of new books or manuscripts written or translated into Kiswahili and certifying that the language used is of a standard accepted by the Council; in co-operation with publishers, assist writers to write correct Kiswahili; initiate Kiswahili writing competitions; and, in co-operation with the Ministry of Education, approve Kiswahili textbooks written for educational institutions before they are published.

For carrying out its functions, the Council was empowered to do all acts as appear to it to be requisite, advantageous or convenient, and to carry on any such activities either alone or in association or in co-operation with any other person or body.

Section 3 (2) of the Act provides that the Council shall consist of members, all of them appointed by the Minister for the time being responsible for matters relating to the Council.

The membership is very impressive; from: Prime Minister and first Vice President (Local Government), 3; Ministry of Education and Culture, 3; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1; Civil Service Commission, 1; The Institute of Kiswahili Research, 2; the office of the Attorney – General, 2; and the Ministry of Education and Culture (Zanzibar), 5;

Then, followed legislation in English which require that it be translated into Kiswahili, eg. Section 167 of the Law of marriage Act, 1971. Other legislations were simultaneously but separately passed in both English and Kiswahili, e.g. The Film and Plays Act, No. 4 of 1976.

To cap it all, Mwalimu caused to be fashioned entirely in Kiswahili the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977, (“The Union Constitution”) which came into operation on April 26, 1977. Although the Union Constitution did not make it compulsory for Kiswahili to be the national language of Tanzania, Article 67 (1) (a) of the Union Constitution established the qualifications for being a member of Parliament (“MP”); among which are that an MP shall be one who can read and write in Kiswahili language or English language. Mwalimu made very memorable speeches in beautiful Kiswahili and wrote books in that language.

We keep saying that Tanzania’s natural resources consist of minerals, agricultural land, topography, etc. However, we keep forgetting that ‘the commander – in – chief’ of Tanzania’s natural resources is Kiswahili, not English. Otherwise, how is Tanzania to develop without Tanzanians communicating with and understanding one another about all national issues?

Our National Assembly (“Bunge”) is thirsting for Tanzanian’s legislation to be translated into Kiswahili. Article 63 (2) of the Union Constitution proclaims that the Bunge shall be the principal organ of the United Republic which shall have the authority on behalf of the people to oversee and advise the Government of the United Republic and all its organs in the discharge of their respective responsibilities. And Article 77(1) provides that MPs shall be elected by the people.

Hence, the thirst is very unfortunate since it is a pre-condition for such representation that there should be maximum communication between the MPs and the people.

The thirst is evident from a reading of the Proceedings of the Bunge (the Hansard) of the United Republic, 17th session, 4th November, 2009, pages 1 to 122. Pages 50, 51,59,68,99 and 105 of the Proceedings respectively record: “… Nimejitahidi kutafuta hili neno la Kiingereza nimeshindwa kulielewa.” (I have tried to look for this English word and failed to find and understand it) - page 50; “…kuna triple 1 sijui maana yake.

Ninaomba Wanasheria wetu au Wizara yetu itusaidie.” (…there is triple I, I don’t know its meaning, I request the Lawyers or our the justice Ministry to help us) – page 51; “… Mheshimiwa Mwenyekiti, nashauri sheria hii itafsiriwe kwa lugha ya Kiswahili ifahamike na watoto nao waifahamu wazazi nao wafahamu, majukumu yao juu ya mtoto” (Hon.

Chairman, I request that this law be translated into the Kiswahili language so that it may be known to the children and so that the parents may know their responsibilities regarding the right of the child) – page 59;

Further, “maana sheria hii, siyo rahisi wote kuipata na kuielewa vilivyo na zaidi ya hilo ni tafsiri sahihi ya sheria yenyewe kwa lugha rahisi itatakiwa iandikwe.” (… because this law is not simple for all to get it and understand it correctly and, what is more than that, it is the correct translation of the law itself into simple language that will require to be enacted) – page 68; “Mheshimiwa Mwenyekiti, nashauri sheria hii itafsiriwe kwa lugha ya Kiswahili kuwafikia walengwa na kwa wazazi iwe rahisi kuelewa, ikishapitishwa Muswada huu Kanuni nayo ifuate.” (Hon.

Chairman, I advise that this law be translated into the Kiswahili language to reach those intended and so that for the parents it may be easy to understand, once the Bill has been passed, the Regulation should follow suit)

…. Page 99; and “Mheshimiwa Mwenyekiti … sheria hii itafsiriwe katika lugha ya Kiswahili na kuchapishwa katika gazeti la Serikali ndani ya miezi 24.” (Hon. Chairman, this law should be translated into the Kishwahili language and be published in the Government Gazette within 24 months.) – page 105.

The thirst was worsened by MPs who in those Proceeding used English words that: had not been translated into Kiswahili (67 words including: contradiction, human trafficking, mechanism, short listing and privacy.); had been wrongly translated into Kiswahili (6); had been mis-spelt and not translated (6 including “butcher” for butchery;) and that the Kiswahili words that were used are corruptions of English (43).

These last mentioned are :- afisa, baa, bajeti, benki, bodi, bomu, boti, familia, filamu, gridi, hekta, historia, hospitali, hosteli, kamati, kamisheni, kidikteta, kilomita, kisaikolojia, mashine, manejimenti, milioni, misheni, namba, ofisi, polisi, programu, radio, roli, sekondari, semina, sensa, sentensi, shilingi, shoo, televisheni, timu, teknolojia, transforma and wodi.

Now, just a moment, please, can it seriously be argued that a traditional Tanzanian has no concepts for substituting in Kiswahili such words as: familia, kamati, kidikteta, namba, shoo, timu? Whether the English words were correctly pronounced by the MPs is anybody’s guess.

In short, the use of Kiswahili in Tanzania is unnecessarily riddled with English words or corruptions of such words. Just listen to the Kiswahili of private and public officers, radio, television, and the sensational newspapers. Further, the use by ordinary Tanzanians of such words as control, maze, tumor, home, spot, stamina, wapiti (respectively, for control, mother, tomorrow, home, support, stamina and weight) is frequent.

In all this confusion, the National Kiswahili Council should render a strict account of what it has done through nearly 45 years since the Act came into force on August 11, 1967. For example, how much of the multitude Tanzania’s legislation in English has been translated into Kiswahili? Has the Council credibly discouraged the misuse of Kiswahili, established a newspaper or magazine in Kiswahili, translated technical terms, and promoted competitions in Kiswahili etc..?

May be the Council should start with advertising prizes for unadulterated use of Kiswahili by MPs, members of the media and public officials.

I have read in a local newspaper dated February 11, 2012, that more Kenyans than Tanzanians have rushed into Uganda to teach Kiswahili. If the Council finds that it is guilty of either mal-performance or substandard performance or both over nearly 45 years, the Council should always remember that time cannot be stored like any other commodity, that time not utilized is wasted for ever.

Furthermore, there are no prizes for average performance, and the test of the Council’s leadership is the ability to recognize its problems before they become emergencies, such as Kenyans overtaking Tanzanians.


Novatus Rweyemamu is a Senior Advocate

Mobile 0784 312623

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