If you have never heard of the World’s Mother Tongue day, it’s because hardly anyone talked about it, least of all being the language’s legal custodians like the Ministry of Information, Culture, Artists and Sports, the National Swahili Council (Baraza la Kiswahili la Taifa, BAKITA), the Institute of Kiswahili Studies (IKS) at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) and the East African Kiswahili Council of the East African Community (EAC).
In fact, three days (and counting) after the World’s Mother Tongue day, still none of the above mentioned bodies has even posted a recognition of the day on their websites. So this year, as many others before and without intervention, many more to come, Kiswahili speakers led by the legal custodians of the language continue to lose the chance to honour and advocate use of the language.
While the five countries strong East African Community prides itself as the origin of the language and hence right to custodianship, it is a South Africa based nonprofit organisation, the Council of Swahili language in Africa (Baraza la Kiswahili Africa) that seems to be at the frontline of propagating the language.
In fact, the NGO claims to be “the only company that provides Swahili services in Africa” offering a wide range of services ranging from teaching the language to making voice-overs for films and even translating for dignitaries and celebrities.
True to this ambition, the NGO says its “...primary objective (is) promoting and ensures the development of Swahili language in Africa especially in the countries where Swahili language is not spoken.”
With such ambition, it only follows that the NGO aspires to ‘...open more branches in other parts of Africa as soon as possible.”
The NGO builds on the known fact that language is a significant unifying tool and lists in its objectives its intent; “To use Swahili language as a long term tool of strengthening unity, solidarity and socio-economic development in Africa so as to fulfill the dreams of Mwalimu Nyerere, Kwame Nkurumah, Nelson Mandela and other pan- africanists.”
For Tanzanians, we should all (shamefully) lament what the founding Father of the Nation Julius Nyerere would say about our failure to seize and create every opportunity to propagate the language he so much endeared to us.
The passion for Kiswahili that the Father of the Nation harboured cannot be overstated and surely mustn’t be ignored in our efforts to honour him, a duty we have thus far wavered in, if the World Mother Tongue day is any measure of our commitment to the same.
The responsible agencies must seek and take advantage of every opportunity to spread the wings of Kiswahili here at home and beyond. As we aspire to unite the region and the continent we must not forget the unifying power of language.