By Kylie Kiunguyu and Guardian Reporter
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Tanzania’s Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, and South Sudan’s Minister of Education, Deng Deng Hoc Yai, in Dodoma City, Tanzania. The five-year deal will see Tanzania sending Kiswahili teachers to Africa’s newest nation.
South Sudan joined the East African Community (EAC) in April 2016. The EAC has Kiswahili as its official language and member states have adopted Kiswahili as one of the official language of their countries. Kiswahili is spoken in Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. South Sudan’s Minister of Education said, “Since South Sudan is part of East Africa, there is a need to teach Kiswahili in the country for easy communication with other member states.”
South Sudan is not the only country that has shown an interest in adopting Kiswahili as part of its curriculum. In September 2018, South Africa incorporated Kiswahili as its first optional foreign African language in its school curriculum. Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an opposition political party, also stated in August 2018 that there was a need for Kiswahili to be adopted as Africa’s common language. According to newspapers in the country, Tanzania was ready to send teachers to teach Kiswahili.
Tanzanian teachers will fly to Juba to teach Kiswahili in the proposed deal. Professor Ndalichako said, “We are more than ready to help our East African neighbours in their quest to master the language. As we speak, we are expecting our teachers to go to South Sudan.” The minister added that Kiswahili textbooks from Tanzania will also be sent to South Sudan. At present, Tanzania is waiting for further communication from Juba on when to start sending the teachers.
In the same vein, Kenya and South Africa have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to provide a foundation for the introduction of Kiswahili as an elective language in the South African educational system. This is South Africa’s next step in fully integrating Kiswahili as an indigenous language to promote unity and social cohesion with fellow Africans.
In 2018 South Africa’s Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, said that South Africa intended to teach Kiswahili in schools as an optional language to promote unity and “social cohesion with fellow Africans”. This is part of a broader movement among many African countries who are looking to reform and critically assess their education systems when it comes to language teaching.
Indigenous languages have been phased out over time in favour of foreign languages. The reason given was to keep the African student “current” and capable of navigating on a global scale. Now governments are questioning the wisdom in dispensing of indigenous languages in school curriculums and inadvertently fuelling their extinction.
Among the African countries rectifying the situation and going on to embrace Kiswahili as a potentially continental language is South Africa. On behalf of her government, Minister Motshekga recently visited Kenya to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenyan Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha that Kenya will help facilitate the introduction of Kiswahili in South African schools.
According to a number of Kenyan publications, the agreement will provide a basis for the two countries to share technical capabilities in education and a mutual exchange of intellectual capital. This may mean availability of teaching jobs in South Africa for Kenyan educators in the coming years.
Following the signing, Motshekga said, “The MoU will make it possible for learners in South African to take up Kiswahili as an optional language besides French and Portuguese.”
Motshekga also praised the steps Kenya has taken in digitising its education system. “Kenya’s Digital Learning Programme has the potential to address gaps in skills between learners, apart from addressing the problem of teacher shortages,” she said.
South African schools will teach Kiswahili alongside languages such as Mandarin, French and German. Should other African countries follow suit to incorporate Kiswahili into their school curriculum?
South Africa is the latest country on the continent to make Kiswahili a language that will be offered in public schools. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced that Kiswahili has been approved as a second language that will be taught in South African schools. Although Kiswahili does not have the privilege of being listed as an official language in South Africa unlike Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, it is a step forward in getting the language widely spoken.
Motshekga told Sowetan Live, “This was approved by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM). There are currently 15 nonofficial languages listed in the national curriculum statement as optional subjects. These include French, German and Mandarin. There is unfortunately no African language in the list of languages. Kiswahili is a bantu language with lexical and linguistic similarities with many African languages spoken in the continent.
Kiswahili, like Zulu and many other South African languages, is an agglutinating language and shares many similar features in word formation, and grammatical structure. Kiswahili has a large Bantu lexicography, similarly found in iZulu, iXhosa and other languages. Words like awethu have the Kiswahili equivalent of wetu.
Recently, South African politician and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema called for Kiswahili to be made Africa’s common language. The reaction to that suggestion was mixed, some opposed, but many seemed to go with it. The minister further said, “Kiswahili has the power to expand to countries that never spoke it and has the power to bring Africans together. It is also one of the official languages of the African Union. We are confident that the teaching of Kiswahili is South African schools will help to promote social cohesion with our fellow Africans.”
With such positive steps in the education sector, Kiswahili could gain ground on the continent and become the continent’s lingua franca.
Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Comorian, spoken in the Comoros Islands is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Swahili, though other authorities consider it a distinct language.
The exact number of Swahili speakers, be it native or second-language speakers, is unknown and a matter of debate. Various estimates have been put forward and they vary widely, ranging from 50 million to 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of four nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the DRC. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognised as a lingua franca of the East African Community. In 2018 South Africa legalized the teaching of Swahili in South African schools as an optional subject to begin in 2020.
A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary derives from Arabic, in part conveyed by Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants. For example, the Swahili word for "book" is kitabu, traceable back to the Arabic word kitāb (from the root k-t-b "write"). However, the Swahili plural form of this word ("books") is vitabu, rather than the Arabic plural form kutub, following the Bantu grammar in which ki- is reanalysed as a nominal class prefix, whose plural is vi
Swahili is a Bantu language of the Sabaki branch. In Guthrie's geographic classification, Swahili is in Bantu zone G, whereas the other Sabaki languages are in zone E70, commonly under the name Nyika. Local folk-theories of the language have often considered Swahili to be a mixed language because of its many loan words from Arabic, and the fact that Swahili people have historically been Muslims. However, historical linguists do not consider the Arabic influence on Swahili to be significant enough to classify it as a mixed language, since Arabic influence is limited to lexical items, most of which have only been borrowed after 1500, while the grammatical and syntactic structure of the language is typically Bantu.
The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters written in Kilwa in 1711 in the Arabic script that were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. The original letters are preserved in the Historical Archives of Goa, India.
Since Swahili was the language of commerce in East Africa, the colonial administrators wanted to standardize it. In June 1928, an interterritorial conference attended by representatives of Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, and Zanzibar took place in Mombasa. The Zanzibar dialect was chosen as standard Swahili for those areas, and the standard orthography for Swahili was adopted.
Swahili has become a second language spoken by tens of millions in three African Great Lakes countries (Tanzania, Kenya, and the DRC) where it is an official or national language. In 1985, with the 8-4-4 system of education, Swahili was made a compulsory subject in all Kenyan schools. Swahili and closely related languages are spoken by relatively small numbers of people in Burundi, Comoros, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda. The language was still understood in the southern ports of the Red Sea in the 20th century.
Some 80 per cent of approximately 62 million Tanzanians speak Swahili in addition to their first languages. The five eastern provinces of the DRC are Swahili-speaking. Nearly half the 81 million Congolese reportedly speak it. Swahili speakers may number 120 to 150 million in total.
Swahili is among the first languages in Africa for which language technology applications have been developed. Arvi Hurskainen is one of the early developers. The applications include a spelling checker, part-of-speech tagging, a language learning software, an analysed Swahili text corpus of 25 million words, an electronic dictionary, and machine translationbetween Swahili and English. The development of language technology also strengthens the position of Swahili as a modern medium of communication.
Unlike the majority of Niger-Congo languages, Swahili lacks contrastive tone (pitch contour). As a result of that and the language's shallow orthography, Swahili is said to be the easiest African language for an English speaker to learn.