From: C Spinner <>
Newsgroups: soc.culture.african,soc.culture.south-africa,soc.culture.african.american,soc.culture.zimbabwe
Subject: kiSwahili: waCongo Thrilled
Date: Mon, 09 Aug 2004 23:26:05 -0700
Organization: Webplus NEWS server
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Congolese Welcome Swahili As Official African Language

By Juakali Kambale, Inter Press Service (Johannesburg), 9 August 2004

Kinshasa—News that Swahili has been adopted as one of the African Union's working languages has been well received in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where nearly half the population speaks it, writes it, or understands it.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has been replaced by the 53-nation African Union (AU), had approved Swahili as a working language several years ago. The pan-African body adopted Swahili as its working language during its annual heads of state summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa in July.

Having originated along the shores of the Indian Ocean, Swahili is a mixture of Arabic and local languages that was spoken mostly in Tanzania. A number of neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Comoros, Mozambique, Malawi and DRC, also adopted the language as their own.

In all, Swahili is spoken by some 70 million people in Africa, according to estimates provided to IPS by Lugunga bya Ombe, a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation's Swahili Service in Congo. In early July, he participated in a Swahili workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, where various aspects of the language were debated.

Swahili, alongside English, is an official language in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The AU's adoptation of Swahili will surely make its instruction more sought-after and its practice more widespread in Africa. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the language has been superceded by French in primary education.

Swahili is one of the four vernacular languages used in radio and television in the Congo. The others are Lingala, spoken mostly in the northern provinces of Equator and Oriental, and in the capital, Kinshasa; Kikongo, spoken in the west, mostly in Kinshasa and Lower Congo province; and Tshiluba, spoken in the two south-central provinces of Kasai.

Five of Congo's 11 provinces are wholly Swahili-speaking: Oriental province, North and South Kivu in the east, Maniema in the central-east, and Katanga in the southwest.

The impact of adopting Swahili, as the AU's fifth working language, along with English, French, Portuguese and Arabic, might allow Swahili speakers to rediscover and redefine themselves in the African cultural dimension, Banza Tiefolo, from Katanga province, told IPS.

But Swahili could also, if manipulated by politicians, become a factor of division. Swahili has failed to prevent the spread of armed conflict in the Great Lakes region, where it is commonly spoken. The Great Lakes region - comprising the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda—have resorted to fighting, while ignoring the common language that binds them, lamented a Swahili-speaking analyst in Kinshasa.

Swahili could have contributed to the restoration of peace in the Great Lakes region, where all parties to the conflict speak the common language, Ombe told IPS.

Nonetheless, Swahili remains the sole language that unifies all of central and eastern Africa. Many Congolese journalists and linguists often travel to the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to brush up on or perfect their Swahili.

According to Yoka Liye, a professor of linguistics at the University of Kinshasa, one of Swahili's distinctions is its value as a language of diplomacy. It's also a language that has taken great inspiration from the cultures of the Indian Ocean coast, which are essentially based on compromise and negotiation. In addition, it's a very dynamic language which has managed to evolve with the times by adapting typically Swahili terms to modern technology, Liye told IPS.

In Kinshasa, Swahili has had problems intermingling with Lingala, the popular language that the Belgian colonisers imposed on Congo. Lingala also owes much of its popularity to modern Congolese music, which is often sung in that language.

The arrival in 1997 in Kinshasa of rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila and his young soldiers, the Kadogos, boosted the popularity of Swahili, since it was the language of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for Liberation (AFDL) army.

Unfortunately, the military character of the newcomers sparked a backlash by non-Swahili speakers.

But for Mamina Kangu, a teacher, who originally hails from the Lower Congo province, Swahili's importance is in its pluses for Africa.

The adoption of Swahili as a working AU language is expected to stimulate interests in teaching Swahili in schools. Alphonse Paluku, a retired teacher, has just completed writing an educational material for teaching in primary school.

I hope to find funding to put these materials, which are the first of their kind in Congo, into the hands of school children, Paluku told IPS.

Comment: So AU has adopted kiSwahili. Now what are they going to do about it—or do they expect it to take care of itself?

The Europeans, whose way of life as they know it depends on the plunder of Africa, have a pressing reason to downplay and repress the widening use of kiSwahili—a local language. Why?

There are countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya, which adopted kiSwahili as their official language in the sixties? What was their experience? What should have been done to popularize the language?

What is AU's response? Funding is needed. What kind of funding? What kind of organization? How should the effort be executed? How about the co-ordination of, and interraction among, the many projects currently underway in various parts of Africa to buttress the crumbling local culture and disappearing languages?

By the adpoption of kiSwahili, we presume that the AU appreciate the importance of language. What is the relationship between language and culture? Why do Africans need their culture that is distinct from the culture of Europeans—their rapists, killers and grabbers of ancestral lands? Why do the Japanese hold firm to their language and their way of life—including their way of writing—despite the onslaught of the foreigners and their, at times, degrading 'values' as communicated in their language, icons and images/media?