Today was the inaugural World Kiswahili Day, which was set last year to honour and celebrate our region’s language.
Kiswahili is among the top-ten languages in the world, with tens of millions using it to trade, tour and experience the cultures and the peoples of East Africa.
The selection of July 7, also known as Saba Saba Day, commemorates the founding, in 1954, of the Tanganyika African National Union, the left-leaning principal party in Tanzania’s freedom struggle, and where Kiswahili took root.
Saba Saba is also a major political milestone in this country; it was on that very day, in 1990, that nationalists and pro-democracy activists descended on the streets of Nairobi and demanded a repeal of a constitutional relic that prohibited multi-party politics.
The Kiswahili footprints, no doubt, will continue to grow. Uganda adopted it this week for official use.
But it’s the ordinary people who have kept the language alive, using it every day.
Now what’s needed is to provide infrastructure that nurtures the language. For instance, more books, whether in print or digital formats, should be made available in Kiswahili.
I am not thinking of token texts that end up in schools’ literature curricular, written to staid dictates and tastes of poorly educated technocrats.
I am thinking of harnessing the vibrant storytelling traditions, from Lamu to Loiyangalani, into the written, visual and audio forms.
By the same token, we should be wary of foreign masters who come bearing “aid” that requires such products be produced in formats and qualities that are only available in their jurisdictions.