THE envisaged first conference on Kiswahili under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC), which is slated for Zanzibar, is most delightful, coming, as it does, against the backdrop of the momentum that the language is gaining.
The conference is actually long overdue, but as the adage goes, ‘better late than never”.
It may be recalled that Kiswahili gained a foothold along the Indian Ocean coastline, courtesy of intermarriages between Bantus and Arabs.
It became a major medium of communication within the original EAC comprising Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and, although the grouping broke up in 1977 after ten-year span, the language not only survived, but extended its tentacles as farther afield as central and southern Africa.
The revival of the community, plus the expansion of membership to include Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, have raised the importance of the language to a higher level, and makes initiatives for popularising it farther more compelling.
The conference from 5th to 6th September this year, is envisioned to bring about many changes in the community through Kiswahili language.
That’s great, because besides cementing the integration and economic development agenda, the event will also focus on stimulating business and employment opportunities.
For the wider and deeper the language spreads, the more the solidarity amongst the EAC partner states would be strengthened.
The conference will furthermore focus on enlightening member states on politics and democracy through the use of the language, considering that promoting democratic governance is an ideal that all the countries are enjoined to pursue.
Plus, the language has to be engineered into a conduit for conveying constructive changes in the community, and more so on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) so that its citizens are enlightened and keep pace with the technology.
It is apparent that the more the grouping’s estimated 160 million people know how to read, write and communicate in Kiswahili, their thinking, opinions and understanding of EAC, corridors for other development paradigms will also open up. To that end, academicians and other stakeholders should publish more books in the language.
And, as conference hosts, plus the fact that we have a head start, Tanzania should play a pivotal role in elevating Kiswahili to an East African regional lingua franca, along the lines of what Arabic is in relation to northern Africa.