Let`s use Kiswahili in all spheres of national life

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Feb 1 14:35:02 UTC 2006

Let`s use Kiswahili in all spheres of national life

01 Feb 2006
By Charles Kayoka

When I listen to and read about the debate on whether or not Kiswahili
language should be promoted as a medium of instruction in higher learning
educational institutions I cannot help find the predicament the
post-colonial African is trapped in. Since our first encounter with the
West over 300 years ago, our own identity has become suspect, and all that
formed the fabric of our existence became subjects of questioning and
attack. I look at the debate this way!  The former Senegalese president
and founder of the Negritude, Leopold Sedar Senghor, once wrote that the
successful project of our `secret enemy` is making the African doubt even
her own self.

Colonialism and its attendant elements slavery, forced paid or underpaid
labour on colonial farms, racial subjugation, and the brainwashing
education through religion and formal education has made us change the
focus of reference. Colonialism told us, directly or indirectly, that the
metropolitan centre supplied the meaning of everything.

The metropolitans view was the standard, and ours a deviation, in fact
does not apply. Colonialism was a first move towards globalization of
ideas, of language, of education, of culture, of religion, and of thinking
in general. The African felt proud and exalted at her own achievement if
she spoke the foreign masters language better than her own language, and
feels demeaned if she cannot speak that language the way the owners of the
language do!

But the highest of the colonial masters achievement is seeing the African
herself in the frontline against her own culture and self. The fight
against Kiswahili, and the prejudicial attitudes towards it is but a
fierce attempt by the African trying kill the very essence of a nations,
and indeed a societys, cultural existence. The colonist told us that
Kiswahili cannot be a better language, and we in turn, echo his doubts
over own language. We start looking at it with suspicion and all those who
champion its existence are similarly held suspect.

A professor is measured by his/her mastery of English, and a book he/she
writes in Kiswahili is considered to have worthless knowledge and his
degrees are treated second rate. It is because of the same de-racinating
effect, we can see the African getting less for doing a job which his
White (Indian, Arab, or White)  counterpart in doing, and in the same
offices (sometimes with less productivity). The racial brainwashing we got
indicates that the black-African has less intellectual capacities, and we,
being good students to the teaching are acting accordingly.

Since the colonial project became very successful it made the African cast
away every element of his culture and decided to live on borrowed culture.
We are now living on borrowed religions and we are actually ready to fight
bloody wars against our own kind for religions which we do not know much
about and we dont believe in one hundred percent. (We would not be seeing
Christians and Muslims holding festivals and ritual honouring their dead.
We would not be seeing the killings of the elderly on suspicion of

This and others are signs of an African who lives in ambivalence. It is
like the prodigal monkey who wants to attend two parties at the same time.
When he comes at the crossroads he still forces to go both ways and he
dies in the process. We want to be Christians and Moslems and at the same
time remain Africans who believe in the African world (religious)

The foreign religions are telling the African that Africa has no God, it
only had deities and we all worshiped idols. And we believed in their word
that theirs are universal faiths, meant for salivation of all humanity.
With that we never took time to investigate the validity of their
`truthful claims`, we believed that they are the messengers of the `word`
and we are the recipients.

Since colonialism treated us slaves who, by nature and training are not
supposed to ask questions, we never took time to question whether we were
in presence of universal faiths or not. The way the African believed in
the colonial messengers was typical of the two rules in the army.

They go like this; Rule one, the general is always right.

Rule number two: if you are in doubt refer to rule number one.

We can explain our relationship with the colonial master in the same way;
The Mzungu is always right, rule number one.

Rule number two: if you are in doubt refer to rule number one.

Colonialism has made us believe that to speak a foreign language and is a
sign of self-liberation and in fact a symbol of modernity, for modernity
means doing away with the past; and Kiswahili and the culture it stands
for is a thing of the past. It is also argued that to be whole integrated
in the globalization process mastery in foreign language is very crucial.

One wonders how did the Japanese, the Chinese, or Russians, Indians become
integrated in the world economy while they speak their own tongues. I
always find truth in what Franz Fanon wrote about the problem of
developing national consciousness, us being post-colonial subjects for
having among us, a middle class section, which still strongly identifies
itself with the `massa`.

And he wrote: `the traditional weakness, which is almost congenital to the
national consciousness of under-developed countries, is not solely the
result of the mutilation of the colonized people by the colonial regime.
It is also the result of the intellectual laziness of the national middle
class, of its spiritual penury, and of the profoundly cosmopolitan mould
that its mind is set in.` And we shall all agree with him that even the
problem of lack of decision on language policy emanates from the ingrained
ambivalence among members of the middle class; these are our professors at
the university who still link us with the sources of ideas and knowledge
developed at the centre;  journalists who still eat crumbs falling from
the massa table and have promises of foreign visits where they should be
seen speaking in foreign languages; policy planners who still think that
nothing will move if we switch over to our local languages and fail to
give convincing explanations to the foreign donor as to why we should stop
using foreign languages; to businessmen who send their children to
foreign, or local English/ French medium, schools however useless that
education may be owners of the so called international schools who call
their institutions fantastic English names of western saints, statesmen,
towns which have nothing to do with our culture but only to cheat the
prospective customers that a good education is provided under those names
which fill the mouth when pronouncing them. The President said Kiwahili is
one of the pillars of our nationhood, let it be so by actually using it in
all spheres of our national life.


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