East Africa: Speaking same language with science

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Dec 3 15:23:57 UTC 2008

Speaking same language with science

By MAZERA NDURYAPosted Tuesday, December 2 2008 at 17:13

The story is told of how countries such as Japan, the Koreas and China
became superpowers just after realising that they were losing out by
embracing foreign languages as tools for science and technology. Proud
of their languages and cultures, the Asian countries are now giants in
their own right and contribute immensely to the global economy. That's
what the chairman of the newly formed board of directors of the
Research Institute of Swahili Studies of Eastern Africa Prof Mohamed
Abdulaziz told the people who had gathered at the Lamu Fort for the
launch. "We are still mesmerized by other foreign languages,
forgetting that by nurturing a language like Kiswahili, we will be
much more progressive than we are now.

Leading innovators

"Other countries have done it and translated all scientific and
technological jargon into their local languages, making it easy for
people to understand what's happening; today they are the leading
innovators," he said.

The draft constitution which was abandoned in 2005 had proposed that
Kenya develop a bilingual national language policy that would put
Kiswahili and English on the same footing.

"Since that was not one of the contentious issues in the proposed
constitution, we are still optimistic that a Kiswahili policy will be
enacted to promote the language as a pillar for development in the
East and Central African region," Prof Abdulaziz said.

But the biggest challenge for Kenya was to find the vehicle for
turning the dream, and the coming into the picture of The institute
two years ago now makes that task lighter.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture has draft Bill
to be presented to Parliament to establish the Kenya National
Kiswahili Council.

Swahili scholars will be called upon to provide expertise to the
national and regional bodies. Kenya will also be able to export
Kiswahili scholars to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

The ministry has released Sh35 million for putting up a building to
house the institute in Mombasa.

Making the announcement in Lamu during the inauguration of the
Institute board, PS Jacob Ole Miairon said the project would give the
institute teeth to assert itself.

Highlights of the new centre include a resource centre, a modern
language laboratory and a well stocked library that will provide all
the relevant information on the development of Kiswahili and the
culture of the Swahili people of Kenya.

It will also have an archive for old manuscripts facing extinction due
to lack of proper storage.

Work on the centre is nearing completion and according to the director
of The institute Dr Ahmed Yassin, the institute will mobilise
resources to carry out its mandate of enhancing Kiswahili as the
language of choice not only in Kenya, but in the region and the world.

The institute is already popular with overseas students particularly
those from America and Britain who are doing studies on Swahili
culture and language.

Dr Yassin said there are several students doing PhDs and, that 40 more
from the St Lawrence University in the US were expected sometime next
"The uniqueness of Institute is that it is the only such institution
in the region that is taking up Kiswahili language and culture

"UNESCO is currently looking for an institute that will be a focal
point in Africa and the fact that East Africa and the Great Lakes
Region have come to recognise our contribution, can help us play that
role effectively," he said.

Eventually, the director said, the institute will establish a Swahili
Culture Museum, a one stop shop where tourists, scholars and citizens
will learn everything there is about the language and cultures.

He however said there will be great need for shift in policy to expand
involvement in an aggressive school programme and to engage policy
makers to have a fresh look at issues like Kiswahili language

"Some Kiswahili dialects such as Kimvita, Kiamu, Kijomvu and Kitikuu
among about 15 of them, are disappearing because they are not
recognised in our education curriculum yet they are the basis on which
Kiswahili is founded.

"The language being taught in schools is that found in books just for
purposes of passing examinations; they are not ingrained in culture,"
he said.

The institute also hopes to establish desktop publishing to help
writers whose works cannot get published by commercial publishers
because the books would not attract huge sales, yet such information
was vital for knowledge.

In an effort to strengthen the institute, the board in its inaugural
meeting appointed three more people, with Prof Ali Mazrui as patron,
Prof Abdalla Bujra as chief advisor and Tourism minister Najib Balala
to help in fund raising.


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