Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Jul 20 18:10:22 UTC 2008

Jerry Okungu

AN EAST AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE ONE of the finest debates in Tanzania's
newspapers a few days ago was the debate about the Tanzanian education
system. Critics of the system thought it was substandard, inferior and a
disservice to the growing population of Tanzanians. There were obvious
concerns that the current products of the University of Dar-es-Salaam along
with other local universities were incapable of competing with their
counterparts from Kenya and Uganda; that products from Kenyan and Ugandan
universities were better prepared for the competitive business world.

However, what took me aback was the vicious attack on the use of Kiswahili
in Tanzania's institutions of learning at all levels. Because Kiswahili was
Tanzania's national language, Tanzanians spoke it freely and even preferred
it in institutions of learning. Quoting a number of professors from the
University of Dar-es-Salaam, it was revealing that professors were
frustrated by the low level of English language forcing them to resort to
Kiswahili in order for their lectures to have meaning. More disturbing was
the realisation that Tanzanians may not be as good masters of Kiswahili as
the rest of East Africa may think. A number of them were said not to speak
it well and even considered it as foreign as English. In Kenya, we always
assume that Kiswahili is an urban language only useful for communicating
with other ethnic communities when we are in town. When we get back to our
rural homes, we abundantly indulge in our mother tongues with relish to the
extent that for one to be elected a Member of Parliament in a rural
constituency, proficiency in one's mother tongue becomes a prerequisite.
What I didn't know was that this is also the trend in Tanzania, contrary to
our belief that Tanzanians only speak Kiswahili.

 Right now, many Tanzanians, journalists included, speak sheng Kiswahili, a
corruption of English, Kiswahili and other local languages. It is very
common to find words such as feki for fake, penalti for penalty and bethidei
for birthday in reputable daily newspapers. For this reason, many able
Tanzanians are sending their children to local expatriate schools or better
still send their children to Kenya and Uganda before shipping them to the
United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries for quality education.
Quality education here includes the notion that a good command of written
and spoken English makes one a cut above the crowd. If this degrading of
Kiswahili succeeds, Nyerere's philosophy of one language, one nation will
have faltered. My fear is that if Tanzania loses the grip on Kiswahili,
there may be no real motivation for the rest of the East African Community
citizens to master the language considered the lingua franca of our region.
However, the most shocking setback for Nyerere's enduring philosophy was the
realisation that last week, the Tanzanian Parliament finally made it
official that the country had abandoned Ujamaism—the country's version of

This policy statement was made in Parliament by Tanzania's minister for East
African Cooperation as part of the clarification that the breakup of the EAC
in 1977 was due to divergent economic policies pursued by the three partner
states at the time. For that reason, implementing protocols on the Common
Market, Customs Union and the Monetary Union became impractical. At that
time, while Julius Nyerere's CCM pursued Socialism with vigour, Milton
Obote's UPC was toying with the Commonman's Charter while Jomo Kenyatta's
kitchen cabinet clung to the Western mode of capitalism inherited from the
British and buoyed by the Americans. With the death of Ujamaism, the curtain
will definitely fall of the most celebrated Arusha Declaration where the
philosophy of Nyerere's African Socialism was expounded. What may worry
ordinary Tanzanians most is that as they embrace the new culture of
capitalism that made them disparage Kenyans as a man-eat-man society, will
they stomach the new culture of greed that has seen so many of their leaders
in the Kikwete government thrown into the political wilderness? It is true
Nyerere's economic policies failed miserably to the extent that before he
quit office, Tanzania was truly a man-eat-nothing society. There was nothing
to buy in the shops. A bar of soap or cooking oil could cost and arm and a
leg. However, despite all these hardships, Tanzanians were a proud people.
There were few beggars on the streets while common theft or bank robberies
were unheard of. All the land belonged to the state. Will the end of
Ujamaism usher in unbridled greed and high level corruption that has
permeated the Kenyan society?

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