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.
It is delighting that the conference will also focus on the language spearheading constructive changes by championing communication and relations in the public, well as cement cohesions in the citizens as a conduit further to reach all regardless of tribe, political affiliation, religion and others.
Similarly, we are informed that the organisers of the conference will bring together Policy makers and implementers, business community members, various professionals in different industries and communication, institutional professionals and other Kiswahili stakeholders who will offer a forum for discussions on EAC can grow and change in implementation of its policy and development.
Whichever any think-tank will view this, it is the right move in the region that is evolving to keep pace with changes in the present environment and world.
The school of thought of grooming the language to bring changes and unite the community will make the citizens of the region realize that they are one and belong in the same family, with one father and mother who is bringing them up with the same language and culture, and will likely limit suspicions.
It is also encouraging that the aim of the conference is to make the language instigate various development in new areas, reviewing challenges and suggesting possible solutions for them in the community and if the quote Nelson Mandela once said: If you talk to a man in a language he understands (read foreign languages), that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language (read Kiswahili in this context), that goes to his heart.” 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.
If the conference will be attended by member States representatives, it is certain EAC leaders will speak with one voice and take bold decisions to solve conflicts infiltrating in their neighbouring countries, which give room to instability and a loophole to mayhem, looting of resources let alone mild demonstrations in urban areas.
Apparently in reference to this kind of conference, former President Benjamin Mkapa recently attending African Leaders Forum 2017 Summit in Johannesburg, where regional bodies-the African Union (AU), and Southern African Development Community (SADC) in their mandate to seek amicable solutions in areas of conflict, warned that unless African leaders speak with one voice (read Kiswahili uniting EAC) woes and related vices will be part and parcel of their member states order of the day.
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.