In Uganda, Kiswahili is still far from becoming a commonly spoken and valued language.
Following a recent cabinet decision, Kiswahili will become a compulsory subject in Ugandan primary schools for the first time, but experts believe it is still a long way from being a widely known and cherished language in the nation.
Kiswahili is the most widely spoken African language, spoken in practically every nation in the East African Community, and is one of the bloc’s official languages, however, few people in Uganda speak it.
Experts in academia and the media, as well as government officials, convened online on Thursday to say that Uganda’s revised attempts to make Kiswahili one of its lingua francas would not be simple, as a number of difficulties might stymie the project.
The problems, according to the commentators in a Twitter Space conversation organized by Nation. Africa varies from a long history of hostility toward the language in Uganda to limited resources that make studying the language difficult.
According to Julius Baluku, a Kiswahili professor at Kyambogo University in Kampala, Ugandans’ unfavorable attitude toward the language stems from its usage by dictatorial military and security forces in the early 1980s, which caused people to connect it with brutality and criminality.
“When our children begin to use Swahili freely, it will no longer be considered as a language for hooligans and thugs, and the cabinet’s decision to make it obligatory in primary schools establishes a precedent for its expansion in Uganda,” he added.
Uganda approved Kiswahili as one of its official languages on July 5, making it a compulsory subject in elementary schools, and requiring the whole government and parliamentarians to study the language.
According to Dennis Mugimba, the Ministry of Education’s spokeswoman, efforts to make Kiswahili a compulsory subject in schools date back to 1992, but it has not been widely embraced.
“Making Swahili a compulsory and examinable subject in elementary and secondary schools would alter the dynamics since, despite being on the curriculum, many institutions have not even included it on the schedule because it was optional,” Mr. Mugimba said.
However, educators, particularly those who teach the subject, argue that teaching Kiswahili in Uganda is still difficult. According to Ednah Asiima, a Kiswahili instructor, there is a scarcity of instructional resources and teachers for the subject.
Mr Mugimba highlighted low secondary school enrollment in Kiswahili as a reason for the low need for Kiswahili teachers, but he noted that this is improving since the ministry employed at least 1,000 additional teachers at the end of last year.
However, Kiswahili’s problems in Uganda are not limited to classrooms and schools. According to experts, some people may be hesitant to accept it because they are concerned that it would affect their cultural heritage and replace local languages.
According to Kyewalabye Male, the Buganda Kingdom’s Minister of Culture, introducing Kiswahili too early in children’s schooling may interfere with the acquisition of their indigenous languages.
“Because of the stigma attached to Swahili speakers and the influence of other local languages on the curriculum, I don’t believe the government should have made it obligatory in schools,” said Mr Kyewalabye, who is also the minister for the Luganda language, Uganda’s most widely used local language.
Some observers believe Uganda may follow in the footsteps of its neighbor, Kenya, where, despite the fact that Kiswahili has been the national language since 1964 and the official language since 2010, most government business is conducted in English and only a small percentage of the population speaks it fluently.
“Kenya seems to lack the political will to develop the use of Kiswahili in official business,” said Nuhu Bakari, a contemporary Kiswahili scholar, and journalist.
Kiswahili arose in the coastal districts of Kenya and Tanzania in the 18th century from the mingling of Arabian merchants and the Bantu inhabitants of these regions.
The United Nations cultural organization Unesco proclaimed July 7 as World Kiswahili Language Day in 2021, making it the agency’s first recognition of an African language.
Nonetheless, Kiswahili speaking seems to remain limited to East Africa, despite being taught at some of the world’s top colleges, including Harvard and several South African schools.
“We must first teach Swahili at their colleges for it to extend to northern and western Africa,” Mr. Baluku remarked.
“In the hunt for an African lingua franca, Kiswahili tops the list since it is by far the most spoken African language,” said Enock Matundura, a Kiswahili language professor at Chuka University in Central Kenya. We must accept our own languages in order to progress.”
Kiswahili is widely spoken in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, with a variety spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It is the language of government and elementary education in Tanzania. Kiswahili became a compulsory subject in elementary school in Burundi in 2007, while Rwanda accepted it as an official language in 2017.
Some people speak it in southern Somalia, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, the Comoros Islands, and South Sudan.
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