By Shaaban Fundi,
In recent years, people like Stephen Rwembewo (Kenya) and Joseph Mchekadona (Tanzania) have been writing articles on the slow death of Kiswahili. I am not sure what prompted Mr Mchekadona to compare the gradual diminishing of the Ngoni tribal language to Kiswahili. Kiswahili is a language spoken by over 95 million people in more than five countries whereas Ngoni is estimated to be spoken by between 750,000 to 1.5 million people in a very narrow geographic area. No or very little comparison can be made based on these facts.
The truth is that Kiswahili is not dying. In fact it is among the fastest growing languages in the modern era.
If you look back to the 1970s and 1980s–Kiswahili was not widely spoken in many places including large areas of Kenya. Kiswahili was becoming a Tanzanian phenomenon and nothing more. But Kiswahili has in recent years been gaining momentum rather than losing it. Looking at how many people speak the language outside Tanzania should confirm this observation. For example, there are more Kenyans, Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians, Congolese, Zambians, Malawians, Somalis, Comoran and Mozambicans who speak Kiswahili and are proud to do so.
The fact that Kiswahili is a blend of many languages gives it appeal among the many ethnic groups in East Africa and beyond. The intermarriages that are apparently hastening the demise of languages such as Ngoni seem to have the opposite effect on Kiswahili. These facts are actually fueling the spread of Kiswahili across Tanzania and the region in general.
East African integration will in my view push more people to learn Kiswahili if they are to readily access a market of more than 95 million people who already speak various dialects of the language.
One may argue that Kiswahili is changing but so do other and languages, but that does not mean that these languages are heading towards extinction. A culture that is not dynamic is more prone to losing its identity than one that is changing and embracing the dynamics of change.
There are many people who feel that new phenomena such as Bongo-Flava will have a negative effect on the growth of Kiswahili. However, the opposite is true. Bongo -Flava has actually increased the appeal of Kiswahili among the youth in Kenya, Uganda, Congo and other countries.
Young people in these countries are actually finding Kiswahili to be cool again and spend a lot of time learning it to understand the rhymes in the music.
Off course, efforts are needed to promote the use of a well structured and grammatically correct Kiswahili all over East Africa and beyond.
But for now, Sheng and Kigwana dialects in Kenya and the Congo respectively are good Kiswahili in my views. These Kiswahili dialects help people to communicate. Moreover, I don’t see the need for Sheng to be called a different language altogether as Mr Stephen Rwembewo seems to suggest. Sheng has its origins in Kiswahili. All English variations are English be it South African, Australian, American or Jamaican.