June 22, 2024

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Will Kiswahili be the language of AfCFTA?

Kiswahili has been billed as the language of the future on a continent where, despite the presence of some 2000 local languages, English, French and Arabic reign supreme. Some experts believe that the Continental Free Trade Area will see a single African language flourish alongside a single trade area.

by Seth Onyango, bird Newsroom

Proponents of a single language for Africa are hoping that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTFA) will be the catalyst required to launch Kiswahili as Africa’s language of trade and continent-wide communication.

Estimates show more than 150 million people speak different variations of Kiswahili in East Africa, where it enjoys official status in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda.

Over the years it has spread south of the continent, to parts of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, while Burundi, Madagascar and the Comoros islands have also adopted the language.

In June last year, South Africa introduced Kiswahili as an optional subject in the hopes that the language could become a tool to foster cohesion among Africans.

It is on this premise that the AU partnered with the East African Kiswahili Commission in July 2019 to promote the wide use of Kiswahili for regional integration and sustainable development.

In August the same year, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers recommended the adoption of Kiswahili as the fourth official language of the regional body alongside English, French and Portuguese.

Adoption of Kiswahili as a continental language implies that there will always be a translator at all the bloc’s official meetings with documents, including treaties and agreements also being authored in Kiswahili.

The language is expected to ride on the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which creates the world’s largest free trade area ever, based on the number of participating states.

According to the World Bank, AfCFTA will help cut red tape and simplify customs procedures to drive 292 billion US dollars of the 450 billion US dollars in potential income gains.

Kiswahili is then expected to become an increasingly important instrument of trade.

Renowned author Stanley Gazemba asserts that the language has the potential to forge strong trading ties between the people of eastern, central and southern Africa and to promote cultural cohesion.

“If widely promoted in these regions, the language can single-handedly remove the artificial barriers and boundaries imposed by imperial powers,” he wrote in the Elephant.

“There are an estimated 2,000 languages spoken on the continent. Colourful as this may appear, it also poses a challenge in marshalling all these diverse cultures into thinking and working towards a collective goal, which necessitates the creation and promotion of a lingua franca that can be used seamlessly across political and administrative borders, and which can ultimately allow the African people to speak in a single voice.”

“Kiswahili has proved to be a useful tool in unlocking the potential of this sleeping giant in the regions south of the Sahara.”

Kiswahili is taught in universities around the world, including in China, while in the USA, an estimated 100 universities offer Kiswahili courses, including Harvard University.

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