Is learning Kiswahili more beneficial than learning a foreign language?

African identities

Is learning Kiswahili more beneficial than learning a foreign language?

What do Africans really think about having a common language? For many Kiswahili is the answer to having a common language on the continent, but how feasible is it, particularly for non-Swahili speaking countries?



Africa has over 2,000 languages, many of which are dying. A solution to preserve these endangered indigenous languages however doesn’t seem to be in place. More tragically, there is no urgency from many of the African countries to address the issue of declining use of indigenous languages. Kiswahili is spoken by 10% of Africans, in eastern Africa, south eastern Africa, and some parts of Central Africa. Kiswahili is an official language of the African Union but no steps have been made to adopt the language all over the continent.

In 2004, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano addressed the AU in Kiswahili. The result was confusion among various Heads of State. Current AU Chairman, President Paul Kagame aside from addressing various gatherings in Kinyarwanda, also uses Kiswahili. Since 2004 not many African countries have shown the willingness and made concrete plans to adopt Kiswahili as a national language in accordance with the AU vision 2063 that seeks to see an integrated Africa? In 2015, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary education came up with a draft curriculum proposing the introduction of Swahili and other foreign languages including Chinese and French. 

The use of Kiswahili on Twitter and on other platforms no doubt communicates the wide acceptability of the language. The continent could capitalize on the acceptability of Kiswahili and use it as a language of unification to address the squabbles of one ethnic group having an unfair linguistic advantage over another.

Other foreign countries have established linguistic centres to promote and  their languages and cultures, and using those centres to generate revenue from Africans.  Indigenous languages in Africa are neglected and not developed.


Read: The fading use of indigenous languages in African households

Interestingly, the BBC has created BBC Yoruba, BBC Igbo, BBC Hausa, BBC Kiswahili, which gives these languages a base for wider outreach. Community radio stations have a key role in the protection and preservation of the languages spoken in the different communities across the continent. The more a language is used, the more it grows in value and importance. There is no doubt that learning foreign languages such as German or French has a direct benefit (economic and cultural benefits) for the French and Germans,  a continued practice of indirect colonial rule that still exists in post-colonial Africa. Could one then say that learning a foreign language is more important than learning another African language ?

African Languages. Photo: Africa Dynamo

Would a Luo from Kenya ever want to learn Kikuyu? To what end?  The benefits of learning another African language, isn’t necessarily the ability to travel to another part of the country or another country. It is rather to increase understanding between each other in a continent as diverse as ours. A continent that for long has been labelled as being easily susceptible to ethnic clashes. Can Pan-Africanism be a reality with the continuous and dominant use of imperial languages?

Read: Swahili becomes the first African language recognised by Twitter

For a continent that seeks to take control of its destiny, learning Kiswahili has more benefits than learning a colonial language. Language and power can’t be separated. Language controls the mind and how we eventually act. For a long time, Kiswahili has been proposed as the language the continent should adopt. If the African Union’s agenda 2063 is to be a reality, there must be a deliberate plan to having a common language indigenous to Africa that the whole continent would speak, which complements (not compete with) the other indigenous languages which exists across the continent.


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