South African opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has called for the adoption of Kiswahili as Africa’s common language. At a media briefing, Malema said “we must develop a common language that can be used throughout the continent. Like Swahili, if it can be developed as the language of the continent.” The suggestion of Kiswahili as the language of the continent has been proposed over the years but only a few countries have considered the proposal.
Kiswahili is one of the African Union’s official language. It is also the official language of Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda and has over 100 million speakers.
Kiswahili is however spoken as a lingua franca (bridge language) in Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite Kiswahili having an Arabic influence, many speakers have attested to the fact that they could grasp what an isiZulu speaker for example says more than what an Arabic speaker says.
Malema’s case for a continental language goes hand in hand with a call for a border-less continent. Malema said, “We need a border-less continent, we need one currency, one parliament and one President that can unite the continent. We need a United States of Africa. We need one Africa.” But to achieve this, Africa needs one language that can unite the people. However, African languages do not receive the recognition they deserve. English still dominates media and there has been more focus on colonial languages such as, German, Portuguese and French. Lately, Mandarin is being taught in schools across the continent at the expense of African languages.
Unlike the South African parliament for example where legislators speak in their indigenous languages, in many parts of the continent, English and French still take prominence. In Tanzania, the case is however different, with Kiswahili being used as the language of instruction in schools and also in official government business.