The Southern African Development Community (SADC) recently agreed to adopt Kiswahili as the fourth official language at inter-state level. The decision to adopt Kiswahili as a regional language came at the 39th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of SADC held in in Dar es Salaam on August 17-18.
The decision was greeted with interest, and it has been hailed by many observers as a progressive step.
For many, it is not surprising that the region is finally embracing the language considering that Kiswahili is already an official language in the six of 16 SADC member states.
Kiswahili is also an official language of the African Union (AU) and the East African Community (EAC).
The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) an organisation established by the parliament to promote multilingualism welcomed the declaration by SADC to adopt Kiswahili as its fourth official language of communication.
“This milestone achievement towards recognition and elevation of indigenous African languages across the SADC region forms part of the greater effort in ensuring development, usage and intellectualization of our heritage languages,” the chairperson of the board David Maahlamela said.
"I take this opportunity to announce that #SWAHILI is the 4th Official Language for the #SADC Region "~ Former Chair of @SADC_News H.E Dr. Hage Geingob, President of Namibia #39SADCSummit pic.twitter.com/bxlG9TITFR
— #39thSADCSummit (@SADCSummit) August 17, 2019
“PanSALB’s vision for language planning stems on intellectualization of indigenous languages on four spheres, that is, provincial, national, regional and continental level. Kiswahili is inevitably well-positioned to integrate the SADC region thus we fully support this long overdue resolution,” he said.
However, while it makes sense to make Kiswahili an official language of SADC because it is widely spoken on the continent, there are burning questions why the language has been elevated above others in the region, considering that it is neither spoken nor official in most countries in the SADC region.
Despite the lingering concerns, a number of countries across the continent have continued to embrace Kiswahili, which is lingua franca in most of east Africa and parts of central and southern Africa. Kiswahili has also become a popular research area at many South African and global universities. This increasing interest in the adoption of Kiswahili proves its growing significance across the continent.