Ghana's contribution to the promotion of Kiswahili: challenges and prospects for African unity.

Author:Dzahene-Quarshie, Josephine


Recently, the University of Dar es Salaam, the African Academy of Languages (ALCALAN), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) felt the need to jointly organise an international conference to commemorate fifty years of Kiswahili as a language of African liberation, unification and renaissance at Dar es Salaam. This joint effort in itself is a clear indicator of the important role Kiswahili has played in Africa over the last fifty years.

Ghana is one of the few non-eastern African countries that have played in our opinion a significant role in the promotion of Kiswahili during the period in question. Thus the focus of this paper is to highlight Ghana's contribution to the promotion of the teaching and learning of Kiswahili since the 1960s and the challenges that face it at this time and also to revisit the quest for the adoption of Kiswahili as a continental lingua-franca.

Section one therefore gives a broad background of the role and achievement of Kiswahili in Africa and beyond that portrays its potential for a continental lingua franca. The next section presents the methodology and justification for the study. The third section discusses the background to Ghana's involvement with Kiswahili and its actual contribution to the teaching and learning of the language as well as its contribution to Kiswahili broadcast.

Next, challenges that threaten the future of Kiswahili in Ghana are discussed. Then the next section revisits the quest for the adoption of Kiswahili as a continental lingua franca arguing that the quest is a legitimate one and that given the opportunity, it is achievable and the benefits of linguistic unity, which is an essential pre-condition for economic, political and social integration cannot be underestimated. In the final section we conclude by emphasising the need to revisit the quest for the adoption of Kiswahili as a continental lingua franca for Africa.

Methodology and Justification

Data for the study were solicited from various sources. Due to the nature of the study, it was necessary to conduct interviews with several individuals who were witnesses to some events or had insight into some information that was needed (1). Another source of information was official documentation such as brochures and magazines of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and published Annual Reports of the University of Ghana and past Executive Instruments. Thus, there has not been any systematic documentation of the history of Kiswahili in Ghana despite the fact that very important institutions in Ghana have been associated with it for various durations. Therefore this study is seen as an appropriate opportunity to bring together the various facts about Kiswahili in Ghana and to highlight Ghana's contribution to the promotion of Kiswahili for almost fifty years at this time when fifty years of Kiswahili as a language of liberation, unification and renaissance is being celebrated and to re-emphasise the need for the adoption of Kiswahili as a continental lingua franca for Africa.

Kiswahili in Post-Independence Africa and Beyond

Kiswahili has been and still is one of the most important languages in Africa and the world today (Moshi 2006, Mulokozi 2002). It has seen significant development and expansion since the early to mid-nineteenth century due to the following factors:

* The development of trade expeditions from the East African coastal area into the interior which emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century and led to the expansion of Kiswahili from east African coastal area into the interior on a large scale.

* European missionaries to East Africa from the mid nineteenth century whose interest in the Swahili language for their missionary purposes led to the systematic study of the language and documentation of its grammar by them as well as the development of a Roman based writing system for the language.

* The late first President of the Republic of Tanzania, President Nyerere's promotion of the language to a National and official language and the medium of instruction for primary education in all public schools and a compulsory subject at secondary school level.

Europe, the Scandinavian countries, China, the USA and other states in their various capacities have contributed to the development of the Kiswahili language in the areas of international broadcast, academic research and publications, teaching and learning and ICT (Mulokozi 2002; Moshi 2006; Chebet-Choge 2012). The Organisation of African unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) has also recognised and promoted Kiswahili by establishing it as one of its six official working languages.

In East Africa, the East African Community (EAC) which is made up of five states; Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda has also endeavoured to promote Kiswahili by adopting it as one of its three official languages, namely Kiswahili, French and English as stated in the East African Community information Guide for Investors (Chebet-Choge 2012). Other than the EAC, Kiswahili has been adopted by Eastern African States such as Tanzania, Kenya, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as either the National language or one of the National languages as is the case in the DRC. It is a major lingua franca in countries such as, Tanzania and Kenya, as well as major cities of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the Comoros, and Somali. It is the Medium of Instruction throughout primary education in Tanzania and parts of Kenya and a compulsory subject in primary and secondary education in Kenya and it is also taught in schools in Uganda. At the tertiary level it is taught in a lot of East African universities and in several non-East African universities. It is taught in universities such as the University of Dar es Salam, Tanzania, Makerere University in Uganda, Moi University, Kenyatta University and the University of Nairobi in Kenya,

Apart from Eastern African universities and educational institutions, there are universities in Northern, Southern, western and central Africa that have Kiswahili in their curricular. In Libya, Sebha University offers Kiswahili as the most popular African language of the Department of Languages and African Studies with over one hundred students and it has been taught since 1984. ( 25/06/2013). Other Libyan Universities that teach Kiswahili are Nasser University and Al-Feteh University (Chebet-Choge 2012). In Nigeria, Kiswahili was taught at the University of Port Harcourt from 1979/80 academic year until the early 1990s (Amidu 1996). Although the Kiswahili programme collapsed due to lack of teaching staff, there has been Kiswahili broadcast by the External Service of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) also known as Voice of Nigeria since 1969 (

Ghana is one of the few African countries that have contributed significantly to the promotion of Kiswahili since Tanzania's independence. A historical appraisal of Ghanaian institutions that have and continue to promote Kiswahili is the subject of the forthcoming section.

Ghana's Contribution to the Promotion of Kiswahili

Kiswahili in Ghana owes a lot to the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana. In the early post-independence era, he was one of the African leaders who encouraged the possible adoption of Kiswahili as a continental language in order to promote Pan-Africanism (Chimera 2000; Chebet-Choge 2012). He showed his commitment to this call for Kiswahili as a continental lingua franca by championing its adoption by some Ghanaian public institutions.

The following sub-sections attempt to appraise Ghana's past and current contribution to the promotion and development of Kiswahili through various Ghanaian institutions since independence; namely, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Ghana Institute of Languages, University of Ghana and SOS Herman Gmeiner College.

Ghana Broadcasting Corporation

The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was established on July 31, 1935 by the British Government under the code name Station Zoy. An External Service unit of the Corporation was inaugurated on June 1, 1961, a few years after independence. It was established to be "A true voice of Africa helping in the struggle for total emancipation and political union of African states." It "came about primarily because Kwame Nkrumah, the then Prime-Minister saw broadcasting as an opportunity to propagate his Pan-Africanist message to his fellow Africans" (Kugblenu 1975: 8-9).

The External Service unit broadcasted in six languages: French, Hausa, Arabic, Kiswahili, Portuguese and Bambara (spoken in Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal). These languages of broadcast at the external service, were very strategic, each had particular target areas in Africa or beyond as their audience. The target areas for the...

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