2016 Chaukidu Nairobi Conference
The State of Kiswahili Studies in the 21st Century at Home and Abroad: Past, Present and Future
Kiswahili is not only the most widely spoken African language South of the Sahara, but also the most popular and widely taught African language in foreign language programs of universities abroad and in the diaspora. In this context, Kiswahili is often the “back-bone” of African Languages and African Studies programs in many universities and colleges abroad. For instance, in USA, it is estimated that about 100 universities teach Kiswahili, a trend that began in the 1960’s and has been growing ever since. Given this history, one of the emerging issues is whether there is any correlation between the contemporary state and “life” of Kiswahili at its base at home (in East Africa) and its related scholarship globally.
The growth of Kiswahili is attributable to various factors that have evolved from one generation to another. The original speakers were natives of the East African coast and its islands. But by the time Christian missionaries arrived on the East African coast in mid 19th century the language had already spread to the hinterland thanks mainly to Arab traders and their desire to use Kiswahili as a tool for trading and spreading their Islamic religion to the Coastal African people. Christian missionaries and their succeeding colonizers adapted the already popular language and appropriated Kiswahili as the language of religious and secular education during the establishment of colonial rule. The European colonial project from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century ensured the growth of Kiswahili as the language of communication especially within the low ranks of the Africans and their colonial masters.
The development of Kiswahili took a new leap in the early 1930s when the colonial government created the East African Language Committee which was charged with the responsibility of standardizing Kiswahili – in order to create one lingua Satandard variety from its numerous dialects. This committee is what evolved to become the College Institute of Kiswahili, which later was to be one of the academic wings of the University of Dar es Salaam and christened The Institute of Kiswahili Research (IKR). Today IKR has grown into a fully-fledged school of the University of Dar es Salaam known as Institute of Kiswahili Studies (IKS) popularly known in Kiswahili as Taasisi ya Taaluma za Kiswahili (TATAKI).
Although Kiswahili was chosen and developed as a colonial medium to facilitate the British indirect rule, it ironically turned out to serve Africans in their nationalist struggle for independence. In the emerging postcolonial states, Kiswahili gained even a more revered status when it was adapted to be the national language of the East African states. It gained acceptance as the language of administration, politics, business, communication, education, and even academics at the universities. It is unlikely to find any contemporary public university in East Africa that does not teach Kiswahili as an academic discipline. Abroad, Kiswahili has since gained a mainstream role in foreign language programs of most reputable universities in Europe and North America.
It is within this context and background that this conference aims to bring together stakeholders from all the dimensions of Swahili scholarship and its functionality (role) on the continent and the diaspora to reflect and dialogue on the status and future of Kiswahili scholarship in this 21st century and beyond. The conference creates a forum for teachers, students, researchers, authors, linguists, language professionals, media practitioners, politicians, artists, curriculum specialists, cultural practitioners, publishers etc. to dialogue on the language as a discipline, a culture, a mediascape and a conduit of knowledge both at home and the diaspora.