Aug 24, 2010

A Common Language

I have always been a little envious that our East African compatriots in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have Swahili has their official language alongside English. As we know, Swahili is non-tribal language and acts as a unifier of sorts, as no tribe or ethnic group can claim it as their own. It’s also spoken in Northern Zambia but by only a small population of people.

My envy went to new heights this past weekend when I spent time with Zambian friends in Houston,Texas. In a group of about 10, we had at least four tribal groups represented but not all us had the ability to cross-communicate proficiency in each of those languages. And as a result, we fell back on English since that’s our main unifying language.

Fundamentally there’s nothing wrong with that, but it struck me as a little sad because here was a group of young Zambians unable to speak in one common native tongue that we all could boast master proficiency as we do with English. Is it too late for us to adopt Swahili or another Bantu language that is non-tribal? I know it would never fly to make any or all of the seven major languages national languages without someone screaming tribalism or ethnic hegemony. Can’t we learn from our friends who are able to travel from Kenya into Tanzania or Uganda and still communicate in a common language other than English? Where are the pan-Africanists when you need them? *sigh* 


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