Who Buried Kiswahili Language in Kenya without our Knowledge?

Recently I was helping a friend do her curriculum vitae and to my surprise I noticed that she had

written in the CV that she only knew basic Kiswahili. This is despite the fact that my friend has

schooled in Kenya all the way from Kindergarten, Primary school, Secondary school, and

through to a Kenyan university, and, we have been speaking Kiswahili every time we meet. As if

that is not enough, Kiswahili is one of the Kenyan national languages. When I asked her about

this and why she believes she only knows little Kiswahili, her response was that she does not

think she speaks good Swahili.


Her case is similar to many other Kenyans today who do not speak and know Kiswahili, some of

whom went to countries like India for just a week and came back to Kenya with an American

accent, and pretend not to understand Kiswahili. People prefer to speak English to Kiswahili, but

why? Maybe it is because people have grown a dislike for the language, and as a matter of fact, I

believe I am not the only one wondering if Kiswahili language is slowly and steadily being

wiped out of our mouths and ears.


I have had the opportunity to work with little children as a swim instructor and I realized that

children preferred that I instructed them in English rather than Kiswahili. Not that they do not

understand Kiswahili, they only dislike it and pretend not to understand the language. In fact,

whenever I spoke to some of them in Kiswahili it was as if I was speaking a foreign language.

They would just stand there and look at me in amazement, waiting for me to repeat what I had

just said in English. And if I ignored them, they would still do the same thing, and that meant

they understood Kiswahili so well. Some though would not go without warning me that their

parents did not want them to speak Kiswahili.


I am sure Kiswahili is still a national language, or has something changed? On July 4, 1974

President Jomo Kenyatta declared Kiswahili a Parliamentary language, and this was positive for

Kiswahili as there were positive steps towards making it a national language. With the

promulgation of the new constitution in 2010, Kiswahili became one of the two official

languages in Kenya. So why is it that parents do not want their children to speak Kiswahili? In

fact it seems like it is illegal that they are even taught Kiswahili in school and if at all they could,

then this language could just be scrapped off the syllabus. They would rather have their children

taught other foreign languages like French, German, and even Chinese at the expense of



Not long ago, the Nation Media Group announced the closure of some stations, and including

QTV. When I heard of this my first reaction was like, Kiswahili kwisha because this had been the

only television station broadcasting all its programs in Kiswahili, and where the language

mattered. But why did it have to be shut down, is it because Kenyans do not feed on Kiswahili

content and the station did not have viewers?


There are several radio stations broadcasting in Kiswahili or rather claim to be broadcasting in

Kiswahili but in the real sense it is never pure Kiswahili but a mixture of English and Kiswahili,

in most cases using sheng’. There is also only one daily newspaper published in Kiswahili but

with just some few pages as compared to those published in English. Kiswahili too is still not

recognized as a language of proceedings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and it is

always insisted that any evidence adduced in Kiswahili be translated into English.


It is quite evident that Kiswahili is not treated seriously in the nation, or like one of the national

languages and is instead only confined to casual interactions. That is also why you rarely have

interviews conducted in Kiswahili and the language spoken in public offices, because everyone

prefers and understands English better. In the parliament we only have a few legislators who

speak the language, and when they do many people complain of having not understood what they

said. In schools Kiswahili is taught as a language in the Kenyan syllabus yet neglected as a

language of instruction in any other subject other than itself.


Kenyans do not like Kiswahili any more, and this language is slowly becoming extinct unless

something is done and soon.


A writer with the Writers Guild -Kenya. Email- omondifrankline@ymail.com

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1 thought on “Who Buried Kiswahili Language in Kenya without our Knowledge?”

  1. Proud Swahili speaker

    I agree with your observation 100% Franklin. The problem with Kenyans is that we do not value our heritage. If you speak swahili people think you are illiterate. African Americans wish they had a way to connect with Africa by speaking an African language while we take our heritage and beautiful language for granted. I fear Swahili will soon be a forgotten language in Kenya.

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