Wednesday , 24 July 2013

What if Kenya’s presidential debates were in Kiswahili?

by James Oranga

Professors of Kiswahili at the University of Nairobi have challenged the organizers to conduct the second presidential debate in Kiswahili.

They say the organizers ought to consider the change because Kiswahili is recognized in the Kenyan Constitution – alongside English – as one of the official languages of Kenya.

But English enjoys popularity with the political class especially in conducting official functions. During the official clearance of presidential candidates by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), for example, the function was conducted exclusively in English. Similarly, parliamentary debates and court proceedings are more often than not conducted in English.

The proponents of Kiswahili for the second presidential debate argue that it should be given priority in such moments since it is not only our national language but also a critical symbol of our patriotism and linguistic independence. There are also a number of Kenyans who do not understand English yet would like to understand and appreciate the policies and strategies articulated by presidential candidates in a debate.

While all these arguments make much sense and are almost indisputable, it must be acknowledged that the use of Kiswahili in such a forum will present multiple challenges to the organizers, the moderators and even the presidential candidates. First, very few Kenyans can express themselves in fluent Kiswahili: what is referred to by Swahili scholars as ‘Swahili Sanifu’. The presidential candidates would therefore not only struggle to provide persuasive responses and rebuttals to the audience but also to keep their grammar in check.

But, it would make the debate more interesting being that concepts like constitutional implementation, Iand tenure and reform, economic blue print, globalization and regional integration will have to be articulated in Kiswahili. It may just be an opportunity to improve our Swahili vocabulary!