Promoting The Kiswahili Language

By Anthony Ng’ang’a, Group Marketing, Communications and External Affairs Officer at Safal Group

I am trying to jumpstart my Kiswahili sanifu after many years of disuse. When I left high school 31 years ago, Kiswahili sanifu and I went our separate ways.  Occasions to engage in proper Kiswahili dropped dramatically since most of the Kiswahili spoken in social settings in Kenya is far from sanifu.

Fast forward to 2019, I joined the Safal Group, Africa’s Largest Building Solutions provider and the main sponsor of the Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature (formerly The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for Africa Literature).

To celebrate the winning writers, we host an awards ceremony annually where I get to make a short address in my halting Kiswahili. Needless to say, whenever I am called upon to speak, I am filled with anxiety lest my little msamiati (grammar) takes flight while I am on stage.

In my quest to rekindle my Kiswahili, I have started reading Kiswahili books, and no better place to start than from our own crop of winning writers. I picked Mungu Hakopeshwi by Zainab Balwi Baharoon; this book won the Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature fiction category in 2018 and was later published in 2019.

Mungu Hakopeshwi, is a story about a certain Bwana Ahmed who prevails over his family and businesses with an iron fist. He is the alpha and omega, and nobody dares breathe without his permission. From the outside, everyone admires his family. From the inside, there is severe strife, and things slowly fall apart in a tragic way.

My interest in this book was sparked after meeting the author earlier this year in Dar es Salaam at the Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize 6th edition Award Ceremony.

The book did take a while to read since I was very rusty not having read any extensive Kiswahili literature for over 30 years. To boot, it is written in Tanzanian Kiswahili which is a lot richer. Thankfully, with a kamusi in hand I completed it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Kiswahili is one of the most spoken languages in Africa and has also been adopted as one of the official working Languages of the African Union. We should strive to make it the language of conversation amongst all Africans.

At Safal Group, one of our Corporate Social Investment pillars is Education. With the Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature initiative, we aim to promote Kiswahili by supporting and nurturing the next generation of African writers of Kiswahili literature.

Over the last six years, the prize has recognized 18 Kiswahili authors for their manuscripts. 264 manuscripts were submitted in the 7th edition this year and the shortlisted manuscripts to be announced later this year.

Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature is a steppingstone towards making Kiswahili desirable and fun. We would like to discover the next Jeff Kinney or J. K. Rowling of Kiswahili literature.


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