The African Union (AU) has chosen Swahili, a language spoken mostly in East Africa, as one of its official languages.
Hitherto, the official languages of the continental bloc were Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Article 11 of the Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act of the African Union now states: “The official languages of the Union and all its institutions shall be Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Kiswahili and any other African language.”
The adoption of Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, was made at a two-day summit of AU Heads of State and Government held at the bloc’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following a request by the Vice-President of Tanzania, Dr. Phillip Mpango.
In the request, Mpango argued that Swahili is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, with about 100 million people within and outside the continent.
He said: “Kiswahili is already in use in various communities including the East African Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as well as a teaching language in many African countries.”
He pointed out that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared July 7 as the World Kiswahili Language Day.
On Tuesday, November 23, 2021 during its 41st Member States’ Session held in Paris, France, UNESCO announced a World Kiswahili Language Day, starting July 7, 2022.
This has made the language to become the first dialect on the continent to get recognised by UNESCO.
In a tweet on Tuesday, the organisation said, “The UN has set aside a day to fete Kiswahili. The language will be celebrated on July 7 every year. The decision has been passed by all members of UNESCO without any objection.”
According to the UN, the language had its origins in East Africa, and Swahili speakers are spread over more than 14 countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Comoros, and as far as Oman and Yemen in the Middle East.
Southern African countries such as South Africa and Botswana have introduced it in schools, while Namibia and others are considering doing so.
The AU summit also addressed the impact of Covid-19 on the continent and the urgent need to mitigate the emerging scourge of unconstitutional changes of governments and the scourge of terrorism across the continent.
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