Efforts to form a Kiswahili Commission for the purpose of developing and promoting Kiswahili in the eastern Africa region are in the final stages at the East African Secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania. The East African Community is a regional organisation mandated by the Governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi to spearhead the East African economic, social and political integration. SARAH NSIGAYE and BETHSHEBA ACHITSA report.
The East African region covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometres with a population of more than 100 million people. One of the elements crucial for such integration to occur is the ability for all to communicate. Kiswahili is not only the most widely spoken language in the region but is also the official language in Tanzania, the national language in Kenya and is also used in Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo-Kinshasa.
According to Edward Sebina, an Assistant Commissioner in the East African Community Affairs Ministry of the Uganda Government, the formation of the Kiswahili Commission is almost complete and experts have already approved it.
“It is now before the Sectoral Council on Legal and Judicial Affairs for legal technicalities to be ironed out,” Sebina says.
If the Kiswahili Commission is put in place soon, one of the sectors that are likely to benefit tremendously will be the one on audiovisual media. Filmmakers in the East African region have been advocating for the use of Kiswahili and the translation of other regional films from their native languages to Kiswahili in order to tap the regional market potential.
Kampala-based Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, the director of Salaam Kivu International Film Festival in Congo-Kinshasa, urged filmmakers in the region to take advantage of the Kiswahili market possibilities during a Round Table Discussions organised by Alliance Francaise in Dar es salaam, Tanzania in November 2008. The East African Filmmakers Forum, meeting in Nairobi, Kenya had in October 2008 echoed similar sentiments of translating films into Kiswahili to reach a wider regional market. They had even recommended joint productions where countries would identify with some of the stars in their respective countries and therefore relate to the films regardless of whether the film director is from their country.
However, the use of Kiswahili “an urban phenomenon” in eastern Africa as a lingua franca is easier said than done (See “Why Kiswahili Cannot Unite East and Central Africa”, http://artmatters.info/?p=1171).
Theme, artistry, authenticity and realism in film matter more than the language in which it is packaged as recently demonstrated in Nairobi during the screening of Danish Film Institute’s films dubbed into Kiswahili at the 4th Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival for children and youth in eastern Africa (August 10-15, 2009).
Though THE LITTLE KNIGHT, ERNST GOES SKATING, KRIG OG KAGER/War and Peas, THE TINDERBOX and KIRIKOU ET LA SORCIÉRE/Kirikou and the Sorceress are all dubbed into Kiswahili, they all received mixed feeling from Kiswahili-speaking audience. Only KIRIKOU ET La SORCIERE, a 74-minute animated feature made in 1998 and directed by Michel Ocelot of France and KRIG OG KAGER/War and Peas by Jannik Hasstrup of Denmark appeared to connect well with the audience. And this connection, I dare say, was due to the theme and packaging of the films more than the language in which they are made. While the English sub-titled KRIG OG KAGER had won the Lola Kenya Screen Bronze Mboni Award for third best children’s film in 2007, the Kiswahili-dubbed KIRIKOU ET La SORCIERE won the Lola Kenya Screen Audience’s Choice Award in 2009.
It is indisputable that both films are well packaged, have universal themes, and, therefore, universal appeal. Their success is not merely driven by their language.