By Samuel Ndausia,
September, 26th 2017.
Is Swahili language knowledge essential in Kenyan politics? This is a fundamental question that you must ask yourself if you want to become a politician in Kenya. We are a multilingual nation thanks to our rich diversity. There are two official working languages namely; English and Swahili— factually, there are more Swahili speakers than any other language in Kenya and for a person nursing to political ambition in the country must be able to communicate in the Swahili, working knowledge of the language is therefore necessary to be able to engage and communicate one’s ideologies and policies to the electorate.
In an unprecedented twist of events at a Jubilee rally in Kenya’s Nandi County, the President’s son, Muhoho Kenyatta was apparently unable to deliver a speech in the country’s national language; Swahili—The President’s son who had accompanied the Deputy President William Ruto to a campaign rally in the county turned to his cell phone to read a short speech fixing his eyes on the phone all through his short speech as if to conceal his Swahili inadequacy.
Kenyans took to the social media to express their disappointments with Kenya’s first son—some blaming his inability to converse fluently in Swahili on his IGCSE curriculum of education. But the most interesting observation was from one particular Kenyan who wrote; “That’s your President’s son struggling to read Kiswahili off his smartphone, as children of peasants cheer him on. To be poor is a crime.” The poor and other students in Kenya who go through the 8-4-4 systems would attest to the fact that Swahili is a compulsory subject called “Kiswahili” alongside Mathematics and English in the Kenyan curriculum from standard one in primary school through forth form in secondary school—It is therefore safe to assume that most Kenyans learn the Swahili language from their basic education in local schools except for a few others who learn it by default as a result of it being the most spoken language in their neighbourhood.
Many people have seen the move by Jubilee to go out on the campaign trail with the President’s son as a way of introducing him to the electorate with hopes of him taking over the reigns of power in the country sometimes in the future if everything goes according to “plan”. Before the general elections of august 8th, Muhoho Kenyatta accompanied his father, President Kenyatta in high level engagements both locally and abroad, raising speculation that he was being prepped for the country’s top seat. Last year, while the Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko,the then Nairobi Senator was celebrating his birthday; he posted on his Facebook page that Muhoho Kenyatta would be his running mate in 2032 after the Deputy President William Ruto reign as the President. It is therefore required of the President’s son by the president’s supporters to master the Swahili language as a sign of respect and his ability to carry their aspirations.
Since Kenyas Independence in 1963, Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta have had Swahili as the preferred means of communication on official functions. It’s common practice for example for a Kenyan President to read his speech during a national holiday celebration in English and later on summarize the speech in the Swahili language for the benefit of most Kenyans who are only speak Swahili besides their mother tongues.
But Muhoho Kenyatta is not the only child of a Kenyan politician who has had difficulty expressing himself Swahili— Most politicians in the country have their sons and daughters attending schools and universities abroad where they are mainly exposed to English and other foreign languages as a daily means of communication. Upon their return to the country, they are groomed and made ready to take over from their parents when they retire from active politics— this vice has been occasioned by the tribal nature of our politics where citizens only elect leaders based on their tribes and not based on the policies they stand to benefit from.
This begs the question, “Why would anyone elect to office someone who cannot relate to any of their struggles of way of life, least of them all, the national language?” How would such a person address a common citizen’s problem that s/he doesn’t know of in the first place not only because s/he has not experienced them first-hand, but also because s/he can’t be able to understand and respond to the local man’s language as s/he expresses the nature of the problems that s/he needs to be addressed?
If the Kenyan polity were based on ideologies and not tribalism, nepotism and crony capitalism—the likes of Muhoho Kenyatta and Gideon Moi could not stand a chance of ascending to the Country’s leadership—It is high time Kenyans took politics seriously.
The writer is a financial analyst in Kenya and a Community galvanizer in Western Kenya.