Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of World Kiswahili Language Day
7 July 2022
Kiswahili is a language that speaks to both past and present. With over 200 million speakers, it is one of the most widely used African languages, encompassing more than a dozen main dialects. Over the centuries, this Bantu language has emerged as a common form of communication in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to the Middle East.
As a lingua franca, Kiswahili has incorporated words from other tongues, notably Arabic, while enriching these languages in return. For example, the English word "safari" comes from the Kiswahili word for "journey", which originated as the Arabic verb for "travel", safara. This linguistic exchange highlights the important role Kiswahili plays at the crossroads of world languages.
Kiswahili not only tells a story of dialogue between languages, but also it facilitates dialogue among peoples and countries. Indeed, because Kiswahili shares words and concepts with other African languages, it has an impressive unifying power. This is why the African Union, East African Community and Southern African Development Community have all chosen Kiswahili as one of their official languages. In this way, Kiswahili will play a role in ensuring the African continent realizes its full potential – a goal that UNESCO also works towards, through its Global Priority Africa.
In addition to being a language of diplomacy and unity, Kiswahili serves as a conduit of culture. From the author and poet Shaaban Robert, a great contributor to Kiswahili literature, to the famous Kiswahili love song Malaika, or "angel", the language is a rich source of cultural expression. Kiswahili includes concepts such as "amani", or peace, a common utterance in daily interactions. "Amani" is not only understood as the absence of conflict, but also as a state of serenity or tranquility. As such, it is something to continuously work towards – a vision that resonates with UNESCO's own conception of peace as an ideal for which to strive.
On this inaugural World Day, we celebrate linguistic heritage. We celebrate the cultural richness languages represent. We celebrate the ways we use language to express our values and vision of the world on a personal level, and to facilitate cooperation and development on the societal one.
Happy World Kiswahili Language Day! Siku njema ya kimataifa ya kiswahili! Siku njema ya kimataifa ya kiswahili!