In November 2021 at its 41st Session in Paris, the General Conference of UNESCO declared July 7th World Kiswahili Language Day. By Resolution 41 C/61, Member States recognized the critical role played by Kiswahili in promoting cultural diversity, creating awareness, and fostering dialogue among civilizations.
The first celebration of the World Kiswahili language day is being held under the theme ‘Kiswahili for peace and prosperity’. The mission of the annual celebration is to promote the use of Kiswahili language as a beacon for unity, peace, and enhanced multiculturalism.
On July 7th 2022, the Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations and UNESCO will held the first international celebration of the World's Kiswahili Language Day at the United Nations Headquarter in New York. The event will serve as a platform for promoting the potential of Kiswahili to achieve both the United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. Member States, UN organizations, civil society, academia and youth representatives will participate in the event and share their knowledge on how to preserve Kiswahili and promote its unique cultural identity.
We consider this as Tanzania’s gift to the world,” said Professor Kennedy Gastorn, Tanzanian’s Permanent Representative to the UN headquarters in New York, in an interview with UN News – Kiswahili.
The 2023 Edition of the World Kiswahili Language Day will be celebrated under the theme “Unleashing Kiswahili’s Potential in the Digital Era
Official ceremony: A multitude of participants are invited to participate in the including Ambassadors and Permanents Delegates to UNESCO, the Diplomatic Corps in France, the UNESCO Secretariat, private sector, Diaspora, civil society, the academia, among others.
Symposium: Focus will gauge the availability of digital resources to highlight the opportunities and challenges of harnessing digital technologies and the role of Kiswahili. Participants will also gain more insight on UNESCO’s role in the promotion of multilingualism – both off- and on-line – as well as inclusive digital transformation.
Cultural evening: Participants will have the opportunity to sample the diversity of Swahili culture from the organizing Member States including dance, music and gastronomy.
Social media campaign: focusing on promoting Kiswahili language in relation to other UN languages. It is anticipated that celebrations will be held nationally in some countries, as was the case in 2022, with the involvement of UNESCO field offices in Africa and beyond.
Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda) under the leadership of the Kenyan Permanent delegation.
According to Professor Gastorn, the day was chosen because on 7 July 1954, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU)—the ruling party of then Tanganyika—led by Julius Nyerere, declared Swahili as an important tool in the fight for independence.
In the 1950s the United Nations established the Kiswahili language unit of United Nations Radio, and today Kiswahili is the only African language within the Directorate of the Global Communications at the United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly, through its resolution 71/328 of 11 September 2017, on multilingualism, welcomed implementation of a day dedicated to each of its official languages in order to inform and raise awareness of their history, culture and use, and encouraged the Secretary-General and institutions such as UNESCO to consider extending this important initiative to other non-official languages spoken throughout the world.
In that regard, the 41st session of the General Conference of UNESCO adopted resolution 41 C/61 that recognized the role the Kiswahili language plays in promoting cultural diversity, creating awareness and fostering dialogue among civilizations and noted the need to promote multilingualism as a core value of the United Nations and an essential factor in harmonious communication between peoples, which promotes unity in diversity and international understanding, tolerance and dialogue. The resolution proclaimed 7 July of each year as World Kiswahili Language Day. Kiswahili is the first African language to be recognized in such a manner by the UN.
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.