Op-ED: How can Tanzania benefit from Swahili diplomacy?

Op-ED: How can Tanzania benefit from Swahili diplomacy?

Understanding diplomacy is not as complex as understanding rocket science. It’s simply the government’s methods and tools to engage with other governments.  

I presume you must have come across the term diplomacy. Etymologically, it comes from the Greek word diplōma, meaning “an object folded in two”. 

At the beginning of the 18th C, the use of the French term diplomate started to gain momentum in International Relations, referring to people who negotiate the interests of their countries.

This kind of diplomacy seems to align with the definition of modern diplomacy.

The government uses diplomacy to negotiate trade deals, discuss mutual problems, implement new policies, and tackle disputes. 

Also, governments use diplomacy to forge cordial relations with other states and further economic, commercial, cultural, and scientific ties. 

Types of diplomacies in brief

Diplomacy is simply the strategy or method that states use to engage with other states toward achieving their desired interests. 

Countries can choose to go harder on other countries (Hard Diplomacy), for instance, US intervention in Iraq in 2003, or softer (Soft Diplomacy) which involve shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction, e.g. Hollywood Movies, Music, loans and grants. 

How can Tanzania benefit from Swahili?

It may sound awkward to some, but believe it or not, Kiswahili can take Tanzania to heights it has never been. 

Cuba has made a name for itself through medical diplomacy and reaped plenty of economic benefits. Like Cuba with medical diplomacy, Kiswahili can also become a cornerstone of Tanzania’s diplomacy and foreign policy.

Kiswahili is Tanzania’s national language, home to more than 60 million people. Africa has more than 100 million speakers, making it one of the most spoken languages. 

According to the UN, the language had its origins in East Africa. 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, and Zambia, Comoros, and as far as Oman and Yemen in the Middle East.

The growing influence of the language outside Tanzania is due to the local Tanzanian music called Bongo flavour that has massively exploded beyond its borders in the last two decades. 

With the growing influence of the language in Africa, considering Tanzania’s advantage of hosting a vast number of speakers than any other country, Tanzania has an enormous potential to use Kiswahili as a tool of diplomacy toward achieving its social, cultural and economic interests. 

According to McArthur, Language is not a simple tool but is often the core of the diplomatic profession. 

Unlike other Swahili-speaking countries and east-central Africa, Tanzania has enormous potential to win many opportunities that come along with language growth. 

As we speak, SADC listed Kiswahili as the 4th working language in 2019, AU in 2022, and South Africa and Uganda have included Kiswahili in their school curriculums. Ghana and Ethiopia all teach Kiswahili at the university level. 

That’s a huge step, but not enough. What does all this progress prepare Tanzania for as a country with a giant population of Swahili speakers?

Tanzania’s role in Africa’s decolonization movement seems to have been forgotten by many. Through Kiswahili, Tanzania can revive its forgotten history and culture. 

Kiswahili is the easiest and cheapest tool that Tanzania can effectively use to strengthen its political influence, culture and economy. However, a country needs visionary and strategic measures to attain that ideal goal.

The spreading of Kiswahili in English has to go along with its rich history and other cultures, such as foods, clothes and music. To achieve that milestone, a substantiate investment is needed in building infrastructures such as Swahili learning centres across Africa. 

European and Asian dominance in Africa is far beyond their economic and military mighty. But culture. These countries have created formidable foundations to ensure they infiltrate their cultures to every corner of the continent.

Quartz Africa in 2018 reported that there are 180 French cultural centres in Africa, 21 German (Goethe Institue), 34 Portuguese, 38 British (British Council) and 54 Chinese. All of these have had a significant contribution to their economic well-being and prosperity. 

It is not bad if Tanzania borrows a leaf from these giant economies if it aspires to grow its influence for its economic advantage within the continent. 

Tom Jelpke, a researcher of Swahili at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, argues that as connections grow across the continent, people will want a common way to communicate.

Suppose Kiswahili becomes an indispensable official language of communication across the African continent. In that case, it will expotentially grow Tanzania’s economy because Tanzania will provide most Swahili teachers, translators, interpreters and other Swahili experts. 

As the hub of the Swahili hub, Tanzania will generate foreign reserves by exporting Swahili teachers and other experts.

Kiswahili can promote tourism. Having a magnitude of Swahili speakers across the world can spur their curiosity to learn more about the origin of the language and the culture of its people, and that can draw millions of tourists to Tanzania. 

People in Africa are more into western entertainment, i.e. music and movies. Netflix had 2.6 subscribers in Africa in 2021 and is projected to increase to 5.8 in 2026. 

The reality of Africa’s bond to western entertainment is beyond creativity, story or movie investment but cultural. It is because we can understand and relate to their cultures, and most of our cultures emanated from their colonization of Africa. Why do Chinese cultures not appeal to Africans? 

It’s because Africans can hardly feel the connection with Chinese culture as the cultural bond is so shallow. For example, the Market of Turkish series aired on Azam TV years before and now. The market has significantly grown after being dubbed with the Swahili language. 

Science has proven that it’s easier to dictate people’s spending if you can influence your culture upon them. If everyone across the continent speaks Swahili, then more businesses to Tanzanian music, movies, textile and other consumable goods. 

We can now see some newborns in our neighbourhoods being named after Turkish names, women obsessed with their dress codes, and our houses adorned with the ornaments we see through their movies. Cultural obsession may affect rational decision-making and may be advantageous to one country. For the record, Turkey’s Yapi Merkezi has won 4 out of 5 rail contracts in Tanzania, worth $6 billion and one for the Chinese firm. 

Tanzanian brands are likely to dominate markets where the Swahili language dominates. Through Swahili, Tanzania can become the leading host of international conferences vital to tourism and investment development.

Swahili’s influence can grow to a more extensive scope than that, as it can also forge better relations between countries, promoting peace and security. By this, Tanzania can be a cheerleader for Africa’s peace by becoming the arbitrator and negotiator in peace agreements. 

Nevertheless, any country can benefit from any language it wants. This article leans toward Tanzania, considering its mammoth number of Swahili speakers, thus becoming the favourable candidate for most opportunities that come with the language.