Kiswaihili and decolonization| The Inter-Territorial Language Committee and successor organizations, 1930-1970

by Andrew Tyler Marshall

Institution: American University
Year: 2015
Keywords: African studies; African history; International relations
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2124418
Full text PDF: http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/#viewpdf?dispub=1596783


Governments have long used language policy as a means of social control. As Frantz Fanon and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o have argued, language played a key role in supporting colonial rule across Africa and remains part of the colonial legacy. From the late 1920s through World War II, the British colonial governments of Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, and Zanzibar promoted the Kiswahili language as a regional lingua franca, a policy facilitated by the Inter-Territorial Language Committee for the East African Dependencies (ILC). I use published sources, archival records, and qualitative textual analysis of the ILC’s published journal to trace the Committee’s development from 1930 to 1970. Building on Ireri Mbaabu’s work, I argue that the British initially chose to promote and standardize Kiswahili as a way to make their subject societies more legible or, in other words, more efficiently governable but reversed course in the 1940s after realizing Kiswahili’s potential as a tool for anti-colonial organizing. The Committee adapted to the British language policy reversal by encouraging East African participation and switching its focus from social control to research. The Tanganyikan nationalists’ commitment to Kiswahili as a building block for a detribalized national identity allowed the Committee to survive the transition to independence and, as a research institute, continue to contribute to the study and promotion of Kiswahili in postcolonial Tanzania and beyond. My case study of the ILC’s transformation affirms the importance of language control for the colonial project and the value of African languages in addressing the ongoing colonial legacy of cultural destruction.