Swahili was once a dialect of the African Bantu, the language originated from the Eastern part of the African continent. Today, Swahili is the most spoken language in Africa with over 200 million speakers. It is also one of the world’s most spoken languages.
Swahili is spoken in parts of Somalia, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; as well as offshore islands as far away as the Comoros and Seychelles.
Over the course of two millennia, Swahili has had a wide range of speakers, ranging from inland Africa, traders from Asia, Arab and European occupiers, European and Indian settlers, colonial rulers, and individuals from diverse postcolonial states.
Related: Ancient African Writing Systems
For some Africans, the growth of Swahili represented real cultural and personal freedom. It served as a mechanism of worldwide political coordination. It allowed freedom fighters around the continent to convey their common goals despite the fact that their local languages differed greatly.
Swahili became the medium of international communication for Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania in the decades running up to their independence in the early 1960s.
In some parts of Africa, Swahili has become the national language. For instance, the Tanzania government’s official language for all official business and basic education in Swahili.
In East Africa, the highest political offices began using and promoting Swahili soon after independence; notably, Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania (1962–85) and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya (1964–78). They promoted Swahili as integral to the region’s political and economic interests, security and liberation.
Furthermore, professional writers, poets, and artists agitated for Swahili to become Africa’s official language. Specifically, Nigeria Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka has since the 1960s repeatedly called for the use of Swahili as the transcontinental language for Africa.
Today, Swahili is the language that bonds Africa, a language of unity, liberation and socialism.