Implications of BBC World Service Cuts - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from The Kenya National Kiswahili Association (CHAKITA-Kenya)



The National Kiswahili Association (CHAKITA) is disturbed by the impending action to cut funding to BBC and in the process deny citizens of Eastern and Central Africa access to critical political, cultural, social and technological information. In certain parts of the region, BBC is the only source of reliable and critical information. We urge the British Parliament to consider increased funding to BBC, not its reduction. Farmers and workers, who speak Kiswahili and other African languages now being targeted for marginalization rely on the BBC for information on environment, health and agriculture. Cutting support will deny them of their right to know.

(1)  The 2008 post-election violence in Kenya challenged in fundamental ways the country's national identity. As a geographical space, the nation-state was put in jeopardy and risked fragmentation. Young people, angry and disappointed at the declaration of contested presidential results by the Electoral Commission of Kenya, suddenly rose against their neighbors who had exercised their constitutional right to vote for a candidate of their choice. The fundamental right to life was temporarily suspended in certain parts of the country. The BBC Swahili Service was a critical source of information on Kenya.

(2)  Africa is endowed with abundant national resources. However, the continent's future economic growth will depend mainly on its labour skills and its ability to accelerate a demographic transition. Also, the continent will require to invest in people in order to promote their individual development. In order to achieve these, we need education, health, flexibility and a certain amount of economic security. But in the context of HIV and AIDS, war and conflict, drought, urbanization, unemployment, and massive poverty, the situation does look grim. Yet by focusing on protection against vulnerability, Africa can solve its crisis, and language with the right and balanced content can play a major role towards this end. In view of the dismal levels of literacy, it is becoming quite important to use African languages, such as Kiswahili, as engines of development can help solve the problem. African languages might open possibilities for the bulk of the people to be engaged in productive labour, and participate in politics and economic activities. Regional languages could be used to bolster cross-border trade, widen access to services especially for the rural people and increase community involvement in construction, maintenance and management of the infrastructure. The BBC should continue being part of this process of transformation. It is indeed the responsibility of Parliamentarians to show their sensitivity to Africa by voting against the cuts on BBC broadcasts.

(3)  The link between language and development cannot be ignored. This is because language is more than a means for the transmission of information. It is also a tool for creativity, innovation, affinity and solidarity. By using a language such as Kiswahili in radio broadcasts, we increase public participation, facilitate affirmative action, broaden decision making processes, build on cultural systems and ensure many Africans are enlisted for African development. Thus within the context of seeking a path to greater development by enlarging avenues for working directly with communities, African languages should be emphasized and modernized as engines of development. The BBC can be key in that process through targeted broadcasts. It is not enough to talk to the elite; reaching rural areas is of paramount importance.

(4)  There is no doubt that Africa is undergoing tremendous changes at the political level. A range of opportunities are now available for popular participation in politics, accountability of leaders, openness and transparency in the conduct of national affairs, and the pursuit of justice and fairness for all. In pursuing national integration across ethnic lines and between socio-economic classes, responsible journalism is required. BBC has played that role effectively over the years and needs to continue doing so. The station commands respect among audiences and is viewed as reliable.

(5)  Finally, the growth of communication technology—internet, mobile phones, and satellite networks—have truly compressed time and space and opened opportunities for multiple voices to be heard. We are witnessing the emergence of online communities brought together on the internet by convergences of politics, ethnicity, gender, professional duty and shared social concerns. Communities are getting closer to the sources of information and are more informed than a decade ago. The entertainment and media industry are influencing culture and creativity in fundamental ways but we are also experiencing multilingual internet sites and radio programming in local languages. Quite often we hear the voices of rural farmers on BBC commenting on local and global events. We would like to continue hearing these voices.


1.  Do not cut Kiswahili Broadcasts because of their importance to Africa.

2.  Increase funding for World Service.

3.  Support the right of all people to access information, especially in Africa where literacy levels are still low.

We urge that no cuts be made with regard to broadcasts in African languages, especially Kiswahili.

Prof. Kimani Njogu, Ph.D. (Yale)
Kenya National Kiswahili Association

10 February 2011

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