The judicial and executive branches of Tanzania’s government have given the green light for the East African nation to completely switch its legal system and legal materials from English to its national language, Kiswahili. This comes one hundred years after the High Court of Tanzania was established, a local newspaper, Daily News, reported.
Elaborating on the reason behind the switch during the launch of this year’s Tanzania Legal Week and the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the High Court, the country’s Vice-President, Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, said justice denied to citizens as a result of language barrier was unfair. She also stressed Tanzanians living in rural areas are not familiar with most of the country’s legal proceedings, and as such, cannot completely seek justice in cases in their various communities.
“We are waiting for the full implementation of this plan… Tanzania is an independent state and therefore, it is unfair for people to be denied justice because of language,” she said during the January 24 event.
The country’s Chief Justice, Prof. Ibrahim Juma, also lauded the initiative and re-emphasized language barrier can occasionally get in the way of legal proceedings and the application of law.
“We have conducted an assessment of the state records to establish what hindered the use of Kiswahili,” he said. “Official government records show that efforts began when Telford Philip Georges was appointed Chief Justice between 1965 and 1971 to ensure Kiswahili is applied in all stages of the court.”
Prof. Juma also said the country’s former ministers for Justice and Education were previously overseeing two committees that were formed to write a Kiswahili Law Dictionary in addition to other proposals, but they have no knowledge on how far they were able to progress with that.
“There are no updates regarding the committee but we believe under the country’s Minister for Legal Affairs and Constitution, we will be able to reach our target,” he said.
According to Daily News, the majority of the country’s court proceedings are already held in Kiswahili. Prof. Juma, however, said English is only spoken when legal materials – including judgments – are being recorded. He was also optimistic the government’s initiative with regards to translating all legislations will aid in ensuring a smooth transition.
“The court use ‘legalese’ a special language that is used by lawyers, we want to have uniformity in all the proceeding and this is possible with a change in concept documents,” he said.
Kiswahili, which is the first language of the Swahili people, is of Bantu origin and has borrowed words from other local dialects like Arabic. The word “Swahili” was first coined by Arab visitors to the East African coast to mean “the coast”. It serves as a national language in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
It is also spoken in other countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.