Something interesting happened today. It’s not really any different then most days, but today I thought I would put it out there for discussion.

Today I went into the CASS Tower to drop something off in the Political Science department. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recall which floor it was on so I popped my head into an open ground floor administration office with a group of gentlemen in it and politely waited until their discussion was done and then asked very simply “Do you know which floor the Political Science department is on?”

The response I received caused me a bit of frustration. One man responded entirely in Swahili looking at me to make a joke and point out in Swahili that I should have used Swahili. I don’t know precisely what he said, but his body language essentially said “Why don’t you ask in Swahili?”

My response was in English: “Well, UDSM is technically an English speaking institution and therefore I used English, and not Swahili.”

His response was in Swahili that the Political Science department is one the sixth (sita) floor. 

I smiled, said “Asante Sana” and went to the sixth floor. 

Now, I may have sounded like a jerk to some people, but the truth is that this discussion of Swahili versus English is one that occurs commonly on campus. 

In many of my classes professors will tell their best stories and jokes in Swahili, or when they want to speak very fast, it is in Swahili. 

The same goes with students, that very often in Seminars they will naturally go to Swahili to explain things they do not think they can in English or to make their point the way they feel it will be heard.

The problem is that the University of Dar es Salaam is technically an English speaking university. And yes, the truth is that maybe everything should be taught in Swahili. That way students would participate more, engage more in seminars and classes, maybe even care more about their studies. It would then open UDSM to a world of possibilities for students who have not captured English. 

This discussion has been had amongst the exchange students time and time again. Some of the students speak Swahili fluently before coming and some try to learn while here and some are happy just to pick up what they can and go with it. 

I will not make a judgment call on whether or not UDSM should be taught in Kiswahili. Instead what I want to comment on is the use of Kiswahili in academic and administrative situations at an English speaking and ‘run’ university. 

I recently was in a situation where two women spoke openly negatively about me in front of me in Swahili in the Links (International Student office) department on campus thinking that I had no clue what they were speaking about. 

Now, I will be honest in that my Swahili is not as proficient as it should be, but the truth of the matter is I get by and I understand more than people think I do. 

And honestly, it just truly downright unprofessional for the Head of International Student relations and her colleague to speak in Swahili about me as they did, just as it was unprofessional of the man today to speak the way he did in Swahili in an academic situation as it was. 

I have said very often lately that I love Dar es Salaam, but that UDSM and I have some issues. This is just one of those issues.