Cultural Hegemony? The Example of Language Use in International Development Co-Operation in Tanzania/East Africa

Irmi Maral-Hanak

Aid, dependency and language use in Tanzania

The United Republic of Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 159 (of 179) in the UNDPs Human Development Report 2007-08, with a per capita GDP of 744 US$ only.  Tanzania is a country that is highly dependent on foreign aid. In 2004, it received $ 1,75 bn in net ODA, making it the third largest recipient in Africa in absolute terms. In 2004, ODA accounted for over 16% of the GNI , and was equivalent to about 40% of government expenditure.).  More than 50 official donor agencies operate in Tanzania, the largest donors being IDA, UK and the EC. In recent years, Tanzania has been highlighted as a role-model of a country executing efficient recipient country policy, especially in the context of the Paris Declaration which stresses country ownership as well as donor alignment and harmonization. In Tanzania’s early postcolonial history, concepts of African Socialism (Ujamaa) and self-reliance played an important role, with social justice and popular participation remaining important parts of political discourse to date. Part of Tanzania’s quest for self-determination is the linguistic policy of the country. The most remarkable aspect of the linguistic situation in Tanzania is the strong position of Swahili, which is an official language spoken by more than 90% of the population. Most other Sub-Saharan African countries rely on ex-colonial languages for communication at the national level, languages that often only 5-20% of the population are familiar with. In Tanzania, although English continues to be a prestigious language of secondary and higher education, professionalism and international communication, Swahili is the primary language of interaction at the national level, being firmly established in such domains as basic education, administration, political debate and a significant part of development communication. The functions of the remaining more than 120 African languages of Tanzania are usually described as being restricted to the domain of the home, village, local informal contexts and cultural performances.

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