Student from Tanzania wins the International Malay Language Speech Competition: some good publicity for Africans in Malaysia in the end?

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 For the first time in history of the International Malay Language Speech Competition, the most prominent Malaysian speech contest, an African student Abdalla Hassan Ghorib won the first prize in the “International” category. With his speech on the topic of nation unity he managed to beat his two opponents in the final round in Kuala Lumpur on 25 March, 2016. Will this victory mark the new trend of, this time somewhat positive, media publicity for Africans in Malaysia and in the long run maybe “wash away” the bad image of African students?

The International Malay Language Competition to the Trophy of the Prime Minister (Pertandingan Pidato Bahasa Melayu Piala Perdana Menteri, best known in its abbreviation as PABM) is an annual speech contest, which attracts participants from the Malay-speaking regions of Southeast Asia and international students, who learn Malay Language at universities in their home countries. Since its launch in 2007, the contest has been attracting the growing number of participants and ever increasing media attention. The final round of PABM is a major event, being broadcasted live in the major national television channel and inaugurated by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak himself. Organized by the Malaysian government (cooperative efforts of several ministries and departments), the contest consists of several rounds of participants presenting their speeches in Malay (on one of the listed topics) and elected jury members evaluating them. After the final round, the winners of the two categories (“Malay-speaking world” and “International”) receive money prizes (up to 4,500 €), trophys and commemorative certificates. Noteworthy, participants do not bear any costs during their stay in Malaysia, everything including pricy flights is paid for by the organizers.

The last two years of the competition have seen organizational changes, namely the international category has been divided into two sub-categories – “international students living in Malaysia” and “international students, who learn the language back home”. Other new regulation to the competition rules introduces an assessment interview/test of the Malay language skills prior to the contest itself. This no doubt has improved the “quality” of participants, but also reduced the numbers. To compare, 2014 has seen 80 participants (70 in international category), while 2016 numbers has dropped to 48 participants (20 coming from overseas and 18 international students in Malaysia).

Nevertheless, if we analyse the first eight years of the contest, we see how the trend of international students’ mobility to Malaysia finds its reflection there. According to my own experience of participation in PABM 2009, two students from Africa represented their home countries, Comoros and Sudan, back then. They were, of course, both studying in Malaysia for several years already. 2012 has welcomed 10 African students (when I say “African”, I mean Sub-Sahara Africa), while in 2014 they have already constitued 30% of international participants (20 students). In five years the African students’ participation rate has grown enormously, just like their presence in Malaysia. But not one of them has entered the finals, let alone won the competition before!

With his speech “United we stand, divided we fall” (a typical topic for PABM, also my choice back in 2009), Abdalla Hassan Ghorib, 36, Tanzania, student of the University Malaysia Sarawak, has become the first African winner of PABM and a rare African face at the front page of Malaysian newspapers reporting not about internet “love scam” or drugs smuggling. Indeed, the negative image of Africans in Malaysia is being constantly underpinned by unsightly media reports. The headlines might go as far as stating that “Malaysia can do without Africans” ( ). In this pool of negativity, an African student winning the first prize in the nation’s favourite Malay language competition stands out.

“Abdalla Hassan from Tanzania … attracted attention of the audience with his excellent speech. Moreover, he managed to win the hearts of the Prime Minister and his wife as he parodied Najib’s voice and way of speaking as a part of his performance”, wrote one of the main state newspapers ( ). Another major online periodical posted a video of him explaining to the camera how he loved Malay language and wished to master all nuances of it to speak like the native borns - a delight for the ears of the Malaysian audience.

After several years of rapid growth of African students’ population in Malaysia, it is about time to acknowledge their efforts to integrate into the society, and Abdalla Hassan Ghorib from Tanzania is a good example of it. His win and good publicity might serve as a starting point in redirecting public opinion towards a more accepting and welcoming tone. However, this case alone cannot change the whole situation, constant commitment from the government and media should be shown to make good intentions and deeds of Africans in Malaysia visible to the general public.

You can watch Abdalla Hassan’s performance in PABM finals here:

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak shakes hands with the winners of PABM 2016.Source:




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