East African Community Adopts Kiswahili as Official Language

Published on 30th August 2016

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has passed a resolution to make Kiswahili the official language of the East African community alongside English. Kiswahili is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people.

The indigenous language was elevated to an official language from the current status of lingua franca after a heated debate by the lawmakers after three legislators from Tanzania and Kenya tabled the motion to recognize the language as one of the languages. Kiswahili will be used in all meetings, correspondences and discussions within the region.

In Rwanda, 50 percent of the population speaks in Kiswahili while in Burundi it is 70 percent. "The Assembly also needs to be practical to acknowledge that there are some partner states like Uganda with large population that does not speak Kiswahili and in the Treaty there is the provision for development as a lingua franca," Ms Bhanji said.

When colonial languages were introduced in Africa, zero percent of the population, beyond the few persons who were schooled in colonial ways, could speak the languages.

According to the Daily News there was a proposal for the establishment of Kiswahili Learning Centre to train, staff, members and all stakeholders involved in the integration process to fully comprehend the language.

"It is our conviction that the Heads of State of EAC will endorse this motion to enable amendment of the EAC Treaty which has only English as the official language," said Ms Shy-Rose Bhanji from Tanzania.

There is already lobbying for the issue to be brought up before the Extra-ordinary summit of the regional leaders early next month in Dar es Salaam. According to the legislators who presented the motion, Kiswahili played a major role in bringing together the East African nations in the pre-independence days helping the nations to come together against the colonial administrators.

What is the relevance to Agenda 2063?

Agenda 2063 is an encompassing political, economic and social blueprint for African  development toward an integrated, prosperous, peaceful Africa driven by her people and representing a dynamic force in the global arena. Agenda 2063 is implemented in Five Ten-Year Phases based on Seven Pillars of Aspiration. The first Ten Year Implementation Plan ins from 2014-2023. 

Aspiration 5: Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics.  

Included in Aspiration 5, local (indigenous) languages will be used in administrative systems and structure. One out of five polytechnics on the continent will be offering programs in the creative arts and the management of micro cultural enterprises to support the growth of the creative arts businesses which will be contributing twice as much of the 2013 contribution to GDP in real terms. Local content in all print and electronic media would have increased by at least 60%. The enjoyment or participation in national cultures and the creative arts will be a pastime for at least 20% of the population.

The preservation and promotion of language is an essential part of what defines a culture or civilization. The identity of an individual person is also defined by his/her language affiliation. Language in its cultural context creates and  interprets meaning within a cultural framework. In the learning environment, students will be able to engage in ways in which context affects what is communicated and how. A language policy also serves as a political instrument designated to build an integrated Africa and multi-linguism that enriches the society.

Courtesy: East African Community

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