What does the Adoption of Swahili as an Official Language mean to Rwandans?

Following the approval of the Draft Organic Law establishing Swahili as an official language by the Rwanda Cabinet on 12th October 2016, last Thursday the Minister of Sport and Culture, Uwacu Julienne, presented the law to the MPs and they adopted it after examining it with conviction that it is beneficial to the country and the East African Community. Therefore, Swahili is going to be the fourth official language accepted in Rwanda, in addition to Kinyarwanda, English and French as determined by the article 8 of the new Rwanda Constitution of 2003 amended in 2015.

Talking to the MPs, Honorable Uwacu Julienne explained that adopting Swahili as an official language is, on one hand, fulfilling what Rwanda is required to do as an EAC member country and, on the other hand, a way to increase the benefits that Rwandans can reap from regional integration. She also said that a Presidential Order that provides specific details on how this is going to be made possible will soon be available.

What does the adoption of Swahili as an official language mean to Rwandan citizens?

Janvier Nshimyumukiza Popote, a professional journalist and Vice-Chairman of WAKIRWA (Wanahabari wa Kiswahili Rwanda), congratulates the government of Rwanda for the move towards a full regional integration. 

“The government's move to make Swahili an official language is very commendable. I hope it will help Rwandans reap more from regional integration. Swahili is a language spoken in not only EAC member states but also in most of these Great Lakes Region countries and in other countries in the South of Africa like Malawi, Mozambique and more. Rwanda has already established economic and political partnerships with them, but communication barriers are still there. If we need to do business with those people let's say Tanzanians and Kenyans, we undoubtedly need Swahili as an engine. I wholeheartedly thank the cabinet and the parliament for this respectable initiative. Since 2011 I have been helping Rwandans learn and love Swahili through my radio shows on Radio Salus, Voice of Africa and currently Isango Star, and on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp. This law is really a motivating factor. After the cabinet passed the Draft Organic law for parliament's consideration, Swahili speaking journalists founded an association called WAKIRWA (Wanahabari wa Kiswahili Rwanda), for which I was elected Vice-Chairman, aiming at promoting Swahili in Rwanda. I hope with Swahili the future is bright.” Said, Janvier Popote.

Fiston Mudacumura, a publisher and Secretary General for the Rwanda Children Book Forum considers the adoption of Swahili as a new market for publishers to explore. “I have been publishing books mainly in Kinyarwanda with a few titles translated in English, but now I am thinking about commissioning some manuscripts written in Swahili and translating some of the bestselling titles I already have on the market. This is actually an opportunity for me as a publisher to explore a new market.”

Munezero Olivier, a teacher of Languages at Ecole Secondaire Gafunzo in Nyamasheke District, embraced the news. “I find it as a very important step as the role of language is to help in communication which is a very base of development. Swahili being an official language has also to be added on the list of core subjects for the Ordinary Level and elective subjects for the Advanced Level in Secondary School. Strong skills in Swahili language will not only enable learners to pass their exams but will also place them and our country in a better position to transact business with ease and exploit a variety of opportunities across the whole East African region.”

Murenzi Fabien, a motorcycle taxi driver in Kigali, urges the government and private language service providers to start Swahili teaching programs for the community. “I only speak Kinyarwanda and sometimes I feel ashamed when I fail to communicate well with a client who doesn’t speak Kinyarwanda. We need affordable language teaching programs for us to cope with linguistic diversity in today’s Kigali. I am ready to pay for Swahili and English courses as long as they are not too expensive.”

Manirakiza Deogratias who is pursuing a Degree in Swahili with Education at the University of Rwanda, College of Education finds the adoption of Swahili as an opportunity for him to earn living. “I have been worried about how I will get a job after completing my studies but this is a great news for me. No doubt that positions for Swahili teachers in schools are going to be doubled and besides this I am now assured that people who will venture into Swahili teaching business will get a good number of clients.”

Munyeshyaka Callixte, a Mobile Money agent at Remera doesn’t care. “I hadn’t even heard of the news. For me it doesn’t matter. It is now more than a year since I started doing this business and I never received a client who can’t speak Kinyarwanda. That is only beneficial for public servants and giant firms who are involved in trans-border trade. I don’t think I am concerned.”

Swahili is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is also a lingua franca of the East African Community and the Great Lakes region. Rwanda is now the third country member of EAC to adopt Swahili as an official language, next to Tanzania and Kenya, and all country members are required to do the same.

Rwanda’s Education Sector Strategic Plan 2013/14 -2017/18 published by the Ministry of Education in October 2013 recognizes teaching Swahili for the purposes of regional integration as one of the key actions of the strategic plan. Currently, Swahili is taught as an optional subject at primary and high school levels. Swahili is also one of majors available at the University of Rwanda, College of Education, department of Arts and Languages.

Cover photo: courtesy of Rwanda Parliament.


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