November 22nd 2017

World / East Africa

Rwanda strengthens East Africa ties with Kiswahili as official language

While the Rwandan government is to be commended for taking concrete steps to become an integral part of East Africa, all of us from this region should feel proud of the spread of a language that brings us together, promoting not only our distinct identity but also a shared heritage.

By Nyambura Muthoninmuthoni@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 10 Feb 2017 14:26 EAT

Rwanda's president Paul Kagame shakes hands with his Tanzanian counterpart John Magufuli as Ugandan and Kenyan leaders Yoweri Museveni and Uhuru Kenyatta look on.

The Rwandan National Assembly has adopted a law to make Kiswahili an official language of the country. Rwanda's minister for sports and culture Julienne Uwacu presented the Kiswahili draft law to parliament which voted to confirm it. With the law, Kiswahili will become the fourth official language of Rwanda, along with Kinyarwanda, which is also the the national language, French and English.

Unlike a national language which connotes a sense of national pride and history, official languages are the accepted languages of public communication, used in public offices and official communication. Kiswahili will now be primarily used for administrative purposes, and will appear in official documents and will be used in schools for teaching.

Ms Uwacu requested the parliament to approve Kiswahili draft law to facilitate the promotion of the interests of the country in the wider East African Community. The country's adoption of the language was a logical development from the rapid expansion of Kiswahili in the East Africa region, including Rwanda itself. With greater regional integration, the Rwanda has seen many of its citizens adopt Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Democratic Republic of Congo as their second home.

Kiswahili's rapid expansion is fuelled by its proximity to the Bantu languages spoken widely in the Horn of Africa. To many Bantu speakers, they don't need formal education to learn the language, and in recent decades even Nilotic and Cushitic people inhabiting the Lake Victoria Basin, South Sudan and Somalia have found the language easy to learn. 

The language is also expanding rapidly in the Indian Ocean coast, with speakers in Mozambique, Comoros and the Seychelles. But it is the mobility of young East Africans, in particular Kenyans, who have moved into Rwanda in search of business opportunities, the emergence of Bongo musical genre and students from across the region studying in neighbouring countries' universities, that has given it a life of its own in the landlocked country.

While the Rwandan government is to be commended for taking concrete steps to become an integral part of East Africa, all of us from this region should feel proud of the spread of a language that brings us together, promoting not only our distinct identity but also a shared heritage.

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