With the East African integration, Uganda should urgently adopt Kiswahili – a widely spoken dialect in the East African region – as a national language. Though it was enacted as Uganda’s second official language in 1995, Parliament has not promoted Kiswahili as mandated.
Although some Ugandans are hostile to Kiswahili and often link it to violent behaviours, mainly because it is commonly used by the military, it remains a uniting factor in the East African Community. Many younger Ugandans have, however, cast off this attitude. What is needed, as National Curriculum Development Centre Kiswahili specialist Ismael Magezi says, is political will to enforce the preconditions for adoption. Kenya took 10 years of debate before President Jomo Kenyatta declared Kiswahili a national language in 1974.
For Uganda, the Gender, Labour and Social Development ministry must quickly draft the Bill on a Kiswahili National Council. The policy on teaching Kiswahili must be enforced at all levels. Currently, only 5,000 out of 50,000 secondary schools are examined by Uneb in Kiswahili. The government should boost this numbers upwards.
Already, Ordinary and Advanced level education and universities in Uganda teach Kiswahili as academic discipline. So should colleges. It is commendable that government has developed Kiswahili curriculum for O-Level in 2008 and another for A-Level in 2013, and hiring Kiswahili subject specialist for National Curriculum Development Centre in 2009 and another to oversee the exams at Uneb in 2012.
Without delay, policy makers must promote Kiswahili. First, Kiswahili is already the official language of Kenya, and Tanzania. Second, Kiswahili is widely used as a lingua franca by business people and the armed forces in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, and eastern DR Congo.
What is more, Kiswahili is central to the operations of the East African Common Market. Admittedly, Kiswahili becomes best fit lingua franca for the East African common market with more than 141 million people. Ugandans must adopt Kiswahili to seize the opportunities accorded by a common job market.
Kiswahili makes business easier to transact in East Africa. The pre-eminence of Kiswahili is made more urgent by the common tourist visa. This means tourists to the region will beneficially buy and use only one quick guide Kiswahili-English pocket dictionary. Kiswahili ensures trade manuals are reproduced not in multiple but single language.
Already, Kiswahili is the choice for mass media in east and central Africa, pre-dominates Africa service on global broadcasters, and is a working language for both AU and UN.
Government must enforce the preconditions to adopt Kiswahili as a national language.