Education institutions – from primary to university – will be required to start offering Kiswahili lessons beginning next year when the new academic term begins, the East African Community Affairs Minister, Mr Shem Bageine, has said.
The move is aimed at consolidating Kiswahili as the common language of the East African Community. Kiswahili is already the national language of Kenya and Tanzania and is widely spoken in eastern Uganda, Burundi, parts of Rwanda and eastern DR Congo.
Attempts to expand its usage in Uganda have always hit a snag with its detractors arguing that it is a “violent” language associated with the past armies that terrorised the civil population in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Mr Bageine said for the rest of the population that is outside the “classroom” bracket, the government will arrange adult literacy programmes in Kiswahili where they will be expected to make time to attend.
Government officials and public servants, he added, will be encouraged to use Kiswahili as often as they can in public or official engagements both within the country and anywhere around the five East African partner state.
The development of the language in the country will apparently be overseen by the Swahili Commission which was created by Cabinet last month. Minister Bageine told the Sunday Monitor on Friday that the commission will begin its work three months from now with the enforcement of Kiswahili lessons in schools.
“The commission was ratified last month to facilitate teaching/learning and speaking of Kiswahili in the country. And it will be compulsory in all schools; we have a duty to ensure that it is spoken widely across the country, and we are going to facilitate that process,” said Mr Bageine.
Kiswahili remains a contentious language in Uganda. The matter has not been helped over the years partly due to lack of a coherent government policy on language development with the position of Kiswahili remaining ambiguous. It is primarily used in the armed forces and was in 2005 elevated to the position of official language alongside English.
According to the vice chairperson of the Buganda Parliamentary Caucus, Ms Betty Nambooze, it will be unfair if Kiswahili as opposed to Luganda—a widely spoken language, especially in central and understood in parts of eastern and western Uganda becomes the national language of the country.
Urge for Luganda
She said: “Many people already speak Luganda, so I don’t understand why it should not be our national language.”
Ms Nambooze continued: “There are no teachers to teach Kiswahili and given what is happening now (teachers strike for increased pay/wage), I don’t think government is having its priority right—just as always.”
Proponents of Kiswahili, however, discount Luganda, saying it limits opportunities for Ugandans in the East African region as its not spoken or understood in the other countries in the region and is not spoken or understood in other parts of Uganda, especially in the north, north-east and western.
Debates just after independence drew parallels among leaders with others arguing that the language was used by criminals whereas others said it was an indigenous language with a unifying identity for East Africans.
In the 1992 government White Paper on education policy review commission report: ‘Education For National Integration and Development’, it was suggested that both Kiswahili and English be compulsory subjects throughout the primary cycle in both rural and urban areas.
However, the implementation of the programme has been reportedly delayed by inadequate funding.
The government recently said it needs Shs20 billion to finance the programme.