Swahili: Growing as a National Language

Current Swahili Events

Swahili recently became the fourth official language of Rwanda. The national language is Kinyarwanda, and English and French are used in government. In 2007, the East African Community (founded by Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya) agreed to use Swahili and English as their national languages. Rwanda’s Minister of Sports and Culture, Jilienne Iwacu said that this move not only fulfills the 2007 pledge, but also will support economic integration in East Africa. Swahili gained momentum amongst the Rwanda populace after the genocide.

While Rwanda was largely a Francophone country because of its history as a colony of Belgium, the government banned French in schools in 2009. The move was justified, officially, to strengthen relations with the East African community, which mostly relies on English. However, Chris McGreal, in “Why Rwanda said adieu to French,” surmises that since the UK is the greatest donor to Rwanda, it probably has something to do with foreign aid.

Nevertheless, the move to include Swahili speaks to a hope from Tanzania’s first President Julius Nyerere, who called for a unified Africa, which would share resources and challenge western hegemony and dominance. While an African Union proved difficult to cultivate, Nyerere thought that a unified East Africa could initiate the movement. Fifty years later, his wish seems closer to fruition than ever before.


Work cited

AfricaNews. “Rwanda moves to make Swahili its fourth official language.” Africanews. February 10, 2017. Accessed November 6, 2017. http://www.africanews.com/2017/02/10/rwanda-moves-to-make-swahili-its-fourth-official-language//

McGreal, Chris. Why Rwanda said adieu to French.” The Guardian. January 16, 2009. Accessed November 6, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/jan/16/rwanda-english-genocide

Nyerere, Julius K. Freedom and Unity: Uhuru Na Umoja: A Selection From Writings and Speeches, 1952-65. London, Nairobi [etc.]: Oxford U.P., 1967.





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