The multilingual advantages of being Rwandan

Let me first start by saying I envy all Rwandans who are eloquent in Kinyarwanda, French, English and Kiswahili, you posses such relational power, that you can blend with almost more than half of the people in the world, work anywhere and even do business as well.

Ever heard of the phrase, a jack of all trades and a master of none? Well I guess sometimes this way of life can work to your advantage especially in this capitalistic era , where you never know where the opportunity comes from, and you always have to be ready and keep an open mind to grab them as they come.

If you examine the East African region closely, I will give an example of Kenya and Uganda in comparison to Rwanda.

An average Kenyan can speak English, Kiswahili and their mother tongue fluently, while an average Ugandan is well versed with a specific dialect as well as English, some can get away with some Kiswahili and Luganda.

Out of all the languages spoken in these countries, English is the only international language spoken in Kenya and Uganda, meaning nationalities from these countries can comfortably travel, engage and do business with other Anglo-speaking communities.

Other East Africans are only lucky because there are over 50 nations in the world that either use English as an official language or a primary language, accounting to 375 million people, give or take. English is also used by the United Nations and primarily during international events such as the Olympics.

Arguably, over 29 independent countries in the world are home to French speakers. If you do the math, Rwandans therefore have an added advantage to contentedly travel, do business and settle in almost 80 countries in the world. 

We must also examine the language variation and intelligibility in Africa, specifically because one of the largest trade agreements in the world, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), is on the table.

Due to migration and regional integration, Rwandans have been forced to learn some Kiswahili, another Bantu language, widely spoken in Africa by approximately 100 million people.

From my experience working closely with people who speak both languages I think Kiswahili is not so farfetched from Kinyarwanda.

As a result, in commercial hubs within Kigali and other secondary cities in Rwanda, the language is spoken even though it is still quite colloquial with a Swahili variation from Central Africa and East Africa.

Burundians also have that multi-lingual context to code-switch as they speak Kirundi, French and Kiswahili just as fluent, English however may not be their stronghold.

Thinking about it, the visa on arrival policy that was introduced by the Government of Rwanda in January this year will serve as a value addition for the tourism sector, maybe Rwanda Development Board should also start using multilingualism as a selling point for English and French speaking tourists. I can bet language barrier sometimes slows down the traffic of tourists coming into a country.

With the Polygottic talent in this country brought out by circumstances. I will not be surprised if by 2030 as the country continues to open its trade and tourism borders to the rest of the world most Rwandans will speak Mandarin or, Portuguese speakers.

I always like to end my pieces with a positive note directed towards youth like me and our strive to find opportunities especially those looking for jobs to become more innovative about how their linguistic prowess can open doors for them.

Twitter: @christineamira

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