Refer to Sam Kebongo’s article, “Is language the major cause of Africa’s woes?” (The New Times, March 19).
It is absurd that Africans blame everything on colonialism. Actually in many cases colonialists helped promote African languages. The nearest example is Swahili which was a lingua franca across East African region from the beginning of the 20th century.
Swahili used to be highly respected but gradually became a pariah in some areas such as Uganda, Rwanda and elsewhere. I learned that when Tanzanian soldiers overthrew Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin in late 1970s, they got involved with various atrocities such as killing civilians and looting Buganda’s property. Since then, the Tanzanian official language became synonymous with cruelty in Buganda Kingdom.
I do not know the genealogy of hating Swahili among Rwandans after the independence in 1960s, but before 1994, this language was linked to dishonest and trickery (Umuswayile was often used in reference to a liar). And this concept was a boon for the Habyarimana’s divisive and tyrannical government to support its propaganda that Rwanda Patriotic Army was a band of bandits because the freedom fighters were mainly speaking Swahili.
In my opinion, its farfetched to blame Europeans for the stagnation of our languages.
A second example is Kinyarwanda: the Belgians developed its alphabetic and grammar and Kinyarwanda was widely taught in schools in parallel with French during colonialism. Today, both Swahili and Kinyarwanda are among African languages facing extinction not because of Westerners but the native speakers. And this is a unique phenomenon in the world. Elsewhere, say in Asia and Europe, people cherish their native language.
For instance, why should the East African Community Assembly use English? We should construct our own identity through speaking Swahili. Similarly, in Rwanda we should emphasise speaking fluent Kinyarwanda in all public spheres, and perhaps hiring translators if need be.
As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk in his language, that goes to his heart. Let us reclaim our hearts!”