MP Jean-Baptiste Rucibigango, who is also the Labour Party president, believes there can’t be a unified East African Community without Swahili being an official language in all member states.
Swahili became an official language in may this year.
Citing the example of the founding father of Tanzania, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Rucibigango says Tanzanian unification wouldn’t have been possible had Nyerere not valued Swahili.
Tanzania was created in 1964 as a clipped compound of the names of the two states that unified to create the country: Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
The pan Africanist Nyerere promoted Swahili as a common language for all Tanzanians, which helped unify a population composed of more than 120 tribes, with each having a different language.
Rucibigango said Swahili is a foundation stone upon which all EAC member states should build their integration efforts, giving an example of how Latin contributed remarkably to European unity.
“Back in the years, Westerners especially Europeans united thanks to Latin that was a language used in the region that stretches from Spain to the Middle East and from Italy to England,” Rucibigango said.
“Another thing that helped foster unity among Europeans is the railway from Spain to Russia that was built before the existence of the European Union,” he added.
In this regard, Rucibigango says Swahili is the best language that East-Africans should embrace as far as unity and economic integration among them are concerned.
He says he wishes Swahili were widely spoken all over the continent in order for panafricanism to be real.
Rucibigango told the Sunday Times that Rwandans’ efforts in opening up to neighboring countries where Swahili is among dominant languages, will undoubtedly yield positive results.
“It can also help when it comes to developing trade because a common language eases communication among those involved in business,” the MP stated before adding that Swahili can also be used as a weapon to reduce unemployment levels.
“Our youth are faced with narrow job opportunities, if they could learn Swahili, it would be much easier for them to earn a living in EAC countries especially in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.”
The recognition of Swahili as an official language in Rwanda is, “on one hand, fulfilling what we are required to do as an EAC member country but, on the other hand, it’s a way to increase the benefits that Rwandans can reap from economic integration,” Minister for Sports and Culture, Julienne Uwacu, told the lower house of Parliament in February, 2017.
The minister added that “we are going to introduce a curriculum and teaching material and we will definitely take advantage of the relationship that we have with other partner states that already use the language.”
However, a Presidential Order determining the use of Swahili in Rwanda is yet to be gazetted.
The move to officialise Swahili in Rwanda was welcomed by many people including business people, some of which later decried lack of schools where they can learn it.
Sina Gérard, an agri-business entrepreneur who owns Nyirangarama Enterprise, says his search for a Swahili teaching school has been futile.
“It has been a challenge for some of us to communicate with Tanzanians who actually don’t all speak English, so officialising Swahili in Rwanda is a commendable initiative,” he said.
“However, so far we can’t find schools where people like myself and my employees can learn that language,” Sina said.
Sina and Rucibigango share the view that the government should campaign for the incorporation of Swahili in, not only formal education, but also language centers where old people can go and learn it.