HE embraces Kiswahili to boost regional integration

Rwandan universities have embarked on an ambitious programme to teach Kiswahili, East Africa’s lingua franca, to enable the country’s populace to tap into regional integration.

Rwanda is a member of the East African Community or EAC, a regional trading bloc comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda that came into being in July 2007 and encompasses a total area of 1.8 million square kilometers and 135 million people.

The new programme, being pioneered by leading higher education institutions in the tiny landlocked African nation, is intended to ease Rwanda’s entry into the regional market.

Higher education harmonisation in East Africa is also forging ahead through the Inter-University Council for East Africa, which has more than 100 member universities.

Kiswahili the language

Despite previously being belittled as a language, Kiswahili is spoken by millions of people around East Africa, boosting communication and business among member states.

Experts argue that Rwandans need to learn Kiswahili if they are to penetrate and benefit from the East African integration process.

The language has turned out to be an important tool used in business, political and social-cultural settings. As EAC integration deepens, those who cannot speak Kiswahili are rushing to learn it.

According to Dr Cyprien Niyomugabo, dean of the University of Rwanda’s school of education, the institution has introduced courses in which every Rwandan national can enrol to learn Kiswahili.

Niyomugabo, who is also the president of Rwandan Academy of Language and Culture, said that about 40 students were expected to graduate from the school with a bachelor degree in Kiswahili each year.

He added that the institution would soon introduce masters and doctoral programmes aimed at equipping Rwandan students with high-level language skills.

“In the past, there was a negative attitude towards Kiswahili. It was considered to be a language used by only robbers and an uneducated police force, but that has now changed,” Niyomugabo told University World News.

“Without Kiswahili, you cannot transact any business in some of our countries in East Africa,” he stressed, adding that this year the university also intended to introduce certificate courses in the language.

Promoting Kiswahili

According to Niyomugabo, there are five Rwandan nationals who have earned a PhD degree in Kiswahili and the number is set to grow as the government embarks on the drive to attract more Kiswahili learners around the country.

“Our neighbouring countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, speak Kiswahili and there are plenty of business opportunities that we cannot tap into unless we understand and learn Kiswahili,” Niyomugabo said.

Recently Kiswahili has been fronted as the language of identity within the East African Community, with key symbols of integration – including the bloc’s anthem – being written or recited in Kiswahili.

Fiona Juliet (22), one of the students pursuing a course in Kiswahili at the Rwandan university, said learning the language opened doors and presented numerous opportunities to Rwandan nationals.

But Juliet asserted that in order to achieve great results, member states would need to demonstrate political will in advancing the language among their citizens.

“Rwanda is doing well in promoting Kiswahili and I think other countries like Burundi, Uganda and Kenya should emulate that,” she said.