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More Use Of African Languages In Schools Called For in Africa
By Assumpta Massoi
Inter Press Service

    DAR ES SALAAM, Apr 11 (IPS) - Language experts in Sub-Saharan Africa have called on governments in the region to put into place policies to ensure that African languages, like Swahili, are used as a medium of instruction in schools.
     Delegates who attended an international workshop on languages here recently said the absence of such policies makes it extremely difficult to develop local languages. They said strategic plans had to be put into place to ensure that more use of the languages was made in schools.
    The conference, which drew participants from Africa, Europe, the United States and Asia, said countries would develop faster if their people used a medium of communication which they were conversant with.

   South Africa was commended for adopting a multilingual language policy in 1996 in which nine African languages of the country -- Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho Siswati, Setswana, Xitsonga and Tshivenda -- were included among 11 official languages.

     ''Language is a basic human right and everyone has the right to express themselves in a language they feel comfortable with at all levels,'' states one of the conference resolutions which calls on governments in Africa to develop indigenous languages for use at all educational levels and at national meetings.
     Prof David Massamba of the University of Dar es Salaam said decisions like South Africa's requires political will. He said there was no use putting policies in place that were not implemented.
     He cited the example of the use of Swahili in the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) sessions which was proposed by cultural ministers over six years ago and agreed to by African leaders. Yet not one leader has attempted to address the OAU in Swahili.
    Tanzania's former president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, was scathingly about Africans who believe the development of science and technology calls for the abuse of their own languages.
     ''Africanism is more than having a black skin. It also encompasses the language, tradition and customs. We should not rely on other people's efforts of develop their languages to develop ourselves,'' he said.
     Oliver Stegen, a language expert with the Summer Institute of Languages (SIL) based in Tanzania's nominal capital, Dodoma, says the advancement of local languages is crucial because children understand better if they are taught in their first languages.
     He said English was not as important as African languages as very few Tanzanians had the opportunity to study abroad. If anything, he said, English should be taught as a subject and not used as the medium of education. ''Developed countries advance faster because they use their own languages,'' he said.
     Rugatiri Mekacha from the University of Dar es Salaam says Swahili was first declared the national language in Tanzania in 1969. However, since then no clear cut policy has been put into place regarding language usage.
     ''We only have the cultural policy of 1997 which, among other things, calls for the development of native languages so that they can be used from primary to tertiary education levels. It also says special programmes will be installed to develop Swahili, at the same time ensuring that other foreign languages are not dumped.''
     Mekacha says so far the government has neither taken steps to implement this nor include the language issue in the Constitution. ''Every day in court people who do not know English are having their rights breached ... At least the government should ensure citizens use the language they are familiar with.''
     Tanzania's Vice President, Omar Ali Juma, called on TUKI, the country's 70-year-old institute of research for Swahili, to develop Swahili terminology so that it can be used at all levels, political, social and economical.
     In Kenya where Swahili was declared the national language in 1974 by the late president Jomo Kenyatta, the situation is no better. Clara Momanyi of Kenyatta University says a new language has developed which is Swahili mixed with English and this is used by most people including the media. She says the danger is that the original language will die out.
     In Uganda programmes to advance the use of Swahili have not gone far. Professor Ruth Mukama from Makerere University said Uganda has three times declared Swahili a national language, but there are lots of obstacles including the fact that many people want English to be the formal medium of communications.
     ''Only recently the government introduced a white paper calling for the use of Swahili in primary schools. We will wait and see if there will be any policy put into place to implement this,'' says Mukama
     Christine Gahamanyi of Rwanda's state-owned radio station said Swahili was introduced in the country during German-rule, when the colonial power used soldiers from the Indian ocean coast.
     However, with the Belgians, French came up and Swahili was regarded as a language for conmen. ''But nowadays with the return of refugees following the 1994 genocide, Swahili speakers have increased and the negative attitude towards it are no longer there, people feel proud to speak it,'' says Gahamanyi.
     An African language expert, Mbulugeni Madiba from South Africa, said the only solution to promoting African languages is that if countries that share the language were to cooperate to develop it. ''We need to centralise efforts to modernise our languages,'' Madiba says.
     This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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