The National Assembly unanimously adopted a draft law on the status of languages including English as an official language, on 28 August 2014. Government officials are in the process of learning more about the language.-Diane Uwimana
“The national language is Kirundi. The official languages are Kirundi and other languages determined by law”, such is the provision of article 5 of the Constitution, an article which does not however specify these ‘other languages’. The National Assembly analyzed and adopted a draft law on the status of languages in Burundi in order to correct this error.
The draft law aims to provide order in Burundi’s linguistic landscape. The new regulation specifically mentions English, a language newly introduced in this francophone country. When the law comes into effect; Kirundi, French and English all carry the same weight, being the country’s three official languages. It is worth mentioning that four languages (Kirundi, Swahili, French, and English) are spoken frequently in Burundi without any regulation so far.
Joseph Butore, the Minister of High Education and Scientific Research who defended the draft law at the National Assembly, indicated that adopting English as an official language will allow the country to be in conformity with other EA partner States.
“We do not want to close the doors to French speaking people, we want both francophone’s and anglophone’s to feel at ease and comfortable in their vehicular languages”, the Minister explained in the National Assembly.
“Officials are putting new regulations into practice”
“I no longer need to translate my report from English to French”, says an official working at the Ministry of Defence and Former Combatants. He indicates that when he took part in regional and international conferences held in English, he had to translate the final reports into Burundi’s administrative language, the French. “Starting now, our administrative officials will undertake and learn this language urgently”, he predicts.
In the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning, some training is already on the agenda. “About 104 officials will be trained in English this October. They will acquire some basic English knowledge, because we are supposed to know it”, says Christian Kwizera, the Deputy Spokesperson of that Ministry. He goes on saying that a language should be learned by practising it: “We will no longer use translation during regional and international conferences.”
When Burundi joined the East African Community in 2007, some officials took it upon themselves to acquire some English knowledge in different English learning centres.
According to the basic laws, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research states that Kirundi should be used in debates, speeches and draft laws. “Even Kirundi (our mother tongue) does not yet fully enjoy official status referred to the basic law because this language is not yet mandatory to use in debates and bills to study and to enact, nor is it the exclusive language of institutions’ functioning”, says Joseph Butore.