During the 15th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of States held at Kampala, on 30 November 2013, the Council of Ministers was directed to study the modalities of including French as a language of the community in addition to English and Kiswahili. Burundians appreciate the decision.-Lorraine Josiane Manishatse
The East African Community Treaty provides English as an official language in EAC and Kiswahili as a lingua franca which is the most widely spoken and understood language in the community. All official activities are conducted in English and the majority of EAC citizens use Kiswahili in their communication. According to Jérémie Ngendakumana, The EAC Legislative Assembly Burundi Chapter, the introduction of French in EAC will take time. “It will be first amended in the treaty, secondly voted by EAC parliaments and finally adopted by our presidents,” he explains.
French in EAC is an advantage for the whole community
For Ngendakumana, language is a tool of communication, and most importantly with French, Burundians will be at ease in communicating. “During conferences inside EAC, Burundians get many problems to express their ideas because they are not good at English. Thus, the community lacks Burundians and Rwandans’ contributions because of linguistic barrier,” he regrets.
Vital Nshimirimana, the Chairman of Forum for Civil Society Reinforcement (FORSC) has the same point of view. For him, to be integrated in the community means to negotiate; then, one cannot negotiate with someone who speaks a language that he doesn’t master. “Including French in EAC is an important asset for Burundians because they encounter many problems of expressing their ideas in the language that they don’t understand well,” he deplores. Ngendakumana indicates that when French is going to be used as an official language in EAC, French and English will be intermingled with simultaneous translation in conferences and summits. After a certain amount of time, all documents dealing with EAC will be then put in two versions: “English and French speakers will get documents in English and French respectively,” explains Ngendakumana.
..It would be better to be bilingual…
“Every coin has two sides; the integration of Burundi in EAC has pushed many Burundians to learn the English language as they are French speakers, because they are obliged to use it in their daily activities. So, along with French, many Burundians are becoming increasingly becoming English speakers,” highlights Ngendakumana. He warns Burundians who have already started learning English not to stop. He also invites those who haven’t begun yet to make much effort to study it because it is very useful. “We have a big interest in becoming bilingual. It is an important chance in the selection of candidates proposed for different job posts. In United Nations and African Union, one is more eligible if he/she masters French and English,” he insists. In the same way, Nshimirimana says that knowing many languages is very important. Burundians should not give up the French language because they are not limited only to EAC countries.