Using the school model to integrate
[By IWACU, Inside EAC, The East African]
vendredi 22 juin 2012 à 06 : 42 : 33
Language is such a big issue in the East African region. There is even a joke that the East African community will never work until Ugandans learn Swahili, Tanzanians learn English and Kenyans learn manners.
For all its humour, this joke highlights not only the differences between the people of the region but also the ignorance we have of each other.
Apart from Rwanda and Burundi where one language (Kinyarwanda and Kirundi respectively) rules, other East African nations have so many tribes that the effort to forge unity has always been a tough one. Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere deserves all the credit for fostering a bond among the Tanzanians around the Swahili language.
In Kenya, the politicians spent so much time fuelling divisive tribal sentiments that Swahili could only manage to be the second language after their mother tongues especially for the bigger ethnicities like the Luo, Gikuyu, and the Kalenjin.
The fate of Swahili in Uganda was even made worse by its failure to gain ground against Luganda that was already widely being used since the colonial days. This was only made worse by the subsequent wars that made people to believe the language was a military one, since the brutal soldiers often resorted to it probably to conceal their real ethnic groups.
In Rwanda where French was the language of instruction in schools until recently, some of my Rwandan colleagues have expressed envy at the Ugandans over their usage of the English language. I have often had to answer the question “How come most Ugandans speak good English ?”
First of all, the usage of most is very relative in the above statement. However the answer is simple. The failure of Swahili gave way for English to take root as this was the only way one could communicate with students of other ethnicities.
When it comes to the wider East African equation, it is very common to hear people saying nasty things about people of other member countries with little fact to back their opinions. Unfortunately some of this evidence of ignorance even makes it to the media platforms that are meant to inform the rest of society.
Instead of exposing our ignorance about the people living beyond our borders, I think we would be better off if we got out of our comfort zones to learn a thing or two about other East African people. For example, do you have a friend in all the different countries that make up East Africa ?
If you know no one in Burundi or Tanzania, then most of your judgements about the people there will not only be biased but largely ignorant. I am glad to have a good number of friends in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. I am yet to build a sizeable friend list for Burundi as well.
It is against the same background, instead of making blanket statements on why the East African Community can work or not, let us start at a micro level by making friends with people of the different countries and learning more about them and their cultures.
It is therefore interesting that already thousands of Kenyans, Tanzanians, Rwandans and Burundians are now students in several Ugandan universities. Right there is a melting point for the EAC integrations project. The future of integration is in our schools.