Tanzania just announced that it will dump English as its official language in schools, opting for Kiswahili instead. This morning, I read this article that somehow appears to suggest that this is a bad idea.
I must say I disagree, and below I’ll try to explain why.
When the colonial powers came to Africa, one of the first things they did was to impose their own languages as the language of learning in their territories. France imposed French in the various west African territories it colonised, Portugal imposed Portuguese, Holland imposed Dutch and Britain imposed English and so on. This had the effect of dividing communities which were otherwise related. The overall effect was to stop any hope of large countries the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo from ever emerging out of Africa. It was divide and rule of the purest form. Fragmentation – a cruel tactic designed to tie the future of those then colonies forever to the colonial powers.
So the english taught was not necessarily to be a conduit of knowledge transfer that would empower the colonies as some people would have you believe. Instead, it was a move to make sure that schools produced compliant subjects which could easily be manipulated, and do the bidding of the colonial masters in Europe.
And that is reason enough in my view for Tanzania to change the official language to Kiswahili, because the motive of colonised Tanzania having to communicate in foreign languages was entirely driven by foreign interests.
Secondly, groups of people often associate and define themselves as an ethnicity on various terms, but one of the most common denominators, other than ancestry is language. You identify as Chewa because your parents are Chewa and they spoke Chichewa, they lived in the land of the Chewa, their village was in the Chewa belt. Therefore you are Chewa.
This is the norm, not the exception.
So as Tanzanians, the question which the above article answers is that Kiswahili is a unifying force in Tanzania. It holds together the people, even though they are made up of 130 different ethnicities.
So why then should they conduct their lives based on an imported language when they have a language of their own?
Who’s interests does having English as an official language of education ultimately serve?
Why teach in English when students could learn in their own African language? Are people not proud of being African?
If the US, Britain or Spain is unlikely to begin teaching their students in Nyanja or Kiswahili which are African languages, why is it somewhat acceptable or expected for Africans to teach their students in foreign languages?!?
In any case, shouldn’t Tanzania develop an economy that first and foremost works for Tanzanians (if you can allow me to temporarily step out of my usual Pan-African shoes), people who are citizens of a sovereign country?
In the above article, the author quotes Ahmed Salim, a senior Associate at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy that works with U.S investors, who makes what I consider to be a hopelessly narrow-minded point:
However, in terms of overall impact, the main challenge will be felt long-term when companies set up shop in Tanzania and are left with hiring staff that are either bilingual Tanzanians or from neighboring Kenya or Uganda. This will somewhat hinder Tanzania’s competitive advantage in the future.”
Now, I’m not saying they should stop teaching English altogether, or that English isn’t an important international language. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead the argument for English is tied to this over-emphasis on foreign investment (money coming from the outside of Africa) to help and rescue Africans, to give them jobs and create an economy – as if Africans themselves couldn’t use their own resources to create economies that work for the benefit of African countries.
Tanzania has many natural resources including natural gas (See the following links Tanzania’s Natural Gas Reserves Almost Triple on New Finds ; Statoil makes another natural gas find offshore Tanzania ; BG Group touts Pweza as its largest Tanzania gas find ). The country’s economy is growing at a rate of 7% which is quite high and above the international average. If those resources are utilised properly by the government of Tanzania for the benefit of the country’s citizens (as opposed to liberally auctioned-off to the highest corporate bidder) they could be a source of some serious economic development that would create jobs for young Tanzanians, investment into security, and used for infrastructure development, investment in Education, Healthcare and women’s issues.
That investment, derived from wholly Tanzanian owned resources, could be a serious game changer if utilised wisely.
But if some corporation is allowed to own a majority stake, or lions share of Tanzania’s Natural Gas resources, I can tell you now what difference it will make to the Tanzanian economy in the long run:
The profits that corporation makes will be wired out of Tanzania to already developed and rich countries. Countries that needs the benefit of the resource much less, and that have billions in cash reserves to fall back on. And those profits will find their way into the fat pockets of already rich shareholders in those rich countries. Ultimately such funds will trickle down to contribute to the tax system of those already rich countries, benefitting their economies.
Meanwhile, poor Tanzanians already struggling with poverty, low incomes, unemployment, high cost of living, government corruption, who do not own property, poor healthcare in hospitals and the lack of medicines, no electricity in most areas, deforestation, poaching and lack of clean water in the villages will not have benefitted proportionately from such natural gas deals. Instead they will have to continue receiving handouts, breadcrumbs from aid organisations – when their country possesses the natural resources that could be used to create wealth for them…all just because of greed of some corporations
How absurd and stupid is that?
So the scare mongering self-serving attitude against Tanzania choosing to teach their students in Kiswahili is wrong, It’s anti-African and I vehemently disagree with such dishonest views.
Africans and other developing countries have been stamped on for too long. We must end this corporate driven theft and madness and begin to create economies which are designed to serve and benefit us as Africans, just as others have been building economies to benefit their own economies, and their own people.