ITS ENGLISH OR ELSE
Information was obtained from Arusha that the Council of Ministers had finally discussed the application by Burundi to have French made an official language of the East African Community, and reportedly rejected the suggestion. Official were however swift, when the news broke, to play down the snub as it is perceived in Burundi, by claiming a final decision would still be made some time in the future.
However, there is growing sentiment in the region that only English and Kiswahili should be used across the EAC, English as the language of record and official language while Kiswahili was to be promoted as the language of the people and lingua franca.
If correct therefore the decision will also serve notice to other would be applicants, that English is and will remain the principal language of the EAC.
In contrast to Burundi has Rwanda ditched the French language and elevated English to be the medium of instruction in schools, and the commonly used language in business transactions, though French is still spoken but has been overtaken as second language by Kinyarwanda, the local vernacular also understood in Burundi and parts of neighbouring Uganda.
The language barrier has often been cited as an obstacle for Burundi of doing more business within the East African Community and is also thought to be a contributing factor seen by this correspondent that feedback and information from Burundis tourism sector, to be featured in articles, is extremely slow in coming. Government in Bujumbura has also been told, according to a reliable source in Arusha, to step up the teaching of English in schools and the wider use of the language in the business community to be able to interact with the rest of the region with greater ease.
Next applicant, the Republic of South Sudan, is an English speaking country already, as is potential applicant Ethiopia, but others in the region, like the Comoros Islands have retained French as their main language, giving them some challenges to resolve before they are ready to apply for membership of the EAC. Fodder for thought for sure as other issues like a common currency and further economic and political integration continue to dominate the agenda.