Don’t Force Our Kids To Learn Swahili

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba,UK

Uganda has declared Swahili as the second official language though I thought this has been the case for some years. English was already our first official language. The irony about this is that neither Swahili nor English is the most spoken language the country since majority of people speak Luganda. I think it’s a reflection of how much Ugandans hate themselves and local stuff.

Some people may call this cultural warfare, but I think we should protect our local languages, and I have always found this disturbing that Luganda has no official status in the country. We can learn the lesson from Georgia, Ukraine, or Belarus. Belarusian language is losing status because of Russian language. Our languages are part of our heritage.

Contrary to the popular myth, "Swahili" does not originate from Uganda. It was brought to us by Tanzanians who helped to get rid of Idi Amin in 1979. So, its as foreign as English or Chinese Mandarin, but its ok to learn them if anybody wants.

Yes, speaking and understanding Swahili is an advantage as communication with our neighbouring countries, and it would boost the spirit of the East African Community. However, I doubt there are so many Ugandans that do business in Kenya and Tanzania, but I know several now floating to the Middle East in search of jobs and opportunities – a lot of Ugandans go to Dubai to buy and sell stuff, too. So, it would make sense if more of our graduates learn Arabic more than Swahili now. Otherwise, there will just learn Swahili and rarely use it; more like buying a book and never get to read it. There is a word for that in Japanese - tsundoku.

Swahili use in Uganda will grow on its own the more the East African countries, where its used, grow. For instance,the whole world is learning Chinese Mandarin now because China has grown -it has made itself attractive. Even my 12-year-old daughter is now learning it in school here in the UK. With self-motivation, she taught herself Japanese at home.

In schools we can have 3rd language (Swahili or Mandarin) or National Language (Spoken Luganda) camps during holidays. This promotes interaction between races and hopefully foster friendship and unity when students become adults. But there’s no reason to make Swahili a mandatory subject in schools. Spending that time learning the language gives no career advantages and comes at the sacrifice of practical education like art and cooking or even music and dancing.

English is the dominant language in the Uganda schools and its already compulsory, thus it’s understandable it is the language of instruction. But we have got to ask ourselves, If English that has been in our schools since the colonial times, is still a difficult language for a lot of Ugandans, what makes people think that Swahili will grow in the country in a few years? Languages shouldn’t be forced on people.

Yes, Swahili is a good language to learn but the government needs to make it more appealing to people (outside school). What we fail to notice is that it takes a village to teach a language and people need to feel motivated to learn it.