Demystification of Kinyarwanda versus other foreign languages based on reason and reality

By Rogers Kigenza
On 12 February 2019 at 10:52

A few weeks ago, I wrote an OpEd: “Miss Rwanda Pageants Must Be Able to Speak English Fluently” that was published by this website as a result of the debate that ensued on social media regarding that subject. One of the readers of my OpEd was Mr. Jean Ngendahimana who decided to reply me via his published OpEd: “Language as communication tool versus national identity”. In his arguments, he alludes to biblical verses and tries to compare Rwanda with China and other countries such as Germany, UK etc… urging Rwanda to be like them. As a self-acclaimed researcher as he prides himself , one would expect him to present substantive and logical facts both quantitatively and qualitatively, which he snubbed!

Though I am not a researcher as him, I would like to take this opportunity provided to me by this website to shed more light on some and in part to his inept claims advanced in his article with proven statistical data based on reason and sound reality. First and foremost; it ought to be clearly understood that I am not backing the usage of English language or any other language for that matter because of the “love” I have for that language, rather, it is because this is simply a necessity that as our country grows economically and socially it is hard to omit this blend particularly within the business world not forgetting the fact the claws of globalization that has turned the universe into a global village.

In the major business centers of the world; London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and others, all negotiations are primarily conducted in English. In one instance, Reuters, a global news and information service, performed a survey by asking global businesses in 2012, the “language” they used to conduct business. In this survey, of 16,344 employed adults in 26 countries, it was revealed that over two-thirds of business people who deal with clients beyond their borders said “English” was the language most often used...more than two thirds of workers in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa also defaulted to English.

In our context, one of the reasons Rwanda opted to intensify the teaching of English language from 2008 was to give Rwandans a competitive edge especially in the East African region. This move also intended to strengthen Rwanda’s ties to its English-speaking East African neighbors, including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, with which it does much of its trade. The EAC is home to 150 million citizens, of which 22% is urban population and a combined Gross Domestic Product of US$ 146 billion (EAC Statistics for 2016). Given this trend, one would imagine the potential Rwandans would have if they were able to express themselves meticulously in English language with in this region alone, without accounting to the entire African in general.

The contender’s, (Mr. Ngendahimana) choice of examples such as China in comparison with Rwanda is not only unfounded, but an unrealistically dragged into this scenario. For example, as of 2017, China had the world’s second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, totaling approximately US$12.014 trillion according to the International Monetary Fund. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP, China’s economy has been the largest in the world since 2016. China has a population of around 1.404 billion meaning the Chinese language is spoken by roughly 20% of the world population.

This only indicates that is crystal clear that China is not interested in learning other foreign languages due to its strong economic muscle and a bigger population that are enough to sustain herself.

Another disarray, the mentioned in his article is when he ignorantly asserted that no Chinese official who speaks English, this was totally a disregard of the truth and an attempt to disrespect many Chinese nationals and diplomats we know of who speaks English language more eloquently like native speakers. Going forward, let me remind our readers that today, there are a number of Chinese, Germany and other non-English speaking countries like Norway, Netherlands, South Korea, Germany to mention a few that offer academic courses using English as a medium of instruction and one of the languages spoken at such campuses, this is meant to argument their position on the international scene, which our country should follow suit. One wonders why the writer did not mention anything about this fact.

Given that Rwandans are only 11 million and our language is barely spoken with in the Greatlakes region, with an economy trying to build itself, it is necessary to young and school going children to learn foreign languages that would not only enable them to compete with their counterparts, but to also represent their country in a global context. It is here that the roots of patriotism should grow deeply in the fertile soils of the young generation to be able to spread the gospel of our own achievements, innovation and cultural values to the rest of the world.

Drawing to some people jumping to the bandwagon of bashing of using the English language and defending usage of Kinyarwanda during the recently concluded Miss Rwanda, I consider this simply a misguided argument made out of emotions, nevertheless let me emphasize that indeed there’s a need to protect and promote our language as national identity, but that should not lure us into thinking we don’t need to learn other languages for development purposes. This has nothing to do with decolonization and poor innovation Mr. Ngendahimana claims.

Mr. Ngendahimana also makes another scanty argument of how none of our beauty pageants has won Miss World competition despite them using English in all previous competitions. I wonder whether he is forgetting that every competition has a winner and a loser. Should this therefore be a case to change rules of the game? Will changing the rules of the game be an automatic ticket to win the competition? We have had this year’s 3rd runner-up of Miss world Abenakyo Quinn come from the East African region, can Mr. Ngendahimana do the research on which language she used to articulately present her self during the competition despite her having her own indigenous language which she is proud of?

Concluding therefore, let me urge Mr. Ngendahimana to stop comparing Germany, China, France, UK, Italy, etc. in terms of language needs. These are well established countries that don’t consider learning other people’s language a prerequisite for their survival which is not the same case here. Let me also state that knowing any of the foreign language isn’t a measure of someone’s intelligence, it is however a great asset that can help someone’s ability to survive economically and socially.

Mr. Ngendahima himself being in Germany knows very well what he had to go through to integrate in Germany. He simply had to learn the German language. I don’t know whether he has a Kinyarwanda translator over there. That is a subject for discussion. With this, let not future Miss Rwanda organizers bow to demagoguery pressure arguments and omit knowing English or any other internationally recognized language a prerequisite.

The Author of this Opinion is Rogers Kigenza