The East African Community (EAC) has its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania and is the regional intergovernmental organization of the Republics of Kenya, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Burundi and Republic of Rwanda.
In a meeting on the 25th of August whose proceedings Tanzania’s Citizen Newspaper reported on, the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) passed a resolution to make Kiswahili an official language of the East African Community alongside English.
The decision was not reached easily as it took hours of heated debate at the special session which was held in Tanzania. The lawmakers for the institution of the language had made their case by underscoring the need to elevate Kiswahili to a position of being one of the official languages of the East African Community, which would be a step up from its former status of lingua franca.
The motion to recognize Kiswahili as one of the official languages of the Community was tabled by three legislators; Mr. Abdullah Mwinyi and Ms. ShyRose Bhanji from Tanzania, as well as Mr. Abubakar Zein from Kenya.
Ms. Bhanji had said as she moved the motion before the House adjourned for the weekend recess;
“It is our conviction that the Heads of State of EAC will endorse this motion to enable amendment of the EAC Treaty which has only English as the official language,”
A heated debate followed but the House finally agreed that the move to legalize Kiswahili as one of the official languages was long overdue and for that to happen, the EAC Treaty had to be amended.
One of the arguments made was that Kiswahili played a big role in uniting the people of EA from the pre-independence days and that, even the colonial administrators as well as missionaries and the business community did not lose sight of the fact.
A legislator from Rwanda, Mr. Martin Ngonga who proposed that Eala sessions should be conducted in Kiswahili also said that a spirited agitation for Kiswahili should not play down the role of English, the current official language of the EAC.
The language is currently spoken by 50 and 70 percent of the public in Rwanda and Burundi respectively, even Kenya that is generally perceived to be unreceptive to the language had one legislator arguing that they had embraced the language to the extent that it is now one of the compulsory subjects in the country’s education system.