Overnight, in 2008, the Rwandese government declared English the country’s official language in schools and with the stroke of pen, the entire education system changed, just like that!
Officially the move was intended to strengthen Rwanda’s ties to its English-speaking east African neighbours, including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, with which it does much of its trade.
In 2009 Kigali applied to join the Commonwealth though the country was never a British colony, the second country after Mozambique. Their application was accepted in November 2009 becoming the association’s 54th member.
The focused change in language of instruction in schools in the east-Central African nation to English has been deemed as yet another of those brilliant initiatives by President Kagame’s government designed specifically to earn Rwanda a place as a global player in business, diplomacy, media, and entertainment thus bringing Rwanda substantial funds and developing the middle class- a goal of Vision 2020.
The brilliant direction of the Rwandan Parliament to adopt English was to prepare Rwanda’s children to perform global work, increase capacity and embrace business alliances as an equal partner and desired commodity. Thousands of teachers were taught rudimentary English as schools begun a rapid switchover to using the language for tuition in a few core subjects; main aim – within a few years and raise a generation of Rwandans fluent in English.
“Really it is not choosing English for its own sake,” said Claver Yisa, the director of policy planning at the education ministry. “This is a way to make Rwanda to be equal, to use English. English is now a world language, especially in trade and commerce. Rwanda is trying to attract foreign investors — most of these people are speaking English.
“It’s choosing English as a medium of instruction so we Rwandans of today, and more importantly of tomorrow, will be able to benefit. If Spanish or any other language could get us to that, no problem. If Kinyarwanda could get us to that, that would be marvellous. It is not English for its own sake.”
Billboards in Rwanda are in English or Kinyarwanda. On the street or at the market places one is likely going to be met by blank stares when they try communicating in French more often than when they try speaking English.
Rwanda is in a privileged position in the region in that it has qualified engineers, professors, researchers, etc. that are fluent in both English and French many of them attended the world’s best universities.
Stephanie Nolen, a correspondent for the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail in 2008 was quite shocked when she got off the plane in Kigali.
“It was a real shock for me because I’ve been going to Rwanda every couple of years for about 10 years. And I got off the plane this time, and I said, bonsoir, and expected someone to say, bienvenue, and instead I got, welcome to Rwanda. And the taxi driver said, welcome to Kigali. And I thought, hang on a second,” said Nolen.
“Now all the road signs and the immigration people work and business names are all in English. So people sense that they need to really make an effort around English,” she added.
The transition has had some bumps, most notably involving a lack of good English teachers, but Rwanda is day by day on a steady course towards the Anglosphere.
Knowledge is power and learning English is an important road to success for the Rwanda of today and will make Rwandan workers highly prized in a global business world.