AU wants to develop Chichewa
Lilongwe – Following an AU decision to develop African languages, the continental body has chosen Malawi’s widely-spoken Chichewa as one of the languages to get emphasis as part of the “African Renaissance”.
According to Reverend Dr Winston Kawale of Malawi’s Mzuzu University, the decision comes after a decade in which member states engaged in a series of efforts to ensure that indigenous African languages are given appropriate attention and priority as tools of developing the continent.
Rev Dr Kawale says this will counter the hegemonic position of foreign languages in Africa’s education system.
“This decision followed the AU’s full realisation and appreciation that African states cannot achieve meaningful political, socio-economic, scientific and cultural development if the majority of Africans are excluded from the development agenda through persistent use of imported and unfamiliar ex-colonial languages like English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Spanish, which are inaccessible to most Africans,” says Rev Dr Kawale.
He is a former Co-ordinator of Chichewa Bible Study Project under the Bible Society of Malawi.
Rev Dr Kawale explains that in 2006, African states signed international language protocols in which they expressed their commitment to the ideals of the African Union on the promotion and development of local languages.
In 2007, African Heads of State and Government met in Khartoum, Sudan to approve the creation of the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN).
ACALAN is an organ of the AU mandated to co-ordinate activities on the promotion of African languages through national and regional structures.
ACALAN proposed to start with 12 languages in five selected regions of Africa. These are Arabic and Bergere in North Africa; Hausa, Mandenkan and Fulfulde in West Africa; Kiswahili, Somali and Malagasy in East Africa; Lingala, and Beti-fang in Central Africa; and Setswana and Chichewa/Chinyanja in Southern Africa.
“ACALAN will provide opportunities for the empowerment of these indigenous languages to be used alongside official ex-colonial languages as tools for regional and national political and socio-economic corporation and integration,” says Rev Dr Kawale, who once served as the General Secretary of Nkhoma Synod of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian.
He explains that following extensive research, ACALAN learnt that there were about 40 Vehicular Cross-Border Languages (VCBLs).
“These are the languages which are common and widely spoken across several countries as well as enjoy a level of corporation of the countries in using them,” he notes adding: “Thereafter, ACALAN established five language commissions, one commission for each VCBL.”
The members of the Chichewa/Chinyanja VCBL Commission are from Malawi, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique.
Rev Dr Kawale says Chichewa met the criteria for VCBL because it is spoken in a number of countries in Southern Africa.
While it is dominant in Malawi, in Mozambique it is spoken in Tete and Niassa provinces; in Zambia it is mostly spoken in Eastern Province and Lusaka; while in Zimbabwe it is regarded as the third most widely used local language after Shona and Ndebele.
“In South Africa it is said to be one of the key African heritage languages,” Rev Dr Kawale says, while pointing out that it is also spoken in some parts of Tanzania.
It is estimated that it has 15 million speakers in Southern Africa, and as such in 1997 SADC Ministers of Culture resolved to make Chichewa an official language of the bloc.