Skip to main content

Language policy, multilingual education, and power in Rwanda

Abstract

The evolution of Rwanda’s language policies since 1996 has played and continues to play a critical role in social reconstruction following war and genocide. Rwanda’s new English language policy aims to drop French and install English as the only language of instruction. The policy-makers frame the change as a major factor in the success of social and education reforms aimed at promoting reconciliation and peace and increasing Rwanda’s participation in global economic development. However, in Rwanda, the language one speaks is construed as an indicator of group affiliations and identity. Furthermore, Rwanda has the potential to develop a multilingual educational policy that employs its national language, Kinyarwanda (Ikinyarwanda, Rwanda), to promote mass literacy and a literate, multilingual populace. Rwanda’s situation can serve as a case study for the ongoing roles that language policy plays in the politics of power.

References

  1. Annamalai, E. (2003). Reflections on a language policy for multilingualism. Language Policy, 2(2), 113–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. BBC News. (2008, January 17). Rwanda ‘still teaching genocide’. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/africa/7194827.stm.

  3. Berkeley, B. (2002). The graves are not yet full: Race, tribe and power in the heart of Africa. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Blommaert, J. (2001). Investigating narrative inequality: African asylum seekers stories in Belgium. Discourse and Society, 12(4), 413–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Blommaert, J. (2008). Grassroots literacy: Writing, identity and voice in central Africa. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power (G. Raymond & M. Adamson, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  7. Brocke-Utne, B. (Ed.). (2002). Language, democracy and education in Africa. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Brock-Utne, B., & Hopson, R. K. (Eds.). (2005). Languages of instruction for African emancipation: A focus on postcolonial contexts and considerations. Cape Town, South Africa: Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Calvet, L.-J. (1994). Les politiques de diffusion des langues en Afrique francophone. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 107, 67–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Canvin, M. (2007). Language and education issues in policy and practice in Mali, West Africa. In N. Rassool (Ed.), Global issues in language, education, and development: Perspectives from postcolonial countries (pp. 157–186). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Chamot, A. U. (2009). The CALLA handbook: Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach (2nd ed.). New York: Pearson ESL.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power, and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon [England]; Buffalo [N.Y.]: Multilingual Matters.

  13. Dallaire, R., & Beardsley, B. (2005). Shake hands with the devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Desforges, A. (1999). Leave none to tell the story. New York: Human Rights Watch.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Eltringham, N. (2004). Accounting for horror: Post-genocide debates in Rwanda. London: Pluto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Fought, C. (2006). Language and ethnicity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Freedman, S. W., Kambanda, D., Samuelson, B. L., Mugisha, I., Mukashema, I., Mukama, E., et al. (2004). Confronting the past in Rwandan schools: Education as a tool for unity and reconciliation. In E. Stover & H. M. Weinstein (Eds.), My neighbor, my enemy: Justice in the aftermath of genocide and ethnic cleansing (pp. 248–265). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  18. Freedman, S. W., Weinstein, H., Murphy, K., & Longman, T. (2008). Teaching history after identity-based conflicts: The Rwanda experience. Comparative Education Review, 52(4), 663–690.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Gahigi, M. (2008). Rwanda: English language teaching kicks off. AllAfrica.com Retrieved January 9, 2009, from http://allafrica.com/stories/200812010940.html.

  20. Gahindiro. (2007, July 8). Language crisis - Is the country French speaking or English speaking? The New Times Retrieved April 4, 2009, from http://www.allafrica.com.

  21. George, T. & Ho, K. (2006). Hotel Rwanda [motion picture]. U.S.A: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Home Entertainment.

  22. Gettleman, J. (2008). Rwanda stirs deadly brew of troubles in Congo. New York Times. Retrieved December 4, 2008, from www.nytimes.com.

  23. Gourevitch, P. (1998). We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda. New York: Picador.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Harlech-Jones, B. (1990). You taught me language: The implementation of English as a medium of instruction in Namibia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hatzfeld, J. (2000). Life laid bare: The survivors in Rwanda speak (L. Coverdale, Trans.). New York: Other Press.

  26. Hatzfeld, J. (2005a). Into the quick of life: The Rwandan genocide: The survivors speak (G. Feehily, Trans.). London: Serpent’s Tail.

  27. Hatzfeld, J. (2005b). Machete season: The killers in Rwanda speak (L. Coverdale, Trans. 1st American ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

  28. Heugh, K. (2007). Language and literacy issues in South Africa. In N. Rassool (Ed.), Global issues in language, education, and development: Perspectives from postcolonial countries (pp. 187–217). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hintjens, H. (2008). Post-genocide identity politics in Rwanda. Ethnicities, 8(1), 5–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hornberger, N. (1987). Schooltime, classtime, and academic learning time in rural highland Puno, Peru. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 18(3), 207–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hornberger, N. (2002). Multilingual language policies and the continua of biliteracy: An ecological approach. Language Policy, 1(1), 27–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hornberger, N. (Ed.). (2008). Language policy and planning: Encyclopedia of language and education (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Hu, Y. (2007). China’s foreign language policy on primary English education: What’s behind it? Language Policy, 6(3), 359–376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Hu, G. (2008). The misleading academic discourse on Chinese-English bilingual education in China. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 190–226.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Ilibagiza, I., & Erwin, S. (2006). Left to tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan holocaust. Carlsbad: Hay House, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Lacey, M. (2004, April 9). A decade after genocide, Rwandan government outlaws ethnicity. New York Times Retrieved April 4, 2009, from www.nytimes.com.

  37. LeClerc, J. (2008). Rwanda. L’aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/afrique/rwanda.htm.

  38. Longman, T. (1999). Nation, race, or class? Defining the Hutu and Tutsi of Central Africa. In J. Feagin & P. Batur-Banderlippe (Eds.), The global color line: Racial and ethnic inequality from a global perspective (Vol. 6).

  39. Longman, T., & Rutagengwa, T. (2004). Memory, identity and community in Rwanda. In H. M. Weinstein & E. Stover (Eds.), My neighbor, my enemy: Justice in the aftermath of genocide and ethnic cleansing (pp. 162–182). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  40. Magogwe, J. M. (2007). An investigation into attitudes and motivation of Botswana secondary school students towards English, Setswana, and indigenous languages. English World-Wide, 28(3), 311–328.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Malekela, G. (2003). English as a medium of instruction in post-primary education in Tanzania: Is it a fair policy? In B. Brock-Utne, Z. Desai & M. Qorro (Eds.), Language of instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (pp. 102–113). Dar Es Salaam E & D Ltd.

  42. Mamdani, M. (2001). When victims become killers: Colonialism, nativism, and the genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Masagara, N. (2001). Conveying and evaluating speakers’ commitment to telling the truth: The impact of European Christian missionaries on language use. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 22(4), 325–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. McCrummen, S. (2008, October 28). Rwandans say adieu to Francais: Leaders promote English as the language of learning, governance and trade. Washington Post Retrieved September 19, 2009, from LexisNexis Academic.

  45. McGreal, C. (2008, November 23, 2009). Rose Kabuye, accused of involvement in assassination of Hutu president, seeks to expose ‘abuse of international law’. guardian.co.uk Retrieved November 10, from guardian.co.uk.

  46. Morrill, C. (2006). Show business and ‘Lawfare’ in Rwanda: Twelve years after the genocide. Dissent, 53(3), 14–20.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Mugabe, R. (2009). ULK Adopts English as the only language of instruction. All Africa.com Retrieved January 22, 2009, from www.allAfrica.com.

  48. Munyankesha, P. (2004). Les defis du plurilinguisme officiel au Rwanda. Analyse sociolinguistique. Unpublished Ph.D., The University of Western Ontario (Canada), Canada.

  49. Mushikiwabo, L., & Kramer, J. (2006). Rwanda means the universe: A native’s memoir of blood and bloodlines (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Musoni, E. (2008, January 29). MPs launch anti-genocide ideology campaign in schools. The New Times. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from http://www.allafrica.com.

  51. Nambi, I. V. (2008, January 25, 2009). Embrace English, KIE Students Urged. All Africa Retrieved April 4, 2009, from http://allafrica.com/stories/200901230301.html.

  52. National Public Radio. (2008, November 20). English to become official language in Rwanda. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97245421.

  53. Niyomugabo, C. (2009). Kinyarwanda-English dictionary. Kigali: Fountain Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Omoniyi, T. (2003). Local policies and global forces: Multiliteracy and Africa’s indigenous languages. Language Policy, 2(2), 133–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Peck, R., Erhuero, O., Ebouaney, E., Elba, I., Winger, D., HBO Films., et al. (2005). Sometimes in April [videorecording]. [United States]: Home Box Office.

  56. Pimcock, H. (2009). Language and education: The missing link. London: CfBT and Save the Children Alliance.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Pottier, J. (2002). Re-imagining Rwanda conflict, survival and disinformation in the late twentieth century. Available from http://www.netlibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=120490.

  58. Prah, K. K. (1993). Mother tongue for scientific and technological development in Africa. Bonn: German Foundation for International Development, Education, Science and Documentation Centre.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Prah, K. K. (1995). African languages for the mass education of Africans. Bonn: German Foundation for International Development, Education, Science and Documentation Centre.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Prah, K. K. (2008). The language of instruction conundrum in Africa. Meeting on the Implications of Language for Peace and Development (IMPLAN). Retrieved April 4, 2009, from www.casas.co.za.

  61. Prunier, G. (1995). The Rwanda crisis: History of a genocide. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Prunier, G. (2009a). Africa’s world war: Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and the making of a continental catastrophe. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Prunier, G. (2009b). From genocide to continental war: The ‘Congolese’ conflict and the crisis of contemporary Africa. London: Hurst.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Rassool, N. (2007). Global issues in language, education and development: Perspectives from postcolonial countries. Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Rassool, N., & Mansoor, S. (2007). Contemporary issues in language, education and development in Pakistan. In N. Rassool (Ed.), Global issues in language, education, and development: Perspectives from postcolonial countries (pp. 218–241). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Rosendal, T. (2009). Linguistic markets in Rwanda: Language use in advertisements and on signs. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 30(1), 19–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Rusesabagina, P. (2006). An ordinary man: An autobiography. New York: Viking.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Rutayisire, J., Kabano, J., & Rubagiza, J. (2004). Redefining Rwanda’s future: The role of curriculum in social reconstruction. In S. Tawil & A. Harley (Eds.), Education, conflict and social cohesion (pp. 315–373). New York: UNESCO Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Rwanda Development Gateway. (2008, January 18). MPs in bid to stamp out ‘genocide ideology’. Rwanda Development Gateway. Retrieved March 7, 2009, from http://www.rwandagateway.org/article.php3?id_article=7887.

  70. Rwandan, S. (2006). Rwanda: Genocide ideology and strategies for its eradication. Kigali: Republic of Rwanda.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Skutnabb-Kangas, T. M. M. L. (1988). Multilingualism and the education of minority children. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas & J. Cummins (Eds.), Minority education: From shame to struggle (pp. 9–44). Philadelphia, PA: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Stover, E., & Weinstein, H. M. (Eds.). (2004). My neighbor, my enemy: Justice in the aftermath of genocide and ethnic cleansing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  73. Temple-Raston, D. (2005). Justice on the grass: Three Rwandan journalists, their trial for war crimes, and a nation’s quest for redemption. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  74. The New Times. (2007a, December 7). Rwandan MPs accuse Education Ministry officials of genocide ideologies. The New Times Retrieved February 21, 2009, from Lexis-Nexis Academic.

  75. The New Times. (2007b, February 21). The uniqueness of Kinyarwanda. The New Times. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from LexisNexis Academic.

  76. The New Times. (2008, February 25). The language opportunity for “Ururimi”. The New Times Retrieved February 21, 2009, from Lexis-Nexis Academic.

  77. Uys, M., Van der Wait, J., & Botha, S. (2007). English medium of instruction: A situation analysis. South African Journal of Education, 27(1), 69–82.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Wallis, A. (2006). Silent accomplice: The untold story of France’s role in the Rwandan genocide. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Webb, V. (2004). African languages as media of instruction in South Africa: Stating the case. Language Problems and Language Planning, 28(2), 147–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Weinstein, H. M., Freedman, S. W., & Hughson, H. (2007). School voices: Challenges facing education systems after identity-based conflicts. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 2(1), 41–71.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Beth Lewis Samuelson.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0), which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Samuelson, B.L., Freedman, S.W. Language policy, multilingual education, and power in Rwanda. Lang Policy 9, 191–215 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-010-9170-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Language-in-education policy
  • Rwanda
  • French
  • Kinyarwanda
  • Africa