An English revolution in Burundi sets pathway to deepening integration in the East African Community


An English revolution is sweeping across Burundi, transforming this French-speaking nation to a multi-lingual nation. The demand for the language has resulted in several English language colleges sprouting up all over the capital city. While the EAC Treaty provides English and Kiswahili as the official languages in the Community, the bigger majority of the Burundian population, including Government officials lack the requisite skills to conduct business and meetings in English. This situation has resulted in significant challenges for the Burundi population in relation to the rest EAC partner states, including difficulties in common understanding and in-depth negotiations during EAC council and sectorial meetings follow up on agreed decisions or coordination of Burundi’s EAC policy implementation. On 1st July 2007, Burundi officially acceded as a member state of the East African Community (EAC) and committed itself to a widening and deepening co-operation with Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda in the political, economic, social, and cultural fields. Today, the EAC has become the fastest growing block in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through the establishment of a Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation, Burundi, with the other four partner states is set for increased trade and development. One of the major challenges for Burundi has been that it is the only EAC country with the predominance of the French language. Since 2012, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) has been supporting the Ministry at the Presidency in Charge of the East African Community Affairs,to establish and implement a two year project titled ‘Enhancing English Language Skills and Trainings / Setting up of English language Centres in Burundi’, which has been implemented by Williams Academy, benefitting participants in Government, civil society and the private sector. The end of 2013 was marked with joy and celebration, as this marked the first graduation ceremonies at the academy. On Thursday, December 19th, 155 laureates, comprising of Government Officials in the Country’s Central Administration, Civil Servants in the Technical Ministries, Members of the Private Sector and Business Associations, the Civil Society and the Media, with key roles played at the EAC level and with keen interest in the EAC integration, were awarded certificates for successfully completing the English language training. Enthusiastic and confident, the graduates who had successfully completed the six months journey of taking English lessons were now cracking jokes in English. H.E. Madame Léontine Nzeyimana, Minister at the Presidency Responsible of the East African Community Affairs (MPACEA), in her speech during the graduation ceremony, reiterated the importance of the project in providing English Language skills through training by local and international teachers and the use of new technologies of information and communication to overcome the challenge of English in the EAC integration and worldwide in the context of globalization. Mrs. Beatrice Biha, the Director of Williams Academy, acknowledged the unceasing effort on the part of the trainers which also includes the English Language Center, to ensure that all students are not only equipped with adequate English skills to become real English speaking students, capable of thinking, reading and speaking, but also to progress in a professional life with one of the tools considered a key for success: multilingualism. Amb. Domitile Barancira, the Advisor to the Minister of Justice, and the graduates’ representative attested to have achieved another level of fluency.

In her speech, she congratulated her fellow graduates: “This is our day! Let us enjoy it; give ourselves a pat on the back. Savor the moment but not too long. Let us look ahead to our next goal. There is no question that our accomplishment to date has earned us the respect of our peers. We can stand with confidence in East African Community and converse with the rest of the world. We have made ourselves and our family proud. Now let’s go and make them prouder”.

Interest, zeal and determination to perfect English skills, kept rising throughout the training period in the students. According to a graduate, Mr Lucien Rukevya, responsible for the training department at the National Television and Radio (RTNB), in his speech at the ceremony, the students were terribly surprised when at the end of the program, the computer system displayed: “This student has been moved out”. He however stated that, they will not stop at that, but will continue learning more and more on their own and at times, return to use the same learning facilities, which according to the Director of Williams Academy, will still be opened to them. We will note that 200 more trainees are expected to complete the program and graduate in mid-2014. The following week, on 28th December, another graduation was celebrated. 22 teachers were awarded certificates, for completing an intensive course in “Best Practice in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages”. As affirmed by Amb. Jean Rigi, Permanent Secretary at the MPACEA, during the occasion, the training was very successful, and a living testimony of the best way to ensure footprint and sustainability of the project. TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) Burundi Program Manager, Mr Aimé Nzoyihera, stated that by overcoming the English language barrier, an important non-tariff barrier for Burundi in the EAC, each person speaking English contributes to improving the business environment in the country. He reiterated that TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), committed to working hand in hand with the government of Burundi, the EAC Institutions, the private sector and civil society to provide a significant and strategic response to the country’s rapid advances towards a united East Africa with flourishing trade, strong investment and less poverty. TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) will continue supporting the English Learning programme for Government officials, as well as private sector and civil society operators. English and Swahili language have also been added in the schools curricular in addition to French and Kirundi. The Government of Burundi, active in the promotion of the EAC languages,has also been negotiating for French to be adopted as an EAC language. During the 15th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of States held at Kampala on 30 November 2013, the Council of Ministers was directed to study the modalities of including French as a language of the community in addition to English and Kiswahili. Burundi is therefore most likely to soon be the most multilingual EAC country.

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