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
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
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.
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.
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
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. TMEA will continue supporting the English Learning
programme for Government officials, as well as private sector and civil
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.