Embrace local languages – Ngugi wa’Thiongo

Ngugi wa’Thiongo
AS we celebrate the country’s independence golden jubilee next year when Zambia will clock 50 years there is need to reflect on the challenge posed by  Ngugi wa’Thiongo’s during a public lecture he delivered recently.

The public lecture which was organised by the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) took place at Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka. The focus of the public lecture was on the Language of Justice.
A lot of people from different professions attended the lecture which was an eye opener.
In his lecture, Professor wa Thiongo’s urged African countries to come up with policies that are aimed at encouraging the use of local languages for the citizens to be freed from the colonial bondage they have been in despite attaining national independence.
Prof wa Thiong’o said there was need for African countries to encourage the use of local languages for the citizenry to interprete various policies as well as legal provisions in the constitutions.
He said many people in Africa were left out in the development agenda of their respective countries because of the rampant use of European languages.
He said a lot of people on the continent have been denied justice and other services due to the concentration on the use of European languages in the administration of justice which he said was not supposed to be the case.
“Most of the things are in European languages, you look at the treaties kings used to sign with the Europeans were written in European languages which was not the case when they signed with the fellow European countries.
Zambia was a  corporate property  of the  British South  African (BSA) for  30 years  and  a colonial property  for 40 years but she is still  a colonial property through the usage of English  Language,” he said.
He urged Zambians and Africans in general not be influenced by English mannerisms but that they should instead use English as a language to communicate.
“Many people in African are used by English instead of using it, you find that when someone knows English, the diet, manners, the way they walk are tuned to English which is a sad situation,” he added.
Prof wa Thiong’o said people should be the basis of development saying using English or any other European Language was enslaving many Africans but that if someone knows one’s mother tongue it is a form of empowerment.
He said Africa needed to wake up from the slumber, adding that a lot of money was being spent on learning English and buying  of wigs and wondered why whites did not buy African hair.
The professor said there was need for reciprocity, adding that he has never seen an American company or individual owning uranium in the shores of Europe or America.
He has never seen Zambian banks operating in Europe, China or America, and that he has never seen a Zambian military contingent on the war front trying to quell riots which European and American governments do in Africa.
Prof wa Thiong’o asked  how many white people have been taken to The Hague to answer criminal charges against humanity?
“How many have written a book in Bemba or any other local languages? How many here have read books written in local languages?
Zambia is not different from other African countries. How many countries have had their constitutions written in their  local language and the administration of justice in local languages,” he asked?
He observed that 80 per cent of the population in most countries in Africa, Zambia included, was excluded in the rules that govern the respective countries.
The professor said most of the accused persons in the courts of law in Africa were at the mercy of court interpreters since more than 60 per cent need interpreters.
He said 80 per cent of the citizens in Zambia were linguistically foreigners in their own countries who need interpreters to survive.
Prof Wa Thiong’o stated that this linguistic vicious cycle has meant that for employment, college places, promotions, monetary gains and human resources one needs English or other  European languages.
He urged the Zambian Government to use tax  payers’ money on developing local languages for the country to see development.
Prof wa Thiong’o said the people in any locality knew their natural environment better than foreigners hence the need to normalise the abnormalities of the colonial system.
At the same function Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba said the Patriotic Front (PF) Government would continue to encourage the use of local languages in pushing for the economic agenda of the country.
Mr Kabimba who is also PF secretary general said  the Government would take the lecture by the professor of literature seriously, adding that countries that have continued using their language have developed.
“The topic is important for us in Zambia because it poses a challenge for  Government to conceptualise the local language.
“I am more fluent when I am communicating using my language which is Sala  than when I am  using the English language, because I can easily speak in riddles nicely and very intelligently communicate messages which my Government is seeking to encourage ,” Mr Kabimba said.
He said language was the social instrument of change which if utilised, it could help build social bridges and free some people  from the bondage of language and change the way Africans perceive their own continent.
PMRC board chairperson Margaret Mwanakatwe said Prof wa Thiong’o needed to be emulated because of his resolve to fight injustices in society and that knowledge transfer was vital in attaining national development.
“The professor has continued posing as a shining example because of his unique literary works which has contributed immensely to the development of African literary works,”  Mwanakatwe said.
Prof wa Thiong’o started writing his literary works in the early 1960’s in East Africa with his first  performance in a major play , The Black Hermit at the national theatre in Kampala, Uganda and has written many books in Kikuyu language.
Prof wa Thiong’o is currently distinguished professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California.
He was born in Kenya, in 1938 to a large peasant family.
He is also an Honourary member of the American Academy for Letters, a many sided intellectual, a novelist, essayist, play writer, journalist, editor, academician and social activist.
As an adolescent, he lived through the Mau Mau War of independence for Kenya, the historical episode in the making of modern Kenya and a major theme in his early literary works.
Prof wa Thiong’o   burst on to the literary scene in East Africa with the performance of his first play, the Black Hermit at the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda in 1962 as part of the celebrations Ugandan Independence.
Some of his novels and plays include; Weep not Child, The River Between, A Grain of Wheat, Matigari, I Will Marry When I Want, and Petals of Blood.
He has continued to write prolifically publishing, in 2006 what some have described as his crowning achievement, Wizard of the Crow, an English translation of the Gikuyu language novel, Murogi Wa Kagogo.
Prof waThiong’o‘s books have been translated into more than 30 languages and they continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs and dissertations.
He has also continued to speak around the world at numerous universities and as a distinguished speaker; he is the recipient of many honours including the 2001 Nonino International Literature, with seven honourary doctorates.
There is need to reflect on the lecture by the professor for the country to utilise the local language. This will enhance development and inclusiveness to be part of governance issues and many more issues pertaining to the well-being of the country so that we decolonise ourselves from the bondage of language.