Renowned Kenyan author Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o has asked the Government to make learning of vernacular a policy and an added advantage for employment in the civil service.
“Government policy matters. Make African languages matter in real life. It should go all the way to secondary schools, universities and even the civil service. Knowing a local language should be an added advantage,” said the author of Weep not, Child yesterday.
He added: “Universities and high schools have a responsibility (of promoting continuity in learning). Language is a serious instrument of learning.”
Ngugi argued that during employment interviews, those who have mastered local language should have an advantage.
He said he was advocating for three-language policy in Kenya where children upon enrollment in schools are taught mother tongue as foundation language as well as English and Kiswahili.
He lauded the Government for re-introducing local languages in the Competency Based Curriculum system but insisted that more needs to be done by the for a significant progress to be made.
“It is one thing producing books in local languages, but what about resources? Are trainers equipped to teach the languages?” posed Ngugi.
Yesterday, it was a celebration of Kenya’s indigenous languages when Ngugi walked into a small square room at Sarova Stanley to popularise his new book - Kenda Muiyuru: Rugano rwa Gikuyu na Mumbi (loosely translated, this is The Perfect Nine -The Story of Gikuyu and Mumbi.
After a little struggle to stand and with a little helping from the Manager of East Africa Educational Publishers Lucas Wafula, Ngugi took to the podium.
“I am happy to be here and I am particularly proud that you have come here to join me in discussing my book,” he said.
And having penned Weep Not Child, Ngugi wondered how children would be caned and humiliated for speaking a language they inherited from their parents.
“When learning French, you are not punished for speaking English. It is only in the colonised states that such punishment exists. It is conditioning people towards the conqueror,” noted a man who was detained in 1977 for his play Ngahika Ndeeda (I Will Marry When I want).
Ngugi encouraged the different communities to learn basic words like greetings of other communities.
“Government policy matters. Make African languages matter in real life. It should go all the way to secondary schools, universities and even the civil service,” he proposed.
Over the years he has been at the forefront of advocating for vernacular languages as vehicles of literary works.
Not a tribalist
And he has received support from many quarters including from the Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who had joined the author in 2015 at Kisii University to push for the Kisii freedom fighter Otenyo Nyamaterere’s skull from England.
Speaking at the literary event yesterday Mr Wafula persuaded Kenyans to get away from the notion that speaking an African language was being tribal.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks his mother tongue well, so does former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and I speak my Lubukusu very well and we are not tribalists,” he said.
Ngugi’s advocacy for learning and mainstreaming local African languges is seen as an antidote to the negative effects of the 1950s Modernisation Theory that advocated for adoption of English and other European languages as a way of managing a complex society through mass media.
Ngugi has many of his books originally written in Gikuyu and later translated in English and other languages. They include Devil on The Cross and Matigari translated from the Gi?ku?yu by Waugu?i wa Goro among others.