Kenya is faltering from a language crisis

ODM leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta and on May 30, 2021 in Wagai, Siaya County. (Collins Oduor, standard)

The master of the political shock is probably the honorable Raila Amolo.

In earlier times, his warm-up act was performed with great skill by the late politician Otieno Kajwang, a lawyer whose fancy comedy hid a razor-sharp mind on the podium.

Kajwang climbed the dais in a flowing shirt with an African print and a whisk in hand. He danced briefly to a meaningless but very popular song and then waved the whisk dramatically with distorted glee, stabbed left and right, and passed the baton to Adonija’s son, le grand maître.

The nice thing about Mr Odinga is that when he throws a political push in your direction, it is often wrapped in such beautiful language and delivered with so much skill that you can’t help but laugh at yourself. One notable thing about Raila’s famous putdowns is that they are delivered in Swahili, a language he could barely speak 30 years ago. But the man from Luo Nyanza, who was trained in East Germany, has taught himself so much that he effortlessly holds court in Mombasa – here a proverb, there a Msamiati.

That cannot be said of many of our politicians. They hardly speak Swahili and unfortunately their English is no better.

In their defense, the language crisis is a national phenomenon. We neither write nor speak decent English or our mother tongues. And it’s worse among the youth.

Now I’ve heard that English is not a measure of intelligence. What a nonsense! How do you acquire intelligence when you are taught it in a language that you can barely understand? Have you ever met a doctor, architect or engineer whose English is junk?

Take a short survey and help us improve our website!

Participate in a survey

The odium in our political and social media can in part be explained by our inability to wrap an insult in subtle, colorful language.

Comments are closed.