By Thula Chisamba
Some Malawians in the Northern Region, have pleaded with lawmakers to consider conducting their deliberations in vernacular languages, citing that the current state of affairs favors the few educated members of the populace.
When The Malawi Star asked local citzens whether the Malawi National Assembly is beneficial to them, the responses were generally not favorable.
“It’s hard for me to comment on that because, starting from the language these people use, [it’s clear they don’t] care about the majority of illiterate Malawians. How can we assess our parliament? That is for educated people,” said Andrew Mlotha.
Another local, Amosi Shaba said he suspects that even other parliamentarians fail to contribute in this honorable house, because of lack of sound knowledge in the Queen’s language.
“How do you expect a Junior Certificate holder to contribute on economic terminologies? This tendency of prioritizing English as an official language in parliament won’t help this county,” he lamented.
“We fail to assess our legislators owing to the same barrier. Mind you, this is not Britain and these parliamentarians are not representing people in Britain. They must have it in mind that the majority of Malawians are not conversant with English,” said Mercy Mtambo.
Historically, since Malawi adopted English as an official language, in most official meetings, vernacular languages are not considered.
Social and political commentator cum history lecturer at Mzuzu University, Crispin Mphande, said he could neither support nor disavow his fellow Malawians demand for vernacular in proceedings, stating that in a democratic nation, everyone is free to express their opinion.
He said much as these complaining Malawians may seem laughable, they may equally have tangible ideas that might help in running the country.
“It is true, most legislators are not contributing anything because of the same language barrier. Nonetheless, they would have contributed if given the chance to express their opinions in their mother tongue,” said Mphande.
He supported the current trend of deliberating in English, citing that the status quo shows civilization in the country.
Another commentator, Emily Mkamanga, brushed aside the complaints, citing that nowhere in the world are parliamentary debates held in vernacular languages.
She said much as most Malawians might not be fluent in English, their parliamentarians must continue deliberating in English.
“That is why we call them our representatives. It means we can’t all go there and contribute to the debate. What we need to do is tell our legislators what to say in Parliament,” said Mkamanga.
In the meantime, there is no formal plan to change the official language, so the debate will likely continue.