Malawians Question use of English in Parliament; cite Illiteracy among Populace

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.

52 Comments on Malawians Question use of English in Parliament; cite Illiteracy among Populace

  1. that’s not important. Parliament is not a traditional briefing meeting. there are MPs of different tribes and languages so how will they conduct their deliberations apart from English? pipo should expect development by their MPs and that what matters to them.

  2. Is education good? If it is, then better educate more than singing the wrong song of the un educated. After all, why should we complain with education with over 50years of independence. Advocate for better policies which can favour good environment for education please.

  3. Hahahaha mtundu wanga sindidziwa kt timavutikilanji,cholimbikilila,kulankhula chingelezi kunyumba yamalamulo sinditha kuchinvetsa mpaka,eya ine kusukulu ndidapita ndipo chingelezi ndimayankhula kma zaku nyumba ya malamulo zimandivuta kunvetsa

  4. Amalawi kuzimva ! Even the Journalist kuvia ku mudzi ndikumawapanga ma interview anthu chizungu zoona zimenezi! A site example President wa ku France never speak English at any general conference’ ma players ma cereb amayankhula chakwawo and mutolankhani shud do his work! Now our parliament it reach a point of punishing someone who speak chichewa in the house shane! Akukanika kupempha zithu ma MP chifukwa cha language! Why Malawi wants to look educated while the majority arent. Aziyankhuradi National labguage tizimva ife! Moreover ma tv anthu timaonera tonkha!

  5. The legislators communicate with the people they represent in the language they easily converse, so there is no issue to debate the proceedings in Parliament in English. By the way they are the people’s representatives

    • Put this issue off coz we all know how this language of the white people came to being . By the way who started this called parliament ,is it the chewa or tumbuka. If this white man language was not suitable in our parliament ,Kamuzu Banda who happened to be from the chewa bedroom would have been the first president to change this . Yes, i understand that the problem is education but that should not be a national issue . My failure to do well in education should not hider the international bodies from following up our parliament proceedings. I hope we are all aware that it’s these outside bodies play a big role in this our poor mother Malawi.God bless us all.

  6. True.majority (70%)of malawians are illiterate so speaking a venecular language would help them understand and contribute at the same time promoting the mother tongue and enhancing our culture. English could be translated just like in other countries like china etc where they promote their language

  7. ife zakuti tizimva ena ena akuyankhula m’ macapital letterzo ndye ayi. kodi iwowa samadziwa kuti ku parliament amayankhulako English? kodi kud nmayetsa amati ndi ophunzira kwambiri, nanga amaphunzira mchinenero citi? asandiyankhulitse pambali

  8. This bill or topic of discussion – what ever you may call it, is of no benefit for the country as a whole. It will rather perpetrate division amongst tribes in case if you don’t assess it thoroughly. What would happen when parliament adopt that its proceedings be done in chichewa, the very same people who are behind this would propose the use their regional Languages in parliament that will result in tribal war on inclusion.

  9. In simple words let education prevail. Waste of time, shall we have Kwacha printed in vernacular with the intention of reaching the iliterate? English is just a language and if you have the ability to lean then its possible to learn any language. Sometimes thinking outside the box is good, and at times this proves that common sense may not be common. Let people be educated. Education sharpens the brain and thus the leaders must be capable enough to lead the masses, which is no mean task.

  10. Indeed, English is just like any other language used as tool for communication and not for measuring one’s intelligence or education level. Pipo from French speaking African countries are equally intelligent yet don’t speak English. Why do u idolise English? I like South African where local languages are taken on board alongside English. We can do the same. That is, those who can’t competently contribute in English shud b allowed to use Chichewa which an average Malawian knows. It’s only when our representatives in the august house are allowed to report what we tell them that Malawi will develop as a whole otherwise zitukuko zizingopita madera owerengeka. Mind u, the complaints are from Tumbukas but on behalf of Chewas whose MPs speak Chi-English.

  11. Problem with most Africans is that we validate our African being through western eyes. Anything African no longer looks normal in our eyes. May be this is one way of claiming back our self esteem. And don’t tell me speaking chichewa in parliament looks akward because almost every school in malawi teaches chichewa and unless you are not a malawi national then this should be an issue of concern to u. More than 50% of malawians are illeterate and most of them are people living in the villages and this move is mostly for their benefit and so every malawian. I dont understand why it is alway cool when one speaks english rather than their own local language. Eglish is just a language and not a measure of intelligence, so Martin Luther said

  12. That’s in order. If we were to choose any other language then other people within Malawi would still not understand. So English caters for all regardless of their languages at least a good population would have understood

  13. I don’t see any reason of speaking Chichewa in tha Chamber after all Ma school akumangidwa posepose so why Chichewa? Osava English wachita kufuna nowday? Even the Life President Ngwanzi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda used to deliver his speaches in English even if with Chamama people.

Leave a Reply