The Rwandan populace does not speak the “same language”: the ruling class – so-called “educated” elite – cannot speak the same language as the ruled “uneducated” majority hoi polloi.

There are probably some African countries where the entire populace speaks the same language; I’m not familiar with any, yet; but I stand to be informed.

This is possibly, and understandably, a rather sensitive topic but nonetheless confusing, at least, to me. However, I strongly believe there’s no taboo around it and therefore it’s not too sensitive to discuss and/or write about.

I’ve heard, many times and from many different people, Rwandans no less, make what’s an interesting claim, perhaps for various valid reasons especially in reference to Rwanda’s recent history, that “Rwanda has one language” and that the “Rwandan populace speaks the same language”.

But what does this really mean? Is it true? How true is it?

It’s likely that historically, Rwanda once had “one language” and its “populace spoke the same language”. But, like anywhere else in Africa, that was or must have been before European colonialism in Africa. The idea or the claim, thus, that the Rwandan populace speaks the “same language” is an interesting myth, and farcical; but one that’s often perpetuated unchallenged.

While there’s a common medium of communication among the Rwandan populace, it is nonetheless not the same thing as the “same language”.

It’s worth noting that Rwanda has a national language, Kinyarwanda, spoken and used by a majority of the population. But that does not entirely mean the Rwandan population speaks the “same language”, and certainly not one language. Rwandans speak other languages within Rwanda. There are also many Rwandans, within and outside Rwanda, who do not and cannot speak Kinyarwanda.

Rwanda has four official languages, Kinyarwanda, as a national language, is one them; the others are: French, English, and Kiswahili or Swahili.

But the idea that Rwanda has the “same language” suggests “one language”. This is not true and it’s not the case in Rwanda.

Although Kinyarwanda is recognised as a “national” language, this omits and therefore obscures the great influence languages from the neighbouring regions, colonial “education” as well as colonial languages, particularly and historically French and more recently English, have had and undeniably continue to wield on Kinyarwanda; how it is spoken and those who speak it; their perspective on Kinyarwanda as a language and its place particularly in this century.

It’s no exaggeration or entirely untrue to say that Kinyarwanda has quite varying versions depending on the speaker and/or their regional and historical as well as formal, i.e, colonial educational backgrounds and not to forget their lack of formal, i.e, colonial education.

All these factors have had and continue to exert great influence on Kinyarwanda, and therefore are constantly affecting or shaping the way it’s spoken; the reasons and purpose for speaking Kinyarwanda, when and when not to speak Kinyarwanda.

What is undeniable, however, perhaps due to waves of globalisation and its influence, it’s apparent Kinyarwanda is fast losing ground. It seems there are ever more reasons to not speak Kinyarwanda than there are to speak other foreign languages even within Rwanda.

It’s undeniable and quite common that many so-called “educated” Rwandans who, because of their colonial so-called “education”, unfortunately, constitute the ruling class – les élites politiques et économiques – and many of their progeny – who are the next generation of the ruling class – have embarrassing fluency issues in Kinyarwanda. Others can barely express themselves in Kinyarwanda compared to the majority of their non-educated counterparts who, therefore, constitute the ruled class and are likely to use Kinyarwanda as their first or only medium of communication.

Although both groups are Rwandans, they do not necessarily speak, communicate in or indeed understand the “same language”. Even when Kinyarwanda is spoken; it’s likely that both groups will speak and express themselves differently in it, at different fluency and comprehension level.

It’s not uncommon to hear Rwandan government officials, while communicating to the ruled, who constitute the majority of the non-educated or “uneducated” class of the Rwandan population, speak Kinyarwanda but profusely pepper it with colonial languages even though the audience does not and cannot understand colonial languages. But they do it anyway!

This is obviously due to a number of factors such as Rwanda’s colonial history and its refugee consequences which, to some extent, might explain their difficulty in Kinyarwanda. But it’s no excuse and it’s unacceptable behaviour especially for people in public positions who should speak the language majority of the public understands.

What cannot be denied, however, if not perhaps largely because of it, is the illusion of superiority and therefore uppity attitude colonial so-called “education” inculcates in many so-called “educated” Rwandans, especially towards those they consider non-educated or uneducated or less educated. And they foolishly do that to prove their “educated” superior status.

If a ruling “educated” elite rules and communicates in a language that majority of the ruled can barely understand, or cannot entirely understand, then that ruling so-called “educated” elite is an alien class.

No wonder there’s a disconnect between the ruling so-called “educated” elite and the ruled “uneducated” majority hoi polloi. They both cannot speak the “same language”. The rulers cannot speak the same language and/or have same values as the ruled; because that would invalidate their rule.