[Lgpolicy-list] [lg policy] Rwanda: Local Traders Advised to Be Multilingual

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Nov 19 16:38:17 UTC 2014

Rwanda: Local Traders Advised to Be Multilingual

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The Private Sector Federation (PSF) has called upon the business community,
especially those involved in cross-border trade to learn English and
Swahili to be competitive in the region.

Donatien Mungwararera, the PSF director for member services, capacity
building and entrepreneurship promotion, said some Rwandan contractors have
failed to win lucrative tenders because "they did not understand the bid
documents written in English".

"Though we carryout periodic trainings in languages, we do not reach
everyone. So, individual traders should take an initiative to learn the
most commonly spoken languages in the region, especially English and
Swahili, to enhance their competitiveness," he advised.

Rwanda changed its official language from French to English about seven
years ago, and most local business owners do not know or understand
Swahili, a regional language.

Rwanda and Burundi joined the EAC in 2009. The other three EAC member
states - Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania use English.

According to Rwanda's 2013 Manpower Survey, most Rwanda business people do
not understand English and Swahili.

The report indicates that traders who use English and Swahili are about
11.1 per cent and 12.8 per cent of the business community, respectively.

The report released mid this year emphasises that this has put Rwandans at
a disadvantage when competing for business with Kenyans and Ugandans.

Enock Kamugisha, a local supplier of construction materials, said he has
failed to win tenders four times "because I did not understand all the
requirements in the bid documents due to my limited proficiency in English

"Bids are drafted in English; and there are many technical terms that we
fail to understand. If you do not understand the bid document, you cannot
fill it properly to meet all the requirements," said Kamugisha.

He added that contractors do not want to hire lawyers to help, saying that
would mean an extra cost they cannot afford.

Narcisse Ngezahayo, a Kigali-based maize dealer, with different branches in
Bujumbura (Burundi) Musanze (Rwanda) and in Uganda, said he uses an

"I am a Senior Six leaver, and during our time, French was the medium of
instruction. Since English is the most used language in business within the
East African Community, I hired someone to handle clients who use languages
other than Kinyarwanda and French," said Ngezahayo in an interview with
Business Times.

EAC Affairs ministry intervenes

The Ministry of East African Community Affairs says that a language policy
was developed to help ease language barriers faced by Rwandans while
interacting with their counterparts in the community.

"We have a policy that aims at teaching Swahili from lower secondary
education. The policy is already being implemented by the Ministry of
Education," said Jean Pierre Niyitegeka, the director of social development
centre at the ministry.

Also, the Ministry of Trade and Industry conducts language (English and
Swahili) lessons throughout the year, said Emmanuel Hategeka, the permanent

He however urged Rwandan traders not to limit their chances because of a
'perceived' language barrier. He argued that the only hindrance should be
money or expertise but not language barrier.


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