Language and Political Economy: A perspective from Kenya
Frederick Iraki (United States International University Nairobi, Kenya)
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British colonialism in Kenya sought desperately to keep the English language, then the repository of modern knowledge and more crucially political and economic power, accessible only to a handful of Africans. This catalysed the emergence of “Independent schools” through which the African sought to access instruction in English in the 1930s.
The disproportionate emphasis on English during and after colonisation, has dealt a deadly blow on African indigenous languages. Indeed, the language has a lion’s share in the school curriculum to the detriment of other languages. As a result, the scenario of the 1920s, where English was the idiom for the privileged minority, persists today.
The paper reviews the languages of Kenya and underscores their relevance in the political economy of pre- and post-independence period in Kenya. It further provides avenues of reflection for creating a harmonious and complementary co-existence of local and foreign languages in Kenya in particular and Africa in general.
Finally, a conceptual framework on the conflict between Kenyan and European languages is provided as a preliminary attempt at understanding the nature of Kenya’s multilingualism from a socio-cognitive perspective.
Keywords: language, economy, politics, democracy, hegemony, cognitive, functionalism