Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

An Inclusive Linguistic Framework for Botswana: Reconciling the State and Perceived Marginalized Communities

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

An Inclusive Linguistic Framework for Botswana: Reconciling the State and Perceived Marginalized Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Botswana is a multiethnic society with different linguistic dialects. Each ethnic group believes that their language should be mainstreamed in the officialdom of the state and used in education as the media of instruction, government, etc. However, the government of Botswana has, since independence in 1966, advocated for a bilingual policy with Setswana being the national language while English is the official language. Setswana, which derives its name from the name of the country, also happens to be the language spoken by the largest ethnic group in the country. The official policy to recognize Setswana as the national language has created tension between government and some ethnic groups that consider this policy as discriminatory. Despite repeated petitions to government over the years, the political establishment has stood its ground. The ethnic groups that feel their languages are marginalized have responded by forming informal cultural or ethnic groupings to advance the linguistics values of their communities. They also seek the help of regional advocacy groups for support. And more recently, they are increasingly resorting to the application of ICT to promote their values and share knowledge through, for example, creating websites and maintaining databases of their members.

Matters are not made any better for the so called marginalized communities. Most of them reside in remote areas; their ethnic languages do not have a writing system (orthography), and/or there are no dedicated writers in the language. In addition, most issues affecting the cultural communities are policy related, and the cultural associations do not have learned representatives to engage government on issues of concern to them. Besides, the information culture is still essentially oral; it is therefore a daunting task for minority groups to generate written information in their language and on their situation to be easily shared. The situation is not made any better by the fact that there is lack of a supportive language policy for indigenous languages in Botswana.

After Botswana gained independence from the British in 1966, the leaders of the new Republic of Botswana envisaged one nation that was being built under one flag and speaking one language Setswana (Nyati-Ramahobo, 2004). Nyati-Ramahobo (2002) details this fact clearly through statements made by the different presidents of the country at different times. She notes that Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, "informed the nation that his party stands for a gradual but sure evolution of a nation state" (Nyati-Ramahobo, 2002). The second president of the country, Sir Ketumile Masire, asked Botswana citizens "not to spoil the prevailing peace and unity in the country by fighting for ethnic language groupings to take precedence over Setswana, and tribes insisting that their languages become media of instruction within their respective areas would break up the nation" (Botswana Daily News, June 30, 1989, no. 123:1, as cited in Nyati Ramahobo, 2004, p. 19).

From the statements above, it is clear that the ethnic groups in Botswana whose mother tongue is not Setswana have for a long time felt marginalized and have been agitating for their languages to be given some form of official recognition (Nyati-Ramahobo, 1987, 1997 1998; Presidential Task Force, 1997). However, the official position of the state is that arguments for the inclusion of ethnic languages in the officialdom do not augur well for nation building and unity. This may explain why non-Setswana mother tongue-speaking communities seem to have taken upon themselves the responsibility of creating awareness about their ethnic culture and languages. These ethnic groups have adopted varied means to advocate for language, cultural, and ethnic identity rights. For example, the Bantu Groups have generally opted to voicing their concerns through their cultural associations, while the Khoe and San groups have largely relied on external organizations to intercede for them. …

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