Language and political economy: A historical perspective on Kenya

  • FK Iraki


The disproportionate use of English, during and after colonisation, has had some consequences on the development of Kenyan indigenous languages. Indeed, the English 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, seems to persist today. Kenya has 42 ethnic communities with Kiswahili emerging as the most widelyaccepted language for national unity. However, the political elites continue to favour the development of English without due attention to Kiswahili and the indigenous languages. The Sheng language, spoken and popularized by the youth deserves special mention. It is argued it here that it has its place in the linguistic lay-out of Kenya. 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 seeks to lay bare the rationale behind the inordinate usage of English in Kenya by bringing in a historical perspective. Finally, the paper proposes a framework for the co-existence of local and foreign languages in Kenya as a prelude to the development of a language policy in Kenya.

Keywords: language, politics, resources, identity, hegemony, culture ethnicity, co-existence

Journal of Language, Technology & Entrepreneurship in Africa Vol. 1 (2) 2009: pp. 229-243

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1998-1279