Seedia Jatta said Gambia “should revert to using local languages as means of instruction” in official businesses now that the country is “not under the British colonial rule”.
By Mustapha Darboe
A veteran Gambian lawmaker, Seedia Jatta, has renewed calls for The Gambia to start using local languages as medium of instruction instead of English.
In an interview with Kerr Fatou, the linguist and veteran lawmaker said the country could allow up to two local languages to be medium of instruction besides English and totally scrap the foreign language in the long run.
“There are very few people who speak English in this country and they are people who have right to representation. People who cannot speak English which is alien to about 60% of the population cannot be voted into office… The few people who speak English have the sole right to representation… Do you think that is reasonable,” Jatta questioned.
“People must be the conceivers and authors of their own development… But when we speak in the parliament, people who elect us, do they know what we say?… So that kind of representation is rubbish because the people who sent me to the national assembly don’t even know what I say.”
Seedia Jatta is a linguist and national assembly member for Wuli West who spent his life advocating for use of local languages as country’s medium of communication.
According to Jatta, foreign languages affect not just the education of the children but also representation since the language of the Government is not understood by more than half of the population.
Meanwhile, in Senegal’s lawmaking body, people are free to speak Wollof but in Gambia, one must seek the permission of the speaker before speaking in any local language.
Jatta started his own adult literacy programme in his native Wuli since 1997 at his own expense. Since then, his people are studying Mandinka using Roman Alphabets until today.
The exemplary lawmaker and executive member of Peoples Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism party hires people who now serves as instructors at his adult literacy academy.
“It is important for us to learn our languages because our languages are the key to our culture…,” Jatta said.
“Language and culture informs each other and taking your child at 3 years to go and learn English, a culture that he knows nothing about, is not right. To understand the language, one has to understand the culture.”
Jatta is not the only Gambian who shares such thoughts.
In 2012, Gambia’s former autocratic ruler Yahya Jammeh has announced that the country would stop using English as an official language but he fell short in saying how this will be done.
Many saw Jammeh’s announcement as an attempt to annoy the British, the former colonial master of the country who have long been in his black book.
The dictator would later renege on his promises. However, critics at the time suggested that dumping English as an official language for The Gambia will be an expensive policy the poor nation cannot afford.
Jatta disagrees. He said the country can have as many as three different official languages.
This way, the Government may not be in the hurry of changing the national documents or instruction of English at schools.
“There are three official languages in Switzerland and about fourteen in Hungary… There are languages here that are common to people. If one willingly learns English and French which have nothing to do with your country, why would one refuse to learn a local language,” Jatta argued.