The role of Malawian languages in achieving socio-economic development: Can Translation of development strategies into Chichewa and Other Local Languages Accelerate Development and attainment of the MDGs in Malawi?
Pearson Nkhoma and Wongani Mugaba .
Malawi ranks among the 10 most impoverished countries worldwide despite implementing many development programmes since gaining political autonomy in 1964. The persisting under-development is accredited to many factors like deteriorating and unfair trade, corruption and poor economic governance among others. However, recent publications show that lack of people’s participation in development projects that affect them and inadequacies in communication in such projects is the root cause of underdevelopment and persisting poverty.
Participation of targeted beneficiaries is thus an important aspect in socio-economic development. However no meaningful participation at any development stage can be achieved if the language used by development experts is both alien to the project beneficiaries. Firstly, the use foreign languages complicates development projects because a majority of ordinary people are illiterate and thus cannot make meaningful negotiations in development of their own despite possessing vast indigenous ideas, knowledge, experience and values capable to develop their communities different from those of development experts. Ironically, most development workers in Malawi also lack skills such as good command for local languages to understand and involve the people in the development process. Language being used has therefore become a communication barrier for the country to attain sustainable development.
Secondly all development strategies and policies that the country implements like the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and Malawi Growth and Development Strategy have failed or are subject to fail because they are not localised. In other words, the strategies are in a language which is not accessible by the majority of the Malawian populace who stand to benefit.
Finally the participation of the MPs in parliament is limited because of the use of English. Most of the MPs lack the necessary competencies to express themselves in English on matters of national development. It is therefore suggested that the use of vernacular languages be permitted and used in development circles.
The paper therefore seeks to assess the role that local languages can play in addressing the poverty situation and promotion of sustainable development in the country. The paper will also assess whether translating current overarching developmental strategies like the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) and MDGs into local languages is a critical path to their success. In particular, the paper will highlight how Theatre for Development (TFD) which uses local languages of a particular area has documented successful stories in the country. All in all, this paper will try to show that African languages, Malawian in particular, constitute an irreplaceable tool for socio-economic development.