Africa is not a country. It is a continent with 54 countries. Depending on the colonial master, each country has different official languages and local languages. To illustrate this, here are sone examples. People fom ex- British colonies, like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi speak the Queen’s English. People from ex-Portuguese colonies like Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde speak Portuguese. (Don’t you dare leave your pocket Portuguese word guide book if you travel to any of these countries, if you don’t speak Portuguese!)
People from ex- French colonies like Senegal, Cameroon and Benin speak French. There are also ex- Belgium colonies like Rwanda and DRC that use French as an official language. Then you get some Spanish influence in places like Sao Tome & Principe. Islands like Seychelles and Mauritius use creole languages. South Africa has a lot of Afrikaans influence and language. North African countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan use Arabic. And accompanying these ex colony languages are various local and native languages and dialects.Yes, this is all on one continent. Africa has over a thousand languages spoken .If you thought Africa was one giant homogenous place, think again. Just the languages diversify it, without taking into account any other factors.
Which brings me to the dilemna I faced when I moved to South Africa. the first thing that confronted me was the language barrier. Communicating is a big part of life, we communicate everyday, with people we know and with people we don’t know. The pressures of langauge barriers are intense. It means waiting in a bus line and not being able to ask if the bus you want has already passed by. It means a deadlock with the petrol station attendant lady when she cannot understand what needs to be checked on your car because she speaks Afrikaans and not English.
Where I come from, english is widely spoken. Yes, the British left their legacy of a ‘common’ language for the inhabitants of its priced stake Zimbabwe, ex Rhodesia. I should disclose that I blame colonialism for a lot of things, but the one thing that might potentially be labelled as beneficial that came out of this horrendous period in history for british colonies is that we got to learn english. Whether this is a bad thing or not is besides the point. The point is knowing how to speak, read and write in english has proved to be a pretty useful skill to have. I always think about this when I pick up a book to read or when I read the direction signs at the airport. Much as we might deny it, english is a popular language and is widely spoken.Maybe its actually not such a bad language to learn?
The truth is not everyone believes that it is important to learn english. If you live in West Africa for example, daily business is carried out in French. You may find no reason to learn the english language. However this would mean that when you go out of west africa, to say, eastern africa were noone speaks french, you might find trouble. In just the same way as an english speaker would find it hard to go about business in french west africa.
Kwame Nkrumah. A hero in African history. A Ghanaian who pioneered the idea of Pan Africanism. He spoke of Africa intergrating and becoming one country. So maybe one ‘African’ language is not a bad idea after all.Would one language, spoken by everybody in Africa be a solution? What would it sound like? Who would teach it? How long would it take to roll out and get every child learning it?
The notion of an ‘African’ language presents a wonderful possibility to communication on our beautiful continent. How would this change the scope of intergration of Africa? Just some thoughts.
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