Are African Languages so Important to Learn or Speak?

She was barely 5 when her family has to flee Togo. Her father was an independent journalist who got into trouble. At 24, she followed the Sankofa path in order to know her roots, just after her father died.

Though in a foreign land, she was taught in her parents mother language, Ewe, a language spoken in Togo, Benin, and Ghana.

She speaks Ewe fluently and neatly, except the latest dirty words she has no idea about. She also speaks English as second language.

Unfortunately for her, she returned to a country which now calls itself “francophone” country which means the state administrates public affaires only in the colonial language which is French.

After few weeks here, she found herself foreigner in her motherland, because she cannot access any public service in Ewe. If she is lucky, a public servant might wish to speak to her in Ewe as a favor, but all papers, contracts, and documents are in French.

“You have to learn French to live here” she was constantly told.

Brothers and Sisters, we are still in Africa, not France!

Beyond her family with whom she still can converse in Ewe, the only friends she could make here are Togolese who speak English.

She had briefly wished to go to live in Ghana, but turned down the idea, because that’s another immigration forced on her because of the colonial system in place.

She doesn’t see her future in the United States, but last month she reluctantly packaged her affairs and took her flight back. She doesn’t want to learn French in order to live in her fatherland.

The critical question we have to face is this: Have English, French, Spanish or Portuguese definitely won to the point to become our new mother languages in Africa?

I’m writing this to you in English, a colonial language, just because it has become the only way for me to reach out to my fellow “educated” Africans who have the knowledge, the connections, the influence and eventually the will power to bring change to Africa.

Recently, I have spent one month and half in a small village in the center east of Togo. The village is small. There live 2800 people. Tough with a small population, that village represents a true melting pot with over 9 different ethnic groups living together there.

How do they manage to communicate between each other?
Do they use any colonial language like English or French as uniting language?

NO.

The people in that village have selected one of our local language to use as medium of communication. And, at the time I was there, almost all speak that common language except few new comers.

Luckily for them, as they don’t speak any colonial language, the state is forced to serve justice, police and administration to them in the local language, with the only issue that the state uses only French for administration. There is no single document written and delivered in any local language. The Villagers need translators and interpreters to understand state officials and their documents.

I have to admit that the situation described above is so because Togo still is a colony of France, with the only difference that we have now black people as local governors and protectors of french interests, instead of white governors.

For diversity in the world, for our pride as Africans, we cannot accept that we are condemned to learn, teach, communicate only in the colonial languages and force our kids and future generations to abandon our languages, culture for the adoption of the colonial ones.

For the last 20 years, I have to admit that my one month and half trip and stay in that village was the longest period I spoke only in my mother language in Africa!

Some families here have all together abandoned their mother languages, and parents only speak in colonial languages to their kids. Many are ashamed if you’d start speaking to them in their mother languages or African languages at places they call “high places” or when they are in presence of white people.

TV and Radio programs are all (almost all) in colonial languages.

Nowadays in Africa, If you don’t understand colonial languages, your own country would be foreign to you, tough your taxes fund the state. Shamelessly, more and more people take pride from speaking without accent the colonial languages, and feel superior to anyone who don’t.

A small village next to the one I’ve mentioned above has started a school by itself. State is absent from such a place. The villagers collect money monthly to pay the teacher they have hired themselves. The school has started this September 2014.

The language of education in the school is … in French.
Obviously, they are paying for their own alienation.

I find it extremely difficult to convince “educated” Africans to believe in our ability to revive our languages, and made them the administration and education Languages of our countries.

Whatever the arguments and evidences presented, most of the African elite is incapable of resisting the temporary easiness of adopting a foreign language, and steps in with pride and determination to adopt our local languages.

Often our conversations often go like follow:

“There are XY languages in my country, without French or English how would we communicate” would say the african colonial elite.

We respond:
“The Mali empire, the Songhai empire, the Kongo kingdom, the Benin kingdom were more vast than any of our current micro-countries. In those empires and kingdoms which lasted centuries, were much more vast, most prosperous than our current countries, the same ethnic groups existed, and did commerce and diplomacy without English or French.
How was it possible?

Second the colonial languages in Africa are very recent and still limited to a fraction of African population. How did Africans communicate between each other before the arrival of the colonizers with their language only two centuries ago?

“If there no English or French how could a Ghanaian speaks with a Nigerian or a Kenyan?

We respond:
Congo alone is the size of the whole European Union, but the European Union has 25 official languages, represented in the European commission in Brussels and the European parliament in Strasbourg.

Second, how do Europeans speak with each other without one uniting languages? How do Asians do trade between each other without adopting one unifying colonial language (Keep in mind they were colonized too!)

In summary, it’s not necessary to adopt English or French to be able to do business between us. In Fact, before Africa colonization, there were more commerce, diplomacy and trade between African nations than today!

“We live in a global village, Africans need to abandon their primitive languages and adopt superior European languages for commerce and business” argue the colonial elite.

We respond:
Very few Chinese speak English or German. Very few Germans or American speak Chinese, but America and China are the biggest commercial traders and diplomatic partners in the world.

How is that possible without forcing all the citizen of one country to adopt the language of another?

France and Germany are the biggest commercial and diplomatic partners in the european union, but few Germans speak french and vice versa. How is that possible?

Furthermore, Anyone who has ever visited the southern ports of China, and has met African traders there, would easily testify that almost none of them speak Chinese! (while the well “educated” Africans who strongly argue for the adoption of foreign languages for commerce and diplomacy sit in their office with air conditioning and just pontificate).

Additionally, China is becoming the major commercial, and diplomatic partner of African countries without any African nation forcing Chinese language on its people. How is that possible?

“Our languages are not written yet and are small. It’s too late anyway”

We respond:
Many of our languages are written. Those which are not, could easily become so.

Our languages are not small. There are more Ibo, Bambara, Peuhl or Hausa than any big ethnic group in Europe or Asia.

Small Europeans countries like Lithuania for example, with less than 3 million inhabitants, administrate and do education in their own small language. Lithuania still trains two thousand qualified doctors every year, and teach laser and nanotechnology in Lithuanian language.

They could have easily said, we are small and nothing. Let’s adopt German or French!
Those people have pride. They won’t let their culture and history down.

Nations building requires lot of work, lot of self sacrifice that the colonial elite in Africa is not ready to go through.

Language is not neutral. If other nations could do it, it means we can do it too.

There are Turkish, Arab, American, French, British schools in Accra, Lagos, Nairobi teaching those nations languages and culture to the world. Where are the Hausa, Swahili, Ewe schools in London, Paris, Beijing or Rio de Janeiro?

Where are the African schools around the world?

Who will spread our languages and values if we don’t?
Are we doomed to see our languages and culture disappear under the current cultural war against Africa?

Obviously, it seems like we have abdicated our world and culture.

The creation of the Korean language for beauty and easiness to learn is an example for African countries. The same as the creation of the Italian languages is, few centuries ago. Mandarin too. Ethiopia pubic administration and official communication channels are all in Ethiopian. That’s an African example worth studying and emulating.

Many official languages in foreign lands we shamelessly run to learn should be remembered as painful but purposeful creative work to enable those countries social and economical evolution.

The moment you abandon your language, you have also abandoned yourself. You and the generations after you will become second zone inferior people in the world.

I don’t know a single country which have developed with a foreign language, forced on its people.

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About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of SiliconAfrica.com, Founder of Goodbuzz.net, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at mk@linkcrafter.com.

3 Responses to “Are African Languages so Important to Learn or Speak?”

  1. Proxydus Coz

    That's really true. I even heard about thing of African having one language as official language. Some countries in Africa have even talked about teaching one of their languages being thought in schools to be spoken officially, but that idea failed unfortunately.it's very hard to understand why is it so only in Africa. These problems are mainly in west Africa.. It's hard to say, but I don't know if any changes can take place gain this so call MODERN time.

    Reply
  2. A.Thought

    I would be nice if some of our so called elite started funding books/films in their native languages, similar to how Europeans preserved their languages centuries ago.

    Reply

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