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Will French-Speaking African Countries Embrace English?

  • Ricci Shryock

This fall, Gabon President Ali Bongo announced the Central African country will increase English throughout the educational and economic infrastructure.

Like Rwanda did a few years back, Gabon will remain a member of both the Francophone bloc, but also become a member of the English-speaking Commonwealth.

Now that Gabon has followed Rwanda’s lead, could other French-speaking African nations follow?

Passassim Nanguit, a spokesperson for the West African bloc of the Francophone International Organization, said the group is not concerned that other countries will go the way of Rwanda and now Gabon.

“The decision of Gabon to adopt English is nothing catastrophic. Because all the Francophone countries have taken English as a second language. What Gabon is doing is what France has done or what Togo has done. It’s not truly adopting English,” said Nanguit.

“Everyone looks at their own country’s interests,” he added. “For example Ghana, they are also learning French.”

But English-speaking Ghana, at the Alliance Francaise, where students come to learn French, staff coordinator Caroline Tatrareau said that one third of their students have actually arrived from neighboring French-speaking countries such as the Ivory Coast, in order to learn English – not French.

“We have a lot of people, at Alliance Francaise, who came from Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina, Togo, who are Francophone, who come here to learn English,” she said. “Which is really strange.”

According to political risk analyst Lydie Boka, Burundi is also eyeing a place in the English-speaking Commonwealth. “Burundi is going that route. I think they’ve asked to join the Commonwealth without saying whether they would abandon the Francophone. I think a number of the Africa countries, rightly or wrongly, think the English-speaking countries develop faster,” she said.

But Ousmane Paye, special assistant to the Secretary General of the Francophone International Organization, said despite all of this, the French-speaking world will continue to grow – especially in Africa.

“Rwanda is still a Francophone member, and a member of the Commonwealth. There are other countries that are members both the Francophone and Commonwealth organizations … like Cameroon and Mauritius,” he said.

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