Gabon’s president recently announced the country will adopt English as a second official language in addition to its current French.
For Gabonese businessmen working around the world, English is more useful, said Gabon’s presidential spokesman, Alain Claude Bilie By Nze, who denied any political motivation behind the decision and said the move was more about business and education.
“It’s a decision that comes from the will of the Gabonese who want to do business as well. Most of Gabonese who work in business right now work in the Middle East, Dubai, China and elsewhere. They need English to do business,” he said.
Passassim Nanguit, a spokesperson for the West African bloc of the Francophone International Organization, said both languages help enable workers to conduct business throughout West Africa.
“It’s better for business to speak English and French. Both. In Africa, there are Francophone and English-speaking countries. That’s why Ghana and Nigeria are into French. Also South Africa,” said Nanguit.
At Ghana’s Alliance Francaise school, staff coordinator Caroline Tatareau said English-speaking Ghanaians come to learn French to make themselves more attractive as job candidates.
“Most of the time the people who came to learn French, they came only to add something on their CV,” she said.
While oil-producing Gabon sees English as a way to better prepare its workforce, Ousmane Paye, special assistant to the Secretary General of the Francophone International Organization, said African nations must continue speaking and promoting French, so that it too is seen as a language of the marketplace.
“We must work on this a lot. We must work so that the French language is not something to be seen on the page, but also to be used. Not just the language of literature, poetry, philosophy, must also be a language of economy, of science and technology,” said Paye.
In 2009, Rwanda also made the switch from English to French. According to Gabon’s presidential spokesperson, the country will not abandon French, but will ensure that English is taught in first grade at schools and adults who want to learn the language will have access to classes.