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November 08, 2012

Gabon’s Adoption of English Reveals Africa’s Role in Promoting French

by Ricci Shryock

This fall Gabon became the second French-speaking African country in three years to announce it would begin adopting English as an official language. Rwanda switched to English from French in 2009.
 
Gabon President Ali Bongo’s announcement came on the eve of the 14th Francophone Summit in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the summit, countries from the Francophonie International Organization gathered to discuss ways to promote French throughout the globe. At the meeting, 28 of the 53 nations gathered were African – highlighting the continent’s important role in sustaining the language.
 
Now that Gabon has followed Rwanda’s lead to adopt English, Ousmane Paye, who serves as special assistant to the secretary general of the Francophonie organization, said African countries must work as hard as ever to ensure the survival of French within their boundaries.
 
“We must not lose the French language, it’s an international language,” he said. “And along with that, we share an honor with the countries who speak French. It’s a universal honor, the honor of liberty, the of democracy, a respect of human rights.”
 
According to Paye, today 55% of the world’s French speakers are African, but by 2050, that number will skyrocket to 80 %.
 
Passassim Nanguit, a spokesperson for Francophonie International Organization’s West Africa group said the region doesn’t work to conserve French, but rather promote the language throughout the world.
 
The African countries are more numerous than other French countries, he said. “The Democratic Republic of Congo is the most populous Francophone country in the world.”
 
As Gabon adopts English, the government stressed they will not abandon French. But if more African countries move away from the language, could the use of French wane?
 
Paye stressed that no, the French language will continue to grow – especially in Africa.

Listen to report on Gabon's adoption of English