News / Africa

Francophone West Africa Increasingly Looking to English

Gabon's president, Ali Bongo.
Gabon's president, Ali Bongo.
Anne LookRicci Shryock
Gabon’s President Ali Ben Bongo announced in October the country will start promoting English as a second language, in addition to the current French in a move that seems to be a growing trend in Francophone West Africa.  
 
Gabon's presidential spokesman, Alain Claude Billie By Nze, says efforts to adopt English will begin within the educational system, but classes will also be available for adults.  He says Gabon is not the first country in the region to move in this direction.
 
He says Rwanda, another African country that formerly called French its official language, made the switch to English in 2009.
 
And according to Strategico political risk analyst Lydie Boka, who is based in France, Burundi could be the next country in Africa to join the English-speaking Commonwealth.
 
“Burundi is going that route," said Boka. "I think they’ve asked to join the Commonwealth without saying whether they would abandon the Francophonie.  I think a number of African countries, rightly or wrongly, think the English-speaking countries develop faster.”
 
Some African officials note that French keeps them regionally isolated and if they wish to diversify their global economic interests or partnerships, then English is the best way to do so.
 
The timing of Mr. Bongo’s announcement could not have been more pointed, coming just ahead of this year’s summit of Francophone nations, hosted by the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
Boka says Gabon’s decision to move toward English could be seen as a political snub to new French President Francois Hollande -- whom the Gabon leader felt did not afford him the proper reception during a recent trip to France.
 
“The same day he met with Bongo, the (Gabonese) opposition met with the Socialist party, which is the party of Hollande," said Boka. "And the Socialist party issued a communiqué that the French Socialist party was concerned about the democratic deficit in a number of countries, including Gabon.”  
 
The Bongo family is one of three African presidential families being investigated by French authorities since 2008 for so-called "ill-gotten gains" -- cars, homes and other luxury assets in France allegedly bought with embezzled state funds.
 
French President Hollande took office earlier this year professing, as many of his predecessors have, to finally do away with "Francafrique."
 
Francafrique refers to the sphere of influence France has sought to maintain over its former colonies through what many say have been corrupt, personal ties with African leaders and off-the-books diplomacy, often at the expense of democracy and human rights.   
 
Analysts say that Gabon, in particular under former president Omar Bongo, epitomized Francafrique.
 
It was former president Bongo who was so memorably quoted by a French newspaper in 1996 as saying that "Gabon without France is like a car with no driver.  France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel."
 
President Hollande's desire to recalibrate France's relationship with Africa was reflected in his comments to reporters just days before he travelled to Kinshasa for the 14th Francophonie Summit.  
 
He said the Francophonie is not simply about a language and French is not simply for France.  He said French is also the language of Africa and in coming years, more Africans will speak French.  This language, he said, belongs to them but it is also a language representing values and principles, including democracy, good governance, and the fight against corruption.
 
Gabon's presidential spokesman, Billie By Nze, says the country's move to English is about pragmatism, not politics.
 
He says President Bongo went to Rwanda to study its experiment with bilingualism before making his decision, which he says was based on economic and educational motives.
 
Learning English, he said, is a good business decision, as oil accounts for 80 percent of the Gabon's exports and much of that, and other, business is done in English with the Middle East and China.
 
Since World War I, English has gradually eclipsed French as the modern lingua franca, the language of global diplomacy and trade.
 
Gabon's decision to put English at the heart of its education system reflects a growing interest in English among young people throughout West Africa, whether it be to understand the words to American rap music or one day score a job with an international NGO or a multi-national cooperation.  
 
Francophone organizations say they are not alarmed by Gabon’s announcement.
 
Ousmane Paye  - special assistant for the secretary general at the International Organization of the Francophonie - says French is not an endangered language in West and Central Africa.
 
He says of the 53 French-speaking member nations who gathered at the 14th Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa in October, 28 were African countries and more than 55 percent of French speakers currently live in Africa.
 
The International Organization of the Francophonie estimates that by 2050, more than 80 percent of French speakers worldwide will live in Africa.

You May Like

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More