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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs