News / Africa

Senegal Turns Away from French in Boost to Democracy

World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour announced that he was running for president against incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in February 26 elections, (File).
World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour announced that he was running for president against incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in February 26 elections, (File).
Nico Colombant

Senegal, once considered a francophone cradle in West Africa, is now increasingly turning from French to the local Wolof language.  Scholars say this is a boost for democracy, but also a problem in some regions of the country.



A collective of rappers sings what has become an opposition anthem in the streets of Senegal's capital, Dakar.  The song, which is also the name of an activist movement, “Y'en A Marre,”  translates as “Fed Up."

The title and refrain of the song are in French, the language of former colonial power France and Senegal's official language, but the lyrics are in Wolof, the country's most widely spoken language.

The opposition presidential hopeful in the February 26 poll, world famous singer Youssou N'Dour, has released new songs about politics on his Internet YouTube channel, mostly in Wolof as well.

It is not just the music, but campaign speeches, slogans, posters and new political party names that are increasingly in Wolof.

A scholar at the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University, Etienne Smith, has researched and written about the turn of Senegalese society toward Wolof.  Academics like him call it the “wolofization” of Senegal.

“More and more politicians speak the language of the people, that is they speak Wolof, the language of the people on the streets, that clearly helps slogans, being more understood by the citizens, politics being discussed more and more by the citizenry thanks to the use of African languages and thanks to the use of radio specifically," he said.

Other West African countries where he says a turnaway from French is taking place are Mali and the Central African Republic.

In Senegal, Smith describes the growth of Wolof as a grassroots development. “It is precisely because the state did not sponsor an official compulsory homogenization of the policies, like official 'wolofization' policies, but because it was done informally and not state-sponsored that it was successful.  People chose to speak Wolof basically because it was useful as the language of the urban communities, the language of the youth, commerce and trade, and they basically made the voluntary choice to speak this language because of its usefulness and not because it was imposed on them," he said.

After independence from France, when excelling in French was considered an asset for politicians, former president Leopold Sedar Senghor called himself the father of French speakers.  His successor, Abdou Diouf, has been the secretary-general of the organization that promotes French worldwide, the International Organization of La Francophonie, since 2003.

Now, Smith says, the situation is somewhat reversed in Senegal, as politicians who do not speak Wolof well are the ones facing difficulties in being accepted. This is not the case for Wolof-speaking incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, an octogenarian who is running for a new presidential term.  But it has been a problem for his son, his possible preferred successor Karim Wade, who has held high positions in his government, despite speaking little Wolof.

Outside the realm of politics, music and media, Wolof also is being used increasingly in business meetings and even court proceedings.

Additional research on the topic, however, indicates not everyone is pleased.  The growth of Wolof has inconvenienced many foreigners, including other French-speaking West Africans, who come to Senegal expecting more French to be spoken.

Scholars say Wolof also is taking over from other languages widely spoken in Senegal, such as Pular, Serer, Mandinka and Jola, angering citizens in regions where Wolof has not been the main language.  

Academics say that while French is losing its appeal and Wolof is gaining the upper hand, Wolof speakers feel emboldened, but some non-Wolof speakers feel marginalized.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs