In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, we were told of how God used language to create division among the Israelites who had decided to build a tower that would touch the heavens and enable them to see God. I believe that this story was referenced in the Berlin conference of 1884-85 by some colonial masters to emphasize their arguments that language was decisive in tearing Africa apart, making it easy for the slave traders to penetrate the continent. They were right, and it worked.
It is sad enough that African countries have been made to see themselves as Anglophone (English speaking), Francophone (French-speaking) or Arab (Arabic speaking); but the current situation in Cameroon is one that further proves that the continent is on its knees. Africa is facing a peculiar challenge – one that leaves the continent without direction and identity.
It is surprising that in a country of only about 24 million people like Cameroon, intellectuals who are Francophone are completely ignorant of activities – both historical and political, happening in the Anglophone area of the country, and vice versa. Yet each group is well informed and very vast on the history and current affairs of France and Britain.
A Francophone Cameroon man sees an Anglophone Cameroonian as an enemy but regards the French as brother and kin, and vice versa. This has given Britain and France, two countries pitched against each other, to use either divide of the country for their selfish gains. This is one reason why the war and crisis between the two regions are always on the rise and is on record to have claimed millions of lives and destroyed properties worth billions of US dollars.
The language barrier continues to deepen the divide between Africans, and the scheme is working exactly as the traders planned it at the Berlin 1884-85 conference.
One aspect that Africans have failed to realize however is the obvious fact that in accepting the precarious concepts of Francophone and Anglophone, we are weakening our resistance to oppression and capacity for liberation. Rather than come together as Africans to device a way of solving our problems in a manner that suits and benefits us, we are faced with a problem where each school of thought tries to tackle the problem the British way, French way or Arab way – forgetting the fact that none of these countries/regions in all sincerity are interested in the unity and/or development of the African continent.
Another big disgrace to the African continent is the fact that the African Union (A.U.), an organization which is supposed to be the foremost champion of African unity has adopted only three languages for its meetings and documentation: English, French, and Arabic! As you would notice, none of the aforementioned is an African language. This means we want to fight the influence of the slave masters but we have adopted their language! How interesting!
It is surprising that Arabic was adopted as an official language in the African Union when only an estimate of 70 million people speaks the language, while a language like Kiswahili which is spoken by over 100 million Africans and is on record to be the most important Black African language today and one of the 10 major languages in the world, is overlooked. You will agree that this is no mere coincidence.
Even Hausa, the second most widely spoken language in Black Africa, is more widely spoken than English and French which has only about 50 million daily speakers each on the continent. Yet, like Kiswahili, it is overlooked to favor English, French and Arabic.
There is no doubt that if the African Union (A.U.) had adopted an indigenous language as one of its working languages, it would have helped to bridge the gap and transform this pre-eminent African mother tongue into a more highly studied and spoken language in the continent. It would have become an acceptable medium of communication even for writers, despite their Francophone or Anglophone affiliation.
What is surprising is that if a diplomat from a country like Kenya or Tanzania were to demand the AU to adopt Kiswahili, a diplomat from Ivory Coast, Cameroon or Nigeria will counter the claim accusing the diplomat of trying to impose ‘his language’ on Africa.
This goes to show how senseless we have become to accept an alien language instead of an African one. In order for peace to reign, everyone will accept that we stick to our lingua-franca of English, French or Arabic – how sad.
It is disappointing that we have sold out our heritage for no bargain and have become puppets in the hands of the slave masters. As David Dakou of the Central African Republic highlights during his independence speech, the colonial masters never left freely.
Neo-colonialism is upon us and we must let go of the tenants of colonialism if we are to stand a chance of survival.
Header Image Credit: BBC