DOC

Globalization and the Potential Role of African Languages for ...

By Virginia Rogers,2014-12-07 02:36
14 views 0
Globalization and the Potential Role of African Languages for ...

Conference Paper: “Language Communities or Cultural Empires”, February 9-11, 2005, UC

    Berkeley

    Globalization and the Role of African Languages for Development

    Ghirmai Negash

    Abstract

    Indigenous African languages are largely eliminated, and marginalized from use. Instead of investing in

    and using their linguistic, cultural, and human potential, African governments and the elite still continue

    to channel away their resources and energies into learning 'imperial' languages that are used by a tiny

    minority of the populations. Against the backdrop of constraining global forces, and Africa's internal

    problems (wars, repression, and general economic misery), this paper argues that African languages

    could be the most critical element for Africa's survival, and cultural, educational and economic

    development. In order for this to happen, however, Africa must invest in this sector of 'cultural

    economy' as much as it does (should do) in the 'material economy', since both spheres are interrelated

    and impact on each other.

    The theme of my paper is 'globalization and African languages'. But, in light of the impassioned, and often antagonizing, current discussions on the subject of globalization in academic and public discourses, I would like to begin with some personal remarks and reflective statements.

    Like everybody else, I am a product of my education. Although my formal and informal education has influenced me to accommodate collectivism more than individualism, I must admit I am more attracted to the political and economic culture of the "free-world" than the controlled political and economic systems, such as socialism, especially the practiced, internally abusive, and outwardly imperialist, Soviet type of communism. Other factors, less communal and more private, which have also contributed to this antipathy include the former Russia's political and military counter-intervention against the self-determination of the Eritrean people.

    This does not imply that Western democracies, particularly the US, are absolutely perfect; they too have their blind spots. For example, in Class Warfare (1996: 34-35), Noam Chomsky

    and David Barsamian mention an awesome figure of a starving "six million U.S kids" and poverty "'surging' among the elderly, reaching maybe 15 or 16% of the population over sixty;" lament the destruction of "family values," and claim that American child development and protection schemes do not even match up to those of Uganda (a poor Third World country), which speak of the seriousness of the socio-economic problems facing the West. Politically, too, Western democracies have their contradictions. At a global level, notwithstanding the declared, laudable aims of exporting the ideals of democracy and development to the rest of the world, they often act single-handedly by relying on the superiority of their military and political hegemony. Internally also, in Western democracies power is at times contested, as Hilary Clinton (2004: 51) suggests, not so much as bringing about change but to "keep the other guys away from power over us." Yet, these democracies have the enviable capacity to provide for their citizens, amply and abundantly. They have, moreover, more than any other contemporary culture, the tremendous force to attract and appropriate what Homi Bhabha (1993: 291) calls "the nations of others," and 'Gatherings of foreign tongues, disciplines, discourses, memory, and exiles and émigrés and refugees and intellectuals,' who have found sanctuary and success in varying degrees. I say this not to

     1

    please or displease. I write from my own experience of exile and encounters, and, despite the immigrants' ghettoization and their "half-life and half-light of foreign tongues," as Bhabha (1993: 291) puts it, or what Edward Said (1995: 27) calls the pervasive 'web of racism, cultural stereotyping and political imperialism' outside the academia and within, I believe that that is how many of our prominent postcolonial writers, academics, and artists, including the Great Soyinka, Ngugi, and Mudimbe, were shaped and grew to accomplishment. Needless to say, it is difficult to decide which came first--the genius or the canonization effect--but there is direct and circuitous evidence that this would have been virtually impossible without the support, protection, and the intellectual liberalism of the West.

    I want also to say that my (ultimate) sympathy for the west or Western model, in spite of the problems, is neither purely self-referential nor based only on "my readings." While perhaps also typical of other post-colonial regions, many of my African interlocutors (community leaders, students, human rights activists, colleagues and friends) in the continent and the diaspora do indeed view the West with deference, while at the same time using its political and economic hegemony for critique as well as for introspection on local (African) policies of governance, ideology and culture.

    This African sympathy was not necessarily always there, but is something that has grown over time. The principal reasons behind this change therefore deserve a brief mention, for they provide a vital insight into the palpably forward-looking, political tendencies and hopes, but also intrinsically linked anxieties and doubts, evolving in African groups and communities today. After almost half a century of independence and statehood, African political leaders and intellectuals have accepted their limitations and failures. Academic and creative works;in English and vernaculars;amply confirm that the nationalist agendas of the

    liberation struggles did not materialize; that they failed to restore the political dignity of their nations, and, above all, that they hopelessly failed to relieve the lives of their populations from the conditions of political and cultural 'violence' and economic 'misery', so elegantly yet graphically described by Frantz Fanon in 1961. And herein lies the core of the paradigm shift in the ways Africans think about the West today: in search of alternative paths, they look to the Western model of development, including its promises of cultural and intellectual liberalism, political democracy, economic capitalism and its new form, globalization, as an attractive, and attainable, mode for progress and prosperity.

    However, in spite of the receptive climate in Africa towards the Western model and globalization, the projected expectations of Africans may nonetheless never come true because of the following, compelling reasons.

    1. Globalization’s greed: As laureate Joseph Stiglitz makes clear, one is because that the

    current trajectory of globalization is greedy; it is more interested in swift profit making and less in durable and commensurate global development of nations. Essentially masterminded by the world's most powerful economic institutions, the IMF and the World Bank (Stigliz 2002: 11-15), it is geared at enriching the richest nations of the world at the expense of the Third World economies. In his own words, "Even when not guilty of hypocrisy, the West has driven the globalization agenda, ensuring that it garners a disproportionate share of the benefits, at the expense of the developing world" (2002: 7). After making a penetrating analysis of the benefits and costs, he concludes: "No longer is it a question of whether globalization is good or bad: globalization is a powerful force that has brought enormous benefits to some. Because of the way it has been mismanaged, however, millions more have even been made worse off. … The challenge today is how to reform globalization, to make it

     2

    work not just for the rich and the more advanced industrial countries, but also for the poor and the least developed countries" (2002: 268).

    2. Intellectual and political weakness of the African elite: The second reason is the lack of

    political will and intellectual creativity and initiative of African authorities, and members of the middle class (intellectuals, academics, political leaders) generally to think hard about how to turn the potential advantages offered by the "new order" to Africa's advantage where it seems useful, or resist its interventions with African solutions where they seem clearly viable. This, as Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Decolonising the Mind, 1986) and others have long emphasized,

    has always been Africa's persistent problem during modern times, and has deep roots in Africa's colonial past. Though the role of the African elite (educated leaders and intellectuals) was of crucial importance during the nationalist struggles, they have found it difficult to change their "either or" mind set and come up with creative approaches for solving African problems. We know, of course, that such an intellectual dependency is bound up with Africa's economic and political dependency; but this is also because of the burden of Western education on the African mind, as Brock-Utne, quoting Staf Callewaert (1994: 108), sums it

    up neatly:

    As a rule you cannot expect the educated African to use much energy to reconstruct and

    problematize the break, by which he or she became exactly what they are; educated in a

    modern Western sense of the word (Whose Education for All? Recolonization of the African

    Mind 2000: 225).

3. Discontent of the African populations: We cannot ignore the growing discontent of the

    African populations, when discussing the major problems that Africa is faced with against the backdrop of globalization. If, driven by nationalist aspirations, African masses in the past allied themselves with the political and intellectual elite in the fight against foreign rule, that kind of alliance continues to dim. Indeed, "the leaders of the African struggles against colonialism and racism [have] spoiled their records by becoming heads of corrupt, fractious, and often brutal regimes" (Partha Chatterjee 1995: 3), while the "emancipatory aspects of nationalism" (Chatterjee 1995: 3) are undermined by the realities of stagnant economies, repression, abuse of human and political rights, ill-usage of resources, frozen institutions, ethnic strife, wars, drought, famine, disease, epidemics, and other kinds of endless emergencies, in turn driving significant sections of the African masses into skepticism and apathy, and others into wars and ethnic or religious clashes.

2. Questions and theoretical premises of development

    I begin with the questions that emerge from this picture of the African condition. One: what then should African governments do to face the tide of globalization? how can they respond to the challenges and pressures of the global order, while preserving their culture and ameliorating the living conditions of their people? Two: what should be the role of the African intellectuals in this effort? Three: how to deal with the division between the population and the elite?

    This set of questions can be summed up into one major question: "How can Africans meaningfully connect with and respond to the demands of the global order, without compromising their cultural values?" To be prescriptive is risky, especially because of the admixture of economic, plotical and cultural issues and difficulties that continue to mire the continent. Yet, if we accept the basic premise that economic and cultural categories are closely related and influence each other, it can be contended that a change in one of these fields will automatically affect the other. The seemingly rigid differentiation between the

     3

    categories of "material economy" and "cultural economy" look even less distinct if we allow for the fact that both economy and culture are man-made constructs;i.e., human

    choices;which envelop or overlap with the interests of particular groups of people or countries of particular, historical or geographical spaces. In the sense I use them in this paper, "material economy" means the generation of tangible, material wealth by countries, based on sustainable local means of production, and fair distribution and consumption among the population. "Cultural economy," on the other hand, refers to the wealth that is produced through people's culture, literature, and language when perceived as commodities. Because intangible and thus difficult to quantify in statistical terms, mainstream economists have seldom been able to structurally enumerate the input of the cultural economy in the African context, but the achievements of cultural economy are clear when one thinks of language, for example, as an instrument of knowledge, and the different literatures produced by African writers as carriers of one's native worldview and consciousness (as in Achebe's Things Fall

    Apart); as attributors of meaning to experience (as in Ngugi's A Grain of Wheat), and as

    articulation or formulation of problems, anxieties and solutions (as in Tsitsi Dangarembga‟s

    Nervous Conditions, and Beyene Haile's Duqan Tibereh). This analysis complements what

    Partha Chatterjee states in his analysis of postcolonial societies (The Nation and its

    Fragments, 1995), when he makes the point that the basis for postcolonial nationalism existed well before the beginning of the struggle against the "imperial power." In his argument he divides "the world of social institutions and practices into two domains;the material and the

    spiritual," and makes the following assertions: "The material is the domain of the "outside," of the economy and of state-craft, of science and technology, a domain where the West had proved its superiority and the East had succumbed. In this domain, then, Western superiority had to be acknowledged and its accomplishments carefully studied and replicated. The spiritual, on the other hand, is an "inner" domain bearing the "essential" marks of cultural identity. The greater one's success in imitating Western skills in the material domain, therefore, the greater the need to preserve the distinctiveness of one's spiritual culture. This formula is, I think, a fundamental feature of anticolonial nationalisms in Asia and Africa" (NF

    1995: 6). Though Chatterjee writes with a different concern in mind, merely assuring the singularity of Third World culture in this way makes it appear as if it is just a "unique treasure" to be maintained, and not as something dynamic, and which can be used to serve as a real agent of economic transformation, too. The powerless cannot be sure indeed of the vitality of their cultures if it is not as well explicitly made clear to them that the forces of change are also in reality in the "inner" domain, something that Chatterjee affirms is within their hold.

    In this regard, two other voices speaking on behalf of the Third World countries, Chomsky and Samir Amin, see a different way out for their development. Chomsky states that if any country or continent "wants to develop it's going to have to do it the way every other country [or continent] did, by not closing itself from international markets, but by focusing on domestic development, meaning building up its own resources, protecting them, maintaining them" (CW 1996: 42). This is developed further by Amin in "The Challenge of Globalization: Delinking". Amin identifies and discusses three "theoretical options" that Third World countries have in facing globalization: (a) Fostering their development through complete appropriation of the system "as it is", and play the "game of international competition," (b) Reform the system by acting to "change [it] in a direction favourable to a 'better' (and even 'fair') globalized development," (c) 'Delinking' or partially negating the system;if necessary,

    by standing "aloof from such a world system" (Amin in Facing the Challenge 1993: 132).

     4

    For Amin, appropriation is not a viable option; it is both "short lasting and fragile." The dream of harmonizing the "world through the market and hegemony" is theoretically contradictory to capitalism's internal 'history of continued expansion and competition'; at the practical level, the rules that govern the "game" are unstable, and (always) changeable, contingent upon the inter-economic challenges and needs faced by the Western nations at any given time (FC 1993: 135). The second option is constrained also by the same reasons. Though unilateral efforts on the part of the Third World to cope with the system may result in creating new, local or regional "centres" of "industrialized peripheries," nonetheless, these cannot but "become a sort of modern putting-out system, controlled by the [international] financial and technological centres" (FC 1993: 133). The only possible and meaningful way

    for Third World development is through "delinking." According to Amin, 'delinking' comprises a number of strategic elements and conditions that should be met, including the necessity of internationalist solidarity among "the peoples of the three regions (West, East, South)" so that creating a "polycentric world" built on mutual interests is possible, and the reconciliation of the antithesis between universalism ("general interdependence" between North and South), and particularism ("the legitimate concern for self-reliance") becomes feasible (FC 1993: 138). For this the crucial requirement is that there must not only be sufficient room for maneuver for each party that "would make possible the implementation of the specific policies required by the diversity of the objective situations," but also, and more importantly, the idea of "unilateral adjustment advanced today in theory and practice [by the forces of globalization]" recede to the logic of "mutual and reciprocal adjustment," in such a way that the "external" preconditions of the strongest regions allow for "the needs of internal development" of the poorer nations and continents (FC 1993: 138).

    One of the significant ways in which the principle of 'delinking' (prioritization of one's needs over external considerations) can apply is in the area of African languages. It has often been pointed out that these languages hold a great potential for Africa's development, but have been neglected because of various local and global factors. African governments and intellectuals can indeed transform the present crises to their advantage if they consciously detached (= „delinked‟) themselves from imperial languages and committed themselves to using African languages with vision, creativity and application. Language is the primary instrument of people's access (or non-access) to education, technological know-how, and scientific and intellectual knowledge, which, in turn, determine the state of the economic well-being, identity and culture of nations/communities. Understandably, the issue of (African) languages has been addressed by a host of scholars. Some have stressed their importance for nation building and societal coherence, and development. Others have made policy recommendations and/or exhibited ways of implementation for their use in schools, state, and 1public sectors. These voices should have been listened to and dealt with by African

    governments long ago. Unfortunately, the issue of languages is largely shelved in practice.

    This paper argues that Africans can do well by investing their linguistic, human and intellectual energies into the development of their languages, which are used by the majority of the masses, instead of channeling their resources and energies into learning the imperial languages that are used by a tiny minority of the populations. Building on received data and perspectives, I will also provide new and lesser-known facts, and my own critical analyses in support of the argument. I begin with how biodiversity, multilingualism, and multiculturalism are interconnected, and the need for safeguarding them in contemporary society. This will serve as a backdrop for the subsequent discussions not only because it has a general, objective validity but also because it constitutes an important link between language or languages and their users as acknowledged by researchers in the field. I then address the question of African

     5

    languages by exploring their present marginalized and deteriorated condition, and answering questions such as "why and in whose interest?" I conclude by raising some relevant points of discussion, and with replies to some earlier posed questions, (counter-) claims, and skepticism, in the context of the challenges and the efforts to put African languages to use for development.

    3. The interconnections between biological, linguistic and cultural diversity

    The view that biological, linguistic and cultural diversity are interlinked and the source of social progress has been established by the researches of both the sciences and humanities. For example, the 1994 policy statement of the Linguistic Society of America puts the issue thus in the context of a fast growing linguistic and genetic loss worldwide:

    The loss to humankind of genetic diversity in the linguistic world is ... arguably greater than

    even the loss of genetic diversity in the biological world, given that the structure of human

    language represents a considerable testimony to human intellectual development. (Quoted in

    Crystal 2000: 34)

    According to Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, it is probably too early to state definitively if there is a „casual connection between biodiversity and linguistic and cultural diversity‟; yet she speaks of vital and profound relationships:

    The relationship between linguistic and cultural diversity on the one hand and biodiversity on

    the other hand is, maybe, not only correlational. There seems to be mounting evidence that it

    might be causal. The strong correlation need not indicate a direct causal relationship, in the

    sense that neither type of diversity can probably be seen directly as an independent variable in

    relation to the other. But linguistic and cultural diversity maybe decisive mediating variables

    in sustaining biodiversity itself, and vice versa, as long as humans are on the earth. (Skutnabb-

    Kangas 2000: 91)

    Pointing at why people should be genuinely and particularly concerned about the preservation of languages, she adds the following:

    Habitat destruction - for instance, through logging, spread of agriculture, use of pesticides, and

    the poor economic and political situation of the people who live in the world's most diverse

    ecoregions - has been identified as a main cause of the disappearance of biodiversity. What

    most people do not know is that the disappearance of languages may also be or become a very

    important cause.

    While new trees can be planted and habitats restored, it is much more difficult to

    restore languages once they have been murdered. (Skutnabb-Kangas in Mair 2003: 33)

    Many other literary theorists, anthropologists, and scientists have also stressed that, especially in today's world, the ideal for building up stable and vibrant communities is by creating sustained conditions for an environment of multilingualism and multiculturalism, in which diversity becomes the foundation of unity.

4. The language question

    Recent research claims that, in prehistoric times, there were probably between 31,000 -600,000 languages in the world (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000: 31) but only about 6,000-7000 languages remain in the world today (Crystal 2000: 3, 5). Out of these about one-third are in

     6

    Africa, the figure varying between 2035 and above (Heine and Nurse 2002: 1). African languages can be grouped into four major groupings or phyla: Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Khoisan. The Niger-Congo group contains 1,436, Afroasiatic 371, Nilo-Saharan 196, and Khoisan 35 languages (Heine and Nurse 2002: 1), each of them representing the richness of Africa‟s linguistic and cultural diversity that orients, shapes and defines the identities of their speakers.

    However, despite the assertions about the importance of diversity, and the earnest implications of failing to preserve it, African languages are in fact in bad shape, and it is doubtful whether they can survive the imminent threat of "global uniformity", and serve the interests of their communities in meaningful ways. In the international arena, they are sidelined, and in danger of extinction in their own land(s) of origin. We see linguistic destruction, because of their stagnation, speakers' decline, and negligence. Linguists examine the state of languages by evaluating their situation according to how their present condition is assessed 'safe' or 'not safe' in terms of their continuity to the next generation of speakers. Avoiding the rigor of competing formulations, and rather by focusing on possible points of agreement among researchers, here are some of the categories and definitions. Languages are 2said to be extinct "when they have no speakers left." They are classified as moribund when

    they are "no longer being learned by children" due to the absence of intergenerational transfer of language from parent to child, which in turn may be caused by lack of numbers speaking a 3language or the absence of society's official recognition for that specific language's status. 4Two widely cited examples in this category are Latin, and Giiz, but there are also abundant

    examples from Africa, the Indigenous languages of America, Alaska, South America and 5Australia. The category of endangered languages recognizes a few more distinctions, and

    according to Stephen Wurm, the differentiation between them is as follows: a) potentially

    endangered languages are socially and economically disadvantaged, under heavy pressure from a larger language, and beginning to loose child speakers; (b) endangered languages

    have few or no children learning the language, and the youngest good speakers are young adults, and (c) seriously endangered languages have the youngest good speakers age 50 or 6older. Languages are labeled safe when they belong to none of the above-mentioned

    categories.

    The lack of a well-weighted, pragmatic assessment about every language or cluster of languages does not allow giving a detailed picture of how African languages fare in the light of the above categories. But, according to a recent publication, there is no doubt that many of the African languages that were reported to be there prior to the era of colonization, and some after, are already moribund or dead, due to a complex convergence of socio-linguistic processes and other overt political and ideological factors. Language loss in all the phyla has been massive, of which the most hit is Khoisan. For this grouping Tom Guldemann and Rainer Vossen report that while "in the past the number of languages and dialects may well have exceeded 100, but today only 30 or so still exist" (Heine and Nurse 2002: 99). A great majority of the existing languages of the continent are "potentially endangered", or deprived because they are used neither in schools nor in other official public and state domains. 171 languages (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000: 33) of the continent fall into the category of "endangered and/or seriously endangered" languages. Furthermore, if the present trend continues, the optimistic prognosis for all world languages by the end of the year 2100 is that 50% of them will be dead, while a pessimistic estimate puts the figure at 90% (Skutnabb-Kangas in Mair 2003: 35) and these will include mostly Africa's languages (Prah 2003: 21). By contrast, only seven African languages are officially recognized as lingua francae in 16 African countries.

    Ayo Bambogse (Social Dynamics 1999: 16-17) makes the following balance on the basis of

     7

    the criterion of their selection as national instruments: "Arabic (Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia); Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya); Somali (Somalia); Amharic (Ethiopia); Sotho (Lesotho); Tswana (Botswana); Tigrinya (Eritrea)." To this he adds that "African languages are sole official languages in three countries (Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia) and joint official languages with English or French in seven (Botswana, Burundi, Lesotho, Madagascar, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tanzania" (SD 1999:

    16). Yet, even this assessment is too generous, because including Arabic in this summary provides a glaring yet inflated picture. The given figure significantly diminishes depending upon the degree to which a claim for Arabic, a major international language and the home language of millions of Arab peoples, is made as an exclusive African language.

5. Where did it go wrong, and in whose interest?

    To understand 'what' and 'where' it really went wrong, it is important to dwell upon some of the reasons or processes that have led or contributed to this sad situation. One is that hundreds

    of African languages have remained unstudied or poorly documented. This neglect of African languages and its baneful effect is clear from this account:

     The quality and quantity of the documentation for African languages ranges from fairly high

    to nil. We say 'fairly high' because no African language has been documented or analysed to

    the extent of the better researched European or Asian languages. If we define 'fairly high' as

    having a reasonably accurate and comprehensive reference grammar available, then less than a

    hundred African languages are in this category. For most, the documentation consists of an

    inadequate grammar, an analysis of part of the language, an article or two. For yet others, all

    we have is a reliable word list, or less than that. (Heine and Nurse 2002: 5)

    Another well-documented factor against African languages is the hegemony of former colonial, European languages, especially English and French. "The Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures” (a closing statement issued at the international conference,

    Against All Odds: African Languages and Literatures into the 21st Century," held in Asmara, Eritrea, January 11-17, 2000) describes this thus:

     We noted with pride that despite all the odds against them, African languages as vehicles of

    communication and knowledge survive and have a written continuity of thousands of years.

    Colonialism created some of the most serious obstacles against African languages and

    literatures. We noted with concern the fact that these colonial obstacles still haunt independent 7Africa and continue to block the mind of the continent.

    Tied to this is the fact that African languages are not represented--not even symbolically-- in the UN and its other institutions. “If you look at the United Nations and all its agencies, there

    is no requirement for an African language, although all the other continents are linguistically

    represented in the United Nations and Europe has the lions share of that situation” (Ngugi 2000: 159)

    Another more lamentable--and ironic-- fact is the stymieing role of the African elite, including political leaders and university professors, who have become accomplices in sustaining Africa's linguistic disaster. If political leaders do so for political expediency, the academics;even though few are frank enough as, for example, Michael Kadeghe to admit it 8publicly;cannot help getting over the neocolonial education and nostalgia that has set into the linguistic, cultural and ideological system of their thinking. Let me cite some examples from the country of my birth.

     8

    During Eritrea's liberation struggle in the 1970s, the department of education of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), one of the two organizations fighting for independence, prepared teaching material for children in the liberated areas, in the Tigre language, the country's second largest language after Tgirinya, spoken by about one-third of the population. Historically, its elite, and noticeably the conservative Moslem sections within its ranks, have a leaning to compromise their own language, which they consider inferior ("of a lower 910sociolinguistic status") to Arabic, which in Eritrea is "a product of supra-national ideology

    and a by-product of global forces of social change" (and thus considered a superior "global 11and worldly language"). Now, when the political authority of the ELF got to hear about the said project, the scheme of designing a curriculum in Tigre was declared illegal under the pretext that it was not in the organization‟s 1975 revised, regressive charter, though the 1971

    constitution of the same organization had guaranteed that "all national groups of Eritrea have the right to develop their languages" alongside the two official languages, Arabic and Tigrinya (Negash 1999: 57). The end result was deadly: all copies of the prepared schoolbook were ordered to be burned by official decree (1999: 59).

    The second is related to my experience as chair of the department of Eritrean languages and literature at the University of Asmara, Eritrea (2001-2005). When the University Senate decided to launch the program, public support, in terms of donations of books and manuscripts, participation in curriculum design, and general moral encouragement that came in formal and informal ways, as well as student enthusiasm, expressed through participation, was huge. But it took a great deal of hard work and nerve-breaking patience (and in spite of the support from some sympathetic elements) to prove the point to many Eritrean faculty colleagues, especially in the departments of English and Education that should have been natural partners, that African languages were after all worthy. The department's record of enrolment for the indicated four years shows few students from the department of English taking Eritrean language and literature courses; there were none from Education. Of course, there were other problems, too. For example, according to explanations delivered by the mentioned departments, the structural constraints inherent in the university curriculum system contributed to disallowing room for participation in the African languages program; but equally true is the fact that there was clear detachment, or lack of any sort of enthusiasm, for 12 A similar story has been told to me by Dr. Kofi Agyekum, a flexibility of accommodation.

    linguist who has taken the lead to promote African languages in Ghana. It took him three years to persuade his colleagues in the Department of English to include a course on African 13oral traditions in the curriculum. These are examples from two countries which otherwise

    have pretty good reputations for their "linguistic nationalism" (Alamin Mazrui 2004: 4), but one could cite numerable examples from other African countries where initiatives and programs to promote indigenous languages have been shelved overtly or covertly.

    Besides “political expediency and educational bondage,” what other deeper, empirical factors are there to justify the elite's hostility towards indigenous languages?" Alamin Mazrui and Bambogse show that the elites are opposed to African languages because they know or are convinced that their interests, both material and ideological, are best served by keeping the sole status of colonial languages (or in some cases jointly with their own dominant language).

Bambogse, quoting Webb (1991: 5), has put it thus:

     Individuals who are educationally, economically and militarily/politically superior are

    rewarded with access to the best goods and services, rights and privileges, and the most power

    and prestige. One consequence of this is that the languages they speak are similarly

     9

    differentiated, with some of the languages becoming instruments of power, and others

    powerless. (Bambogse 2000: 16)

    Mazrui, who connects the potential role of indigenous languages to Africa's struggle for democracy and human rights, discusses in detail the motives of the African middle classes;both diasporic and home-based;to cling to the imperial languages. He believes that 14they are afraid to do away the linguistic barrier (the "western linguistic prism") because

    accepting linguistic partnership with the masses will, eventually, deny them the power and control over them by exposing them to what he refers as the potential 'semantic challenges' that may ensue from the audience. It is relevant to note that, unlike the adherents of conservative brands of Afrocentrism and pan-Africanism, Mazrui in his discussion does not undermine the "transformability of imperial languages to serve" emancipatory ends (Mazrui 2004: 78). Nor does he, like the followers of the apolitical "world Englishes paradigm" trivialize the issue of African languages by making apologetic claims for what Pennycook calls the "heterogeny argument" which, as he points out, insists on "the neutrality of English, a position that avoids all the crucial concerns around the global and local politics of the language", and by doing so "tends to ignore the broader political context of the spread of English" (Pennycook in Mair 2003: 8). Rather what he is interested in this prompt is in the question who is or not best placed to "speaking for and on behalf of" African languages (Mazrui 2004: 9), and 'why' and 'who' might or not spur an Africa-oriented dialogue and action for the genuine advancement of African languages. Considering the vested interests, it is thus unrealistic to expect the elites who are "traditionally associated with the imperial languages" to be at the forefront of "such a linguistic transformation," and, instead, asserts that "it is only by involving the mass of the African peoples, whose proficiency is tied to the indigenous African languages, as full and equal partners in the struggle to challenge the semantics of the dominant discourse and to inscribe new meanings and uses, that a counter-hegemonic discourse has the potential to arise"(2004: 78).

    Finally, there is a curious dilemma faced by African institutions of learning that try to give emphasis to the Africanization of knowledge and education. In Whose Education for All?

    Recolonization of the African Mind (2000), Brock-Utne warns that while Western donors

    champion equal partnership on paper, at the same time they appear to be foes to Africa's genuine empowerment. In a chapter, entitled "Globalization of Learning;Whose Globe and

    What Learning?;the Role of African Universities," she demonstrates that "the restoration of African languages and culture" is fundamental "to stop the South's curriculum dependency on the North," and to make possible "an African counter-expertise" to evolve and mature (WEA

    2000: 213). However, in her view, such initiatives cannot materialize in Africa so long as educational and scientific projects remain hooked in "neocolonial intellectualism, as the 15Eritrean university chancellor, Dr. Wolde-Ab Yisak, once put it, or in what the Norwegian

    researcher describes as the 'donor-recipient frameworks' that dictate policy and knowledge in African universities, denying them ownership. Brock-Utne provides several striking cases and reports from across the continent to show the practical, negative workings of the donor-recipient arrangements. Here I draw two examples from the Tanzanian experience to make the point. The first example or case illustrates the dependency of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Dar es Saalam on donor aid, and how as a result the faculty is partitioned among the donors. Brock-Utne here quotes the graphic description of Karim F. Hirji (1990: 23), where he writes:

     As one goes around the Faculty of Medicine, one wonders whether, after a hundred years after

    Karl Peters landed here, a second partition of Africa is in progress or not. The Dental School

    seems to be run by the Finnish, the AIDS research program by the Swedes, community health

     10

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email
cust-service@docsford.com