Go well African Legends…
In Africa, death does not exist because for each person that is gone, life continues in a new realm. The departure of each African is an opportunity to reminisce on their past and impact, commiserate as well as send their spirits into the new world. For those who are living, this is an opportunity to learn from their takes, mistakes and achievements. In this way, an African’s death is a halt in their ability to breathe but not in their ability to influence. Haruki Murakami (who is not an African) agrees when he says, “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it”.
Rest in peace King of AmaZulu, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. Wena weNdlovu! Wena weNdlovu! Bayede!
We fare the former Chairperson of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and former Tanzanian President, H.E. John Pombe Magufuli well. Pumzika kwa amani ya milele, Kiongozi.
Deepest condolences to the Hagler family. Marvin “Marvellous” Hagler always stole the early hours of my mornings as a kid in the 1980s. Today, he is gone but the marvel of his strength and skill when he faced other African legends like Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard remains entrenched in our memories.
Caliban(isation) of Africa
Africa is a playground for various European linguistic structures. These have stolen the continent’s ability to develop in stature and self-belief. English, French, Portuguese and Spanish are the major European languages that are accorded official language statuses in various African countries. These languages have become lingua franca between Africans even though this continent is blessed with a myriad of languages.
Around 1500AD, about 5 million people spoke English and were obviously British. Today (500 years or so later), that number has grown by 40,000% to around 2 billion. Put differently, British cultural imperialism, dominance and influence has multiplied a 40,000 times. In 2018, the United Nations Educa- tional Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed that half of the 6,000 languages spoken across the world will disappear. The Khoi and the San languages are al-ready in advanced stages of that disappear- ance as none of the African countries have adopted them as official languages.
Did nature dictate that this be the case or did some human elements engineer this evolution?
Attempting to answer the above question, let us detour for a second. William Shakespeare, as early as 1611 in one of his revered works “The Tempest”, explains concisely the rela- tionship between language and colonisation. This famous British author (I do not want to debate whether he agreed with the characters or not) presents a falsified image of the people of the Caribbean Islands by using some very racist likeness in representing the status of various characters in this play.
Caliban (a character in The Tempest), one of the many inhabitants of a certain island, is a victim of colonisation. The sad thing is that Caliban in the earlier stages of their relation- ship had faith in Prospero. In an act of betrayal, he is classified as a savage and thus a slave of the west. The coloniser forces him to follow the western ways wherein his viewpoint is reshaped, using language, in order for him to interpret the world using his colonisers’ lenses.
At some point a frustrated Caliban, the colonised, rebels against Prospero, the coloniser, “You taught me language and my profit on’t is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language!”. Controlling the mind of the colonised is the greatest goal that the colonisers aim to achieve. Enslaving them, subjecting them to cheap labour, stealing their land and what it offers is the ultimate goal. Caliban’s frustrated and angry lines show an undiluted confession by the victim of how inappropriate language is used by colonisers to influence the state of mind of the colonised. He reminds the colonisers that infusing their language onto him imparted a skill to insult.
All African nations, without exception, can identify with Caliban’s experience. Language and its use, therefore, is never neutral and unbiased. History and even the current epoch continue to show it to be more than just a method of communication but a tool of social dominance and superiority. Shakespeare, in the aforementioned work, represents the state of mind that existed to impose the Eu- ropean approach in global politics. They saw Africans as savages who were barbaric, animalistic and deserved no respect but subservience to the European master.
Ngugi wa Thiongo insists: “They gave us their accents in exchange for their access to our resources. When African intellectuals and leadership were busy perfecting their borrowed accents, Europe and the West were busy sharpening their instruments for access to the resources of the continent. Accents for access: unfortunately, that is the story of post-colonial Africa”.
Language defines us
What role does language play in developing or destroying an African’s identity?
Steven Bantu Biko’s (Black Consciousness Movement leader) thoughts in the 70s speak to what Caliban faced at the hands of Prospero when he said, “The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”. This great son of Africa, further, argued that the basic objective of a colonialist is to make an African feel like a foreigner in the land of his birth. Following Biko’s guidance, Caliban was being castigated by a coloniser who, through language enforcement, was creating a mind that viewed Prospero’s ways as the refined ways. Losing a language goes hand-in-glove with losing a culture. Losing the latter goes hand in glove with losing identity. Language use, therefore, allows the users to define who they are. This is a people’s history, culture and identity lost forever.
Colonial languages have become congruent with societal status. This happens at the reduction of African languages to second or lesser strata. Persons may find themselves not getting appointed into jobs or not given audience, not because they are not capable, but because they do not have a good account of what is currently referred to as the ‘queen’s language’.
As we negotiate our way to complete freedom, we need to be stubborn about our identity. Language is one of those elements that allow us to pass our culture and identity from one generation to the next. It is the gift that we owe to our children and grandchildren. It is the debt that we owe to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Professor Okoth Okombo puts this point more lucidly when he says, “the death of a language is like the burning of a library”. How does his- tory record your role if your language dies during your era?
We need to be careful as we go through what is referred to as globalisation. Africa’s thought contribution into the rest of the globe is under attack as indigenous languages are slowly becoming under-utilised. Using our languages as defining features ensures that our participation in the global village is not counterfeit as we ought not to allow the global village to be characterised by the erasure of African language and identity.
The Publishing Industry remains racist
Africans are taught at schools using the so-called universally useful languages mainly English, Portuguese and French. The assumed usefulness of these languages is questionable. The purpose of education is learning and access to knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge – does it really matter the lan- guage it comes in? Does it make me a defi- cient scientist if my education came in Igbo, kiSwahili or IsiXhosa?
The prominence that African countries give to these European languages makes Africans to continue being subjects of their colonisers. It makes colonialism to persist despite political independence. Shakespeare’s Caliban also later discovered that the Prospero he had put faith in was not giving saintly assistance to him but was selfishly nurturing him to be- come his slave.
Do we have enough material that is published in African languages for the Instructors to make use of? We do not. African publishers are mainly recognised insofar as the indigenous African language books that they publish. Books in Mathematics, Economics and Accounting are mainly published in European languages with the obvious benefit of these countries. Prospero continues to dominate even if he is seated in Buckingham Palace. We need to fix this gap.
African languages are slowly running the risk of becoming extinct.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow”.
Colonisation goes hand in glove with the use of language to further the ideals of the colonisers. The colonised get forbidden from speaking their languages and, like Caliban, they are forced to speak foreign languages. The right to publish is an important tool towards ensuring that our languages stay afloat. This ability, however, is diminished if its application is occasional. This is also achieved through the deprivation of funding to African language publishers. Books at schools are and still are published in English or French. This is another method of eco- nomic manipulation of the African market to the benefit of European countries.
Mobile technology has grown in leaps and bounds across the African continent. African writing professionals must exploit the poten- tial capacity provided by the evolving digital technology in book publishing. The African writer’s audience is no longer constrained by the national boundaries. Immediately a book is published, it becomes available to the global audience. This avoids costs associated with freight, staffing and packaging that tend to take the bulk of the expenses. This, however, must be done with measures against piracy in place.
Colonial languages are a wedge between Africans
Colonialism is a severe dent in the promotion of unity in Africa. It has led to scenarios where Africans distinguish and discriminate between one another on the basis of the European language that each speak.
Can we really talk of a British Cameroon and a French Cameroon? The answer unfortunately is a big YES. European languages seem to have assumed a superior status in determining whether that country remains united or not. A very ugly discord currently exists wherein there is a battle between Africans referred to as Anglophone, Lusophone and other Africans who are said to be Francophone. It is not about the spoken
African languages but about the influence of culture driven by these three European languages. This impasse has also spilt into the neighbouring Nigeria.
Three Colonial forces continue to show the power that they still have on the oppressed mind as Biko suggests. A nation of united Africans would have driven the three Prospero(s) back.
Kwame Nkrumah, in his plea for Africa to unite said: “The forces that unite us are intrinsic and greater than the superimposed influences that keep us apart”.
Africans must take control of the levers of business power
To a number of people, I have posed this question, “what is the language of business?” Almost all said, “English”.
An Economics graduate friend of mine told me what I believed in was the correct answer. He said that it is ‘economics, accounting and finance management’. It is the ability to manage finances, track expenses, track revenues as well as responding to the requi- sites of demand and supply. You could be speaking kiSwahili, Sesotho, sign language or using any method of communication as long as you manage the above languages of business accurately. English or French is not a prerequisite for one to understand and apply these in business.
The functioning of the African Free Trade Continental Agreement (AfTCA) is an African initiative that must make Africans import and export between the African countries.
What we say
More importantly, it is important for all of us to recognise that we need one another. Now that we know the influences that Prospero has attempted to put on us we should, through African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTFA) work on a common African programme.
Let us take guidance from the inimitable Ngugi wa Thiongo when he says: “If you know all the languages of the world and you don’t know the languages of your culture, that is enslavement”.
Jambo Africa Online begets knowledge
Language begets knowledge. Knowledge begets power. Power begets liberation. So, loyal readers – in your journey to liberate your minds or keep your liberated minds on a developmental trajectory – enjoy the rich content in this April 2021 edition of Jambo Africa Online.
Enjoy the discussion between our Publisher and the buoyant and tenacious Amy Mabusela. Faith Adhiambo and Amadou Labba Sail also give an extensive account on this year’s instalment of the bi-annual Intra-African Trade Fair 2021 (IATF).
The Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), H.E. Mr Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi launched the grand prize for Literature in March 2021. Read about it in this edition.
Craig Arnold gives an account of how Africa can realise her potential and even achieve beyond expectation in the manufacturing sec-tor during the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. This edition also contains an affirmation by 49 Women Ambassadors to the United Nations on setting up an “inclusive and equal global recovery” as we face the pandemic and traverse a post-COVID-19 dispensation.
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