An essay on Africa and the english language


The recognition of a person’s ethnic identity is one of the more important components needed in the journey towards self actualization. How people communicate is central to their being. The use of the English language universally cannot afford Africa the luxury of unity. This is merely a frivolous take on matters that range far beyond linguistics.  The history of the continent is diverse and bleeds of misinterpretation. This essay will focus on how the forging of a strong ethnic identity supersedes the agenda of the former colonial masters in creating a sustainable and united Africa. The paper will set out to clarify the discrepancies about Africa that history has allowed to spawn into relevance.

Chinua Achebe argues

“There are not many countries in Africa today where you could abolish the language of the erstwhile colonial powers and still retain the facility for mutual communication”

While this esteemed writer might be making reference to how the arrival of colonists led to growth and strength of a common mode of understanding for natives through language, He seems oblivious to the fact that it is the creation of such, a propaganda tool that has left the African society behind. They may have established and ensued on Africa their sense of uniformity but they also trampled on what was already a way of living. Therefore there can be no good taken from the tainted history stalking the continent.

He takes his assertions further by saying. Those of us who have inherited the English language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance”. This is a misguided analogy that further creates misunderstanding as it allows the continued injustice sold as development to the people of Africa to flourish. The continent was not stuck and waiting for western civilization to exert wisdom and greatness through teaching the masses all they specifically knew about the world. There were means and ways to communicate and they sufficed for those that used them. Africans are embedded in the philosophy of Ubuntu which focuses on community.

Ethnic groupings were growing while sharing in experience and information that brought about tribes like the Zulu’s in South Africa or the Berber’s that are scattered across North Africa. English was not the sole way of reaching communicational consensus.

Identity deals with who a person is, how can there even begin to be a liberation for  people of Africa while a misinformed suggestion insinuates they should communicate through the use of the English Language; The very language amongst others that dehumanized and reduced them to irrelevance in their own native land.

Ngugi wa Thiongo in his text entitled Decolonising the mind stated that

Imperialism continues to control the economy, politics and cultures of Africa. But on the other, and pitted against it, are ceaseless struggles of African people to liberate their economy politics and culture from Euro-American-based stranglehold to usher a new era of true communal self –regulation and self  determination”

The growth of the English language beyond the duty of communication is a case in point that proves his assertions.  How can the people being continually oppressed by institutions reach consciousness in a way that will lead to prosperity for future generations? The child of a peasant worker with no formal education has got the most minimalist chances of securing a future for themselves and their family if not dexterous in the English language.  The emancipation of Africa is needed when issues such as this surface long after the departure of the Anglo settlers. A new form that has a willingness to know and understand the past must and should be cultivated. English is the medium of political and socio-economic discourse. The very language that has helped marginalize societies is used to strengthen matters such as development and globalisation. This is the paradox of the world. Ngugi wa Thiongo further argues that.


“The choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people’s definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed, in relation to the entire universe. Hence language has always been at the heart of the two contending social forces in the Africa of the twentieth century”

The psychological ramifications of accepting defeat came in the form of being united as a nation. These nations were never created to better the lives of Africans and so all that was part and parcel with them then, is relevant now. Many African scholars became pseudo-imperialists when they were vociferous about embracing the language of the oppressors to the people. African leaders, writers and spiritual fathers have always aided the agenda. The death of African culture began through the re-writing of history by the most influential natives.

Language is one of the most important tools of colonialism and imperialism. So if people are aware of the form of identity they should assume they should resist invasions which seem to trivialize their identity. Contrary to what Chinua Achebe believes, English language should be put back in its place. There should be a resistance to its tendency to have power on Africa. The English language has been allowed for too long to elevate itself to the language of knowledge systems, which is not the case. Literary works, history, mathematics and science have been exerted to people through English language.

 This was not supposed to be the case in the first place, but people have accepted it as a dogma without challenge. Studies have suggested that children should be taught in their indigenous language at least up to the age of eight. This is not possible as English is being used as a medium of communication for many people at an early age. This is a tragedy as future generations will be entrapped in this rhetoric. Those are the successes of Euro-American forefathers and mental oppression in its purest form.

When dealing with younger generations, there seems to be a perpetual belief in that the English language is a way to prosperity. They have ingrained the discourse subjected to them by history. There is a constant reference to English as a superior language and way of life. In isiZulu they say “uLimu lokucela izinkobe” (English puts food on the table). That is the evidence of how English has elevated its status to the language of economic power, which, sadly, was not to be the case.

In conclusion Africans cannot have English as a language of unity, because the continent is too diverse in culture, ethnicity and language. There is an untold history that needs a just refurbishment coupled with the pride of origin.

One Response to “An essay on Africa and the english language”
  1. SihleMthembu says:

    I think one of the problesm that we are facing is there were are living in a world where the issue of language is quite utopian. as much as I agree that the status given to English (and other Western langauge) is gravely undeserved. I equally believe that there are deeper forces at work here. we need to recognise that in order to gain access to certain isntuttions that will make your modern day life livable you have to have some sort of comprehension of the langauge–unless you are Chinese

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