Does language impact on development?

African divisiveness and disunity traces back to the colonial era where lingual borders were used to draw boundaries that created African states. Policies drawn by the former colonial powers were used slow African development by hindering cohesion of thought and understanding, hence undermining capacity for development.

‘‘Multilingualism is a differentiated reality in Africa’’

Dr. Fridah Kanana, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, in her paper ‘Examining African Languages as Tools for National Development: The Case of Kiswahili’ suggests that language is integral to development. She explores the impacts of linguistic divisiveness to African development, and views language as a major contributing factor towards the consolidation of nationhood and realization of national development. Dr. Kanana further notes that if Africans had adopted one of their widely understood languages such as Kiswahili in Kenya and Tanzania, capacity for development in Africa would be greater.

However, leaders who took over from the colonial era did not put much consideration to language policies and continued to use the languages of the colonial masters as the languages of prestige. According to Dr. Kanana, development in Africa slowed down because important communication relied on foreign languages and the parties involved in the process of development could not interact effectively. This she sees as a failure on African states, who need to develop a clear language policy; lack of which is a major handicap to regional development.

Bridging the Gaps

 "Language can be a key contributing force towards the consolidation of nationhood and the realization of national development."

The dominance of foreign languages has undermined the national cohesion, perception and responsibilities of Africans as citizens and seriously undercut development of self-confidence and sense of ‘Africanness’. The Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures and the Cultural Charter for Africa are some of the campaigns and declarations on linguistic human rights aimed at the promotion of linguistic justice and the removal or prevention of linguistic injustices. Research shows that Kenya faces the predicament of losing its cultural heritage and development through subordination of the cultural languages. In West Africa, Hausa and Pulaar are two dominant languagesacross 12 nations, yet none of the languages have been referred to as an “international language” or “language of wider communication”.

Way Forward

"If a common language is adopted, the transfer of skills, new knowledge and other vital information desired to effect radical and sustainable changes in 21 st century African states will be both feasible and relevant to the building of a true sense of Africanity"

Quoting the Late Prof. Mazrui, Dr. Kanana notes that the need to “scientificate” African languages cannot be over-emphasized. She observes that there is need for African countries to undertake a thorough review of their language situation and establish policies cognizant with their national aspirations, optimum utilization of the national linguistic resources and the ultimate national goal.

Research by:
Dr. Fridah Kanana
Senior Lecturer, Department of English and Linguistics
Kenyatta University
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