Except for a handful of African nations (including Algeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa, and Tanzania), the remaining 47 have invested very little effort and funds to address seriously the issue of the place and role of African languages in the socio-economic development of these nations and the continent in general. Repeated attempts at the national and continental levels in the past forty-five years have been either tepid, or thwarted by more pressing political (e.g., civil wars, political oppression, state failure) and economic crises (failure of infrastructure, marginalization of principal commodities). While a large body of research literature on language planning in Africa since the heydays of political emancipation (1959-60) has addressed the nature of language planning and policy in the continent and their raisons d’être (cf. Bamgbose 1991, 2000, Bokamba 1976, 1984, 1991, 1995, etc., Breton 1991, 2003, Okoth 2001), that research has largely overlooked the long term effects of globalization on the possible demise of indigenous African languages and the benefits that can be accrued from them in a range of public domains (e.g., education, judiciary, legislature, administration, health delivery system).
This paper will attempt to argue in favor of multilingual policies in Africa that advocate the rational utilization of selected European and indigenous African languages in the key domains of societal interaction, including university instruction, administration, legislature, and the judiciary. The paper maintains that African languages, just like other languages of wider communication (LWC), represent invaluable linguistic capital à la Bourdieu (1991) that must be fully invested in all key domains lest we lose them and the cultures that they encode. It argues further that to maintain the status quo on the exclusive use of the former colonial languages as official media in education and administration is a prescription for the success of European languages hegemony in the continent and for the perpetuation of its underdevelopment. To counter these destructive practices by African nations, it is proposed that they adopt language policies that will potentiate participatory democracies, foster educational and socio-economic development that is commensurate with the continent’s immense natural resources. The paper argues further and demonstrate that the maintenance, rather than a shift from, African linguae francae in public domains is both a critical linguistic capital and a cultural imperative for the survival of the African continent.
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