While speaking at the recent summit of French-speaking nations in Tunisia, President Emmanuel Macron of France said French remains the universal language of the Africa and pan-Africanism.
For the African continent, “it is the true universal language”, “the Francophonie is the language of pan-Africanism”, he said.
With all due respect, Mr. President, this is an ill-informed assertion. No, French is not the universal African language. Kiswahili remains the most spoken language in Africa, with about 150 million speakers.
In addition to this, Africans want the adoption of an indigenous language as a language of pan-Africanism – not French, English or Arabic!
One thing that the president was right about, however, during his speech, was that the French language was declining in Africa, especially in the Northern parts. The president was also right to admit that more Africans resonate with the English language than French as a lingua franca.
“English is a new common language that people have accepted,” Emmanuel Macron said at the Francophone meeting. But he added that French remains “the universal language of the African continent.” While the president is right in the first part of the submission, there are concerns that his assertion that French remained the universal language in the African continent is a misconception born out of misinformation.
According to available statistics, Africa remains home to the world’s largest number of French speakers. Records reveal that there are as many as 120 million people in 24 francophone African countries.
Perhaps it was on these statistics that the president based his assumptions. But unfortunately, while these statistics are correct and prove that French is one of the most spoken languages on the continent, it needs to catch up to English and Kiswahili before it can be regarded as the universal African language.
There are currently over 130 million Africans who have a high English proficiency and do not speak or understand the French language. In addition, there are 25 English-speaking countries in Africa – including Nigeria and some of the most populated nations on the continent.
As the continent continues to push for the acceptance of indigenous languages like Kiswahili, Hausa, Zulu, Yoruba, Ibo, and Fula, there appears to be a decline in the increase of English, French and Arabic speakers in the continent. The decline in French speakers is becoming a source of concern for Paris, as it would undoubtedly reduce the colonial strongholds on African nations and Africans.
The president expressed these concerns at the recent Francophonie grouping – made up mainly of former French colonies, which took place in Tunisia. The French president criticized the French-speaking African countries for failing to take a stronger role in diplomacy and crisis resolution. At the same time, the current hosts, Tunisia, have received international condemnation for the president’s recent power grab.
On Friday, Tunisian police fired tear gas at protestors trying to reach the island of Djerba, where the summit was held.
About 30 leaders – including those of Ivory Coast, Gabon, Rwanda, and Canada – are said to be attending this weekend’s talks focusing on economic cooperation as well as responses to the Ukraine crisis.
Mr. Macron called on leaders of the French-speaking African countries to reserve “a space of resistance and reconquest” and called for it to reclaim its role.
Critics believe that France boasts of an undue stronghold over Africa through its direct control of French-speaking African nations. As a result of the language, the European nation is able to exact control over its former colonies while the English-speaking African countries continue to lobby on the corridors of Britain, America, and China.
What are your thoughts?