I haven’t searched the records books yet, but it well appears that Ms. Hanna Tetteh may be the first Ghanaian foreign minister who does not speak or understand the French language or any of the other official languages used in the West African sub-region that were inherited from European colonial imperialism besides the ubiquitous English language. And so it is quite understandable that she would urge her fellow cabinet appointees and members of parliament to pick up the study of French and Portuguese as a mean of further consolidating the onward march towards continental African unification (See “AU Day: MPs Must Learn French, Portuguese – Hanna Tetteh” Classfmonline.com / Ghanaweb.com 5/25/15).

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Well, even as I once had occasion to point out some 25 years ago, I believe in the New African magazine, or elsewhere – an old friend of mine from secondary school days had written to apprise me of the publication of an article that I had written and dispatched to several press houses – the most significant problem facing us, Africans, today is not the dearth acquisition of any of the most widely spoken and written Western-European languages, but rather the very obviously fundamental problem of organic economic and technological underdevelopment.

Back then, my article was in direct response to one of the seasonal flagrant hostilities unleashed upon African immigrants in France, largely by some racist and bigoted French politicians – you may choose to diplomatically call them “conservatives” – and their equally rabidly racist supporters and followers. At the time, I also highlighted the fact that learning French, or any of the other officially used colonial languages, while worthwhile to a remarkable extent was, nevertheless, of prime economic benefit to the native users of these languages themselves than us non-native users. For it meant the massive enrichment of both textbook writers and literary artists and their beneficiaries in these European languages. It also meant the exponential expansion of the job market for teachers and prospective and potential teachers native to these languages at the expense of the imperative need to developing the most significant or widely spoken African languages, as a necessary means of our collective cultural self-preservation. For even as linguists are apt to point out to anybody who cares to know, every few years, non-Western peoples and cultures lose the use of tens of languages through what might be termed as “linguistic cannibalism.”

And then, of course, we are also, all of us, aware of the fact that any people lacking the use of their own native tongues not only lose their sense of self-confidence and respect among the global comity of nations, sooner than later, they also find themselves effectively written out of existence altogether. This kind of cultural death, or the death of memory – or mnemonic death – is even more morally and psychologically devastating and existentially damning than corporeal mortality. Indeed, it was for some of these very important reasons that President Kwame Nkrumah emphasized the imperative need for the development of some of the most widely spoken African languages as a means of organically solidifying African unification. In West Africa, the renowned proponent of Pan-Africanism suggested the adoption of the Hausa language, while for East Africa Ki-Swahili was to be adopted as the language of choice or lingua franca.

The East Africans, through the seminal instrumentality of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, of Kenya, and Julius Nyerere, of Tanzania, appear to have more effectively and successfully pursued this most progressive agenda. In Ghana, at the national or local level, Dr. Joseph (Kwame Kyeretwie) Boakye-Danquah took this challenge to an even more practical level by writing textbooks in Akan, Ghana’s most widely spoken language, as well as translating Akan philosophy and folklore into the English language. In essence, where Mr. Nkrumah has been widely acknowledged as a visionary ahead of his time, it was actually Dr. Danquah who practiced and pragmatized the psychologically salutary ideal of collective continental cultural self-rediscovery and psychical rejuvenation.

If Ghana’s Foreign Minister is convinced of the need for our politicians to acquire a spoken and written knowledge of French and Portuguese, as a means of bringing continental Africans into greater psycho-cultural intimacy with one another, then Ms. Tetteh would do well to revisit the Acheampong ECOWAS Model, initiated by the brutally slain Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, junta leader of the erstwhile National Redemption Council (NRC) and later the Supreme Military Council (SMC-1), which made the study of French compulsory for all high school pupils as a means of expediting the sub-regional unification of West Africa or ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. Language specialists would tell Ms. Tetteh that the latest stage for the most effective or near-native acquisition of any language is the high-school level, not at a brain-dead or superannuated age.

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
May 25, 2016
E-mail: [email protected]

*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com Ghanaffairs

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