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Our future lies in our culture

Every time that I think about Africa, I think diversity, I think culture, I think pride. There are so many things that are beautiful about this continent and our culture and languages are some of those things. Every time that I travel outside of Africa, I am asked how many languages I speak: and I tell them, I fluently speak about 4 languages. Now to someone who has known and spoken English all their life, that is a lot of languages. But this is the reason why: I speak my native mother tongue, and because I moved to the city, I speak the native language of people that were born in the city because I have to be able to buy food and get around. I speak English because it is the official language of the country that I come from and I speak another language that I had to learn out of necessity but also as a challenge. When I go to Kenya I can understand and use some Swahili but not confidently. This is what is unique about this continent. However the great question remains: how can we harness all of this to build a continent that our children and children’s children will be proud of?

¹Africa is a continent with a very high linguistic diversity, there are an estimated 1500-2000 African languages. Of these languages four main groupings can be distinguished:

  • Afro-Asiatic (approximately 200 languages) covering nearly Northern Africa (including the horn of Africa, Central Sahara at the top Nile).
  • Nilo-Saharian - gathering approximately 140 languages with some eleven millions speakers scattered in Central and Eastern Africa.
  • Niger-Saharian (Niger-Congo) - covering two thirds of Africa as a principal branch of the Niger-Congo which gathers more than 1000 languages with some 200 millions speakers. The Bantu languages of Central, Southern, and Eastern Africa form a sub-group of the Niger Congo branch.
  • Khoisan gathers about thirty languages in the Western part of Southern Africa. All African languages are considered official languages of the African Union.

What is African about Africa, what do we take pride in as natives of this continent? Is it our culture and our languages that make us unique? This is what we need to focus on as we look to the future. These are the things that make us unique from the rest of the world. Ngugi wa thiong’o the great African writer on a recent visit to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda said:

“We can’t afford to become intellectual outsiders in our own land. We must connect with the buried alluvium of African memory and use it as a base for further planting of African memory on the continent and in the world. This can only result in the empowerment of African languages and cultures and make them pillars of a more self-confident Africa ready to engage the world”.

And I agree with him. These are aspects that we need to concretise on as we plan and look to the future. No other continent has all these different languages, sun throughout the year and these differences set us apart from the rest of the world. As we look to the future though, there is need to harness all these differences and use them not to set us apart but to bring us together. Our languages and culture are unique to us. How about we use those as a selling point to be able to plan for our future?

Our guest editor for this month Professor Kole Omotoṣo argues in his feature article that: If ever the development of a people was ever tied to the development of their languages, it is here in Africa with African peoples and African languages. Yet Africa is one continent in which language development is not even recognized as sine qua non of human progress, growth and development. At the same time the development of African peoples and African countries through foreign languages has reached its peak. All further and future development of African peoples and African countries must take place in African languages.

Does anyone agree with this?



Ruth Aine Tindyebwa
Blogger/Online Communications

Read her personal blog; IN DEPTH which is at www.ruthaine.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.



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