- Geopolitics of French in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa: Attitudes, Language Use, and Identities by Ibrahima Diallo
The present slim volume addresses a timely topic, namely the status of French in a part of the globe where the use of the language is expanding, to become what Ibrahima Diallo characterizes as ‘the powerhouse of French in the world’ (p. 10). This expansion is due not so much to a shift towards French — in fact there is evidence from countries such as Rwanda, which made English its official language in 1996, that the shift is actually away from French — but to population growth and increasing rates of school attendance. What is at play in Diallo’s study is a complex global linguistic ecology where English as the international lingua franca is nudging out French, combined with a more local linguistic ecology where African languages compete with French for resources such as airtime on radio and television. Set within a broader sub-Saharan context, the study focuses on Senegal and investigates attitudes towards French, English, and Wolof, Senegal’s main language, and their use in education. Diallo concludes by making some policy recommendations to accommodate all of these within his vision for the future of Senegalese education. In setting the context for his study, Diallo brings up the continued promotion of French by the African political elite after independence, with little support for African languages. Here, Léopold Sédar Senghor, president, poet, and first black member of the Académie française, emerges as a villain (p. 18), although later he is embraced as a promoter of African languages (p. 23). This is less Diallo’s shortcoming than a testament to the profoundly complex nature of Senghor’s thought, discussions of which are too often reductive in nature. A second issue involves the way in which the global relationship between French and English is played out at the West African level: English is strongly favoured in communication between anglophone and francophone Africans (p. 46), a trend that will presumably grow in the context of regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). What bears emphasizing here is that the rates of mastery of French and English on the continent are low; thus, to speak of francophone or anglophone Africans is to speak of an educated elite only. Diallo’s survey research, though limited in scope (n 113), attempts to target a broad swath of Senegalese society to find out how they feel about French, English, and Wolof, and what languages they would like to see used in education. Those surveyed are strongly attached to their own languages, they are loyal to French, the sole official language, and they admire English (p. 95). Based on these findings, Diallo proposes that all three be implemented in Senegalese schools. Besides an index, what is missing from this book is a discussion of Arabic-language education in Senegal, and especially the development since 2000 of the increasingly popular state-run Franco-Arabic schools which offer an appealing vision of twenty-first-century education to many in this predominantly Muslim country.