Stop! English in Africa

Jim Harries writes on

Someone asked me the other day; ‘what, to you, is the biggest ‘problem’ in

The question was not difficult for me to answer. The biggest problem in Africa, is
that it uses English (and other European languages). One reason it is the ‘biggest’
problem, is exactly that many people, even many experts, are not even realising,
not even aware that it is a problem!2 Yet, it is the ‘problem’ that prevents other
problems from being addressed; kind of, the mother of all problems!
Why is it a problem? Because it almost totally stops, or prevents, intelligent
conversation or discussion in formal circles. Within Africa, it stops it (unless
foreigners subsidise such debate, in which case people do it for the money and
the prestige). You can’t sensibly discuss indigenous issues using English. There is
just too poor a fit. It’s impossible! Just ask someone who comments on a soccer match to do so using only language used to comment on tennis matches, and you
will begin to realise why.

Read the full article and the ensuing discussion and debate: discussion, launched 18.4.22


I am aware that some scholars will throw their hands up in horror to say that reference to
‘Africa’ means I am ‘generalising’. I deny that blanket condemnation of open discussion that
wants to divide-and-rule Africa by making out that African countries and people are very
dissimilar. I deny that blanket condemnation, that seeks to give the impression that secular
countries like the UK and USA are ‘like’ Africa, and so by default authoritative sources of
insights on what should happen on the continent.
Many social scientists are apparently not aware of the incompatibility of their craft with
African ways of life. (Hassana Alidou, Aliou Boly, Birgit Brock-Utne, Yaya Satina Diallo, Kathleen
Heugh, H., Ekkehard Wolff, 2006, Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language
Factor. A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan
Africa, Paris: Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), 43.) Kendi points
us to some gross incompatibility. (Kendi, Ibram X., 2018, ‘Black Doctoral Studies: the radically
anti-racist idea of Molefi Kete Asante,’ Journal of Black Studies, 2018, 49(6)m 542-558.)
Linguists who are aware of this problem seem to remain under-aware of ways in which use of
African languages takes people towards African ways of life. (The assumption in Hassana et al.
(Optimizing) seems consistently to be that adoption of African languages in education will not
retard that education’s effectiveness.) The latter underlies a widely recognised practice in Africa
of preferring English, not so as to solve indigenous ‘problems’, but so as to sidestep them,
sometimes so as to push the outcome of indigenous problems onto others in the global
community, through perpetuating Africa’s dependence on foreign aid.