Language an instrument for Africa’s development


Language plays a vital role in the development of human race.

 This method of human communication, which could be in the form of either spoken or written and which also takes in the use of words in as agreed way, cannot be under-estimated.

Without doubt, it has power to hinder development in countries within and across the great African continent.

This is so because nations that give value to their local languages are more economically advanced than those that neglect their indigenous languages.

Countries such as China, Japan and Malaysia are doing well economically because they are using their local languages but other developing nations are struggling to take off economically because they depend too much on exotic languages.

Sadly, African languages have been stultified and marginalised in the mainstream of the economy, which appears to be one of the reasons for Africa’s underdevelopment.

Use of foreign (exotic) languages in most African countries leaves citizens with more questions than answers. One question was asked by Wise Magwa of Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Davie E. Mutasa of the University of South Africa (UNISA).

In an article “Language and Development: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)” Magwa and Mutasa asked, “Can Africa achieve stable development when the speakers continue to use languages that appear to hamper the education of the majority and communication with and among the majority?”

To answer this question, Magwa and Mutasa note, “Development in Africa can never be achieved without serious considerations of the role of African languages in social, educational, economic and political processes.”

This means development in countries within and across Africa cannot be secured without full involvement of the indigenous people through the use of their languages.

Accordingly, there is a close relationship between language and development and that relationship is enough to prove that meaningful development cannot take place where linguistic barriers exist.

This is so because language is an emblem that switches an individual from misery to plenty, from backwardness to progress and from backwaters to the centre of life; and a vital tool in the promotion of nationalism in the sense that language holds the key to the establishment of true democracy and equality.

Importantly, language, true democracy and equality are important ingredients in the development matrix of any states in the world.

Since development is a process that involves the entire spectrum of the society with each individual making a contribution, the transfer of skills, new knowledge and any other vital information desired to effect production of quality goods and services, can best be delivered to the target group through a person’s first language.

To fulfil development goals in the continent, African languages should therefore be empowered and promoted.

They could be empowered by utilising them more widely in the education process, utilising the knowledge of how the elders in the society have dealt with development issues and incorporating that knowledge into the education of its young people.

This means that the African Union (AU) should urge member states to preserve African languages and use them widely in the education process.

More so, AU should challenge member states to learn from major world economies like Japan and China that have used their indigenous languages in enhancing their technological advancements.

Academicians in the continent can also help a great deal in the struggle to utilise local languages to Africa’s advantage.

Zambian politician Dora Siliya thinks, “Academicians in the region can assist their governments in dispelling widely held misconceptions among many Africans that indigenous languages cannot be used as instruments for scientific and socio-economic development.”

Africans should be reminded that indigenous languages are cool and they should be conscientised to be proud of their mother languages.

Sharing same views with Siliya, Dr Wilson Mwenya of the University of Zambia believes academicians and scholars in Africa should engage their respective governments in formulating language policies that can enable citizens to meaningfully participate in the attainment of sustainable social and economic development.

Development players and stakeholders in the education sector should, therefore, devise mechanisms that facilitate the formulation and implementation of language policies in the continent.

Sadly, most – if not all African countries – overlook the importance of language policies.

Ultimately, the crafting of language policies will enhance the documentation of African languages so that they can be used as instruments of mass communication, mass education, and socio-economic development in the continent.

Language serves as one of the most important tools for the development of individuals or communities.

Accordingly, African governments should promote the use of indigenous languages to effectively change the socio-economic face of the continent.

October 2013
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