Rwanda: France Should Pay for the Teaching of English in African Schools

Ngango Rukara, Kigali,The New Times, 21 October 2008:

When the Government of Rwanda announced the new language policy, emphasizing the use of the English language as a medium of instruction in schools, some observers were quick to associate the decision with the soured diplomatic relations between Rwanda and France that stem from France's prominent role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Writing in the Saturday Nation of October 18, 2008, Peter Mwaura claimed, that:"It would appear that Rwanda was quick to drop the French language because of its long standing and bitter dispute with France arising out of the 1994 genocide...".

But if Mr. Mwaura thought that Rwanda's new language policy was motivated by the bad blood between the two countries, he needs to take an another look. He needs look no further than France itself.

French Education minister Mr. Xavier Darcos has declared that schools in France would henceforth offer extra lessons in English, during holidays, to allow the young French generation to master the language.

Reason? Mr. Darcos says inability to speak the English language is a "handicap" since all international business is conducted in English. Sounds familiar?

The French minister also observed that owing to globalization "very few people outside France will be able to speak French in the future".

And the French minister wasn't done. To demonstrate that he was dead serious and that times have truly changed, Mr. Darcos announced that he was availing a budget to enable all French students study English, including kids from wealthy families whose parents have been paying for their English lessons abroad.

"I am offering them (English lessons) to everyone right here", vowed the French minister.

For those who quickly concluded that Rwanda's new, language policy was her way of getting back at France, Mr. Xavier Darcos' declaration and the new French government policy regarding the English language, are a clear signal that politics have nothing to do with it.

It probably further shows that Rwanda is way ahead of her own time. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that Mr. Xavier Darcos sounded like he was reading from our own Théoneste Mutsindashyaka's script with regard to the importance of the English language, and the fact that French is increasingly becoming irrelevant in world affairs?

Now that France is doing the right thing at home, how about the millions of Africans, she has through her colonial policy and history, made to believe that you can't get anywhere in life if you don't speak French?

When you come to think of it, the French government should in all fairness take the responsibility to undo the years of a gross misguided education in her African colonies and pay for an entirely new English language curriculum in her former colonies. After all, they are now doing it at home (in France) and what is good for the French kids is good for African kids.

The Government of France should have used the 'Francophonie Summit' in Quebec City, Canada last week, to apologize to the French-speaking Africans whom they have, over the years, convinced to love the French language more than the French themselves.

Remember the late President Leopold Senghor of Senegal who in the 1970s declared that the worst threat against the "civilizing" French language and culture was the United States, precisely because the US was the single country with the largest number of English speakers? How the world has changed since!

One of Senghor's own successors, President Abdullah Wade last week spoke to reporters in English at, of all events, the 'Francophonie Summit' in Quebec, thereby vindicating those who have already figured out that French is, after all, nothing more than another local vernacular language on the European continent.

Leopold Senghor must be turning in his grave; only that this time round he wouldn't blame the demise of his beloved French language on the ever-present "Anglo-Saxon conspiracy".

He would have to confront a French minister of education who has no difficulty articulating the fact that the French language has no future in the new world order of globalization.

Indeed Mr. Xavier Darcos, the French Education minister, if for nothing else, has proved that it is never too late to learn how to sing, as the French wake up to smell the coffee.

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