Lingustic Rights in Multilingual Africa
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Language issues have long been a problem in Africa. Language policies that have been pursued by most African countries after independence are similar in most cases as countries faced more-or-less the same linguistic reality, that is, several indigenous African languages and one or two European languages used as official language in the country. Like other policies adopted by African governments, language policies derive from political and social realities of the time. The OAU declared that colonial borders were inviolable and therefore, had to be maintained by African governments. This legitimised the splitting of some language groups into two or three or sometimes even four countries. As a result linguistic minorities were created out of groups that were otherwise not linguistic minorities. Many of these so-called minority languages are not even recognised in educational institutions. This paper presents an argument that the problems of linguistic rights in multilingual Africa stems from political decisions that were made with little concern for language issues. Therefore, the solutions should be political and may involve revising earlier declarations by OAU on the inviolability of colonial boundaries. This should be possible if linguistic rights are treated as human rights and given serious attention by national governments as well as the international community.
Paper presented at the FILLM XXI International Congress, Harare, July 1998.