The language of instruction in a school can have more profound implications than what one would assume on the surface – what language students are learning to read, write and speak in. Languages are laden with history, and their incorporation or marginalization in educational institutions can encompass complex power dynamics in a society. Only last week, on the 21st of November, a massive protest erupted in Bamenda, Cameroon regarding the language of instruction in schools and in the judicial system (Ventures Africa, 24 Nov. 2016). Initially colonized by the Germans, and then split into two separate mandated territories by the League of Nations, Cameroon has undergone several language transitions and is still struggling to mend the repercussions of its turbulent colonial history. Both a BBC news video and a Ventures Africa article suggest that the power struggle between the English and French languages in Cameroon are deep-rooted in the country’s colonial past.
In a BBC video, a protestor can be heard screaming that, “French speakers should back off” and outlining that, “the fight is bigger than they can think.” In this video the protestor is depicted in the middle of the protest arguing that they have the “proper means” to carry out their education, health, and judicial systems and that the boundaries between these two areas should be respected and the French should not infringe on their English-speaking institutions (BBC News, 23 Nov. 2016). This protestor is suggesting that the French are attempting to relegate English in both the school and court settings. As such, this man echoes the principles put forth by proponents of Dependency Theory, that suggest that core nations, such as France, are still exerting their influence in periphery nations, such as Cameroon, in order to bolster their own social, economic, and political ambitions. Therefore, by having educational institutions advance the French educational agenda, over other official school systems and languages, they might be trying to reinforce world power dynamics. Dependency Theorists highlight how the formal schooling curriculum and syllabus of many of former colonies reflect the needs and priorities of their colonial counterparts.
On a similar note, the Ventures Africa article has claimed that use of “language is at the heart of the protest.” The Ventures Africa article highlights how the Cameroonian Teacher & Trade Union (CATTU) has declared sitting strike to show their solidarity with the ongoing protest. Yet, unlike the BBC video, the author of Ventures Africa makes an important claim that this protest could escalate to a full-fledged civil war. The author therefore suggests that the question of language as a language of instruction is rooted in a much deeper understanding of what language encapsulates – culture, history, and most importantly, control. Here, the article touches on how this issue could instigate a cascade of violence as these two almost autonomous segments of society collide over who should maintain this control over language.
The protest has shed light on the vastly different societies that were artificially tied together during the process of colonization in Western Africa. Nevertheless, neither of these articles consider whether the spread of English would also be regarded as an imposition by a former colonial power. We must therefore consider whether there a way to unite these two areas of Cameroon without claiming that one language is dominant to another?
Jokate, Olumide. “Colonisation is at the Heart of the Language Protest in Cameroon.” Ventures Africa, 24 November 2016. <https://venturesafrica.com/colonisation-is-at-the-heart-of-the-language-protest-in-cameroon/> Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.
“Bamenda Protests: Mass Arrests in Cameroon.” BBC News, 23 November 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38078238> Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.