Mr Jawara, I really appreciate your thoughtful and brilliant piece on the importance of maintaining our local languages. We should embrace and encourage speaking our local languages. The backwardness of Africans is lack of common language which can be used as a medium for communication. Looking at West Africa, there are two major distinct languages — Mandinka and Fula — that are spoken in many countries. In the case of The Gambia, Mandinka language should have been developed long since as the national language since the majority of indigenous citizens are Mandinkas. This does not mean we dump all other local languages. All of them should be preserved.
Having a national identity in the form of language will be single most effective way to unite our diverse people, enhance better communication and greater understanding which would encourage better economic development and democratisation process. A national identity language builds national cohesion, eliminates tribalism in our politics and gives us the sense of empowerment.
English is a colonial language that had been imposed on Gambians mainly to allow the British colonial master to infiltrate us, entrenched his political, economic and cultural hegemony. Since we have allowed the outsiders to impose their cultural identity and values on us, why can’t we recognize one of our own languages as a national identity language to replace colonial language. This should be the vision of our 21st century political leaderships. I know the narrow-minded souls will frown on this idea. I refer them to revisit the history of many Europe where every country has her own national identity language. Each of them recognized one major language as a medium for communication. Since the majority of Gambian people speak Mandinka language, it would be best communication strategy to develop this language as a national identity language. Other African countries should also do similar thing to develop a major local language as a national identity language. For example, since majority of citizenry in Guinea Conakry (about 40%) speak Fula, the country must not hesitate to use the language as a tool of unification.
Development of one local language as a national identity language in each country is the first step towards national and regional integration that promotes trade, social cohesion, better economic development, cooperation as well as improve better security for all. We must remember that our African conflicts all derived from tribal and language differences. Therefore, the development of national identity language is the single most conflict prevention strategy geared towards promoting common interest, prosperity and guaranteed security. After developing a national identity language in each country, the next step will be to identify one language that is common in many of our people countries. Once we identify this common language, we can develop it as a regional language for political, economic and institutional communication purposes. As we embark on identifying a common language, it behooves on us to preserve all our local languages. Where possible we should integrate these languages in our education system.
Africa’s renaissance can be realized through political, economic and cultural advancement only when Africans promote their own languages. I am sick and tired of seeing people who continue to belittle themselves through their ignorance and to dismiss their own heritage or culture. We must love ourselves which can only be done if we show people who we are through the art of speaking our languages and expression of our cultures. It is time for Africans, especially Gambians to promote themselves through their languages. The development of our national identity language will be right step in the right direction for our advancement and civilisation.