Ghana’s president wants to make French a formal language, but it’s not a popular plan

Ghana was one of the first British colonies in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence in 1957 and as such has had strong ties to the English language as a modern country for over a hundred years. Most Ghanaians who’ve been through some level of formal education learn to speak English alongside their regional language.

But since coming to office in 2017, Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo has been pushing for Ghanaians to also learn French and one day make it the country’s official second language.

To outsiders, the president might seem like an unlikely champion for Gallic influences; after all he is known for his unplaceable English accent; he descends from a Ghanaian political aristocracy with long ties to Britain and was partly educated in England from a young age.  

But Akufo-Addo also speaks French fluently, learned when he lived in Paris in the 1970s, and is always happy to flaunt his language skills given the chance. 

The president has announced plans to make French a compulsory subject for high school students and in a 2018 speech (given entirely in French), he told colleagues at La Francophonie Summit, “our goal is to live, one day, in a bilingual Ghana, that is English and French, together with our own indigenous languages.”

“The promotion of the French language is a major education priority,” foreign affairs minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway said last month. French is expected to feature prominently when details of Ghana’s new basic school curriculum are announced in the coming weeks.

Akufo-Addo’s support for French comes as France’s president Emmanuel Macron is also making a soft power push to raise the status of French across Africa, starting with former French colonies.

“As France represents only a fraction of the active French speakers, the country knows the fate of French language is not its burden alone to carry,” Macron said in March 2018 as he launched a bold new ambition to increase the number of speakers of the language of Molière. That speech in Paris predated an earlier one in Burkina Fasowhere he pleaded with students not to ditch French for English and urged them to help make French “the number one language in Africa and maybe even the world.”

Thanks to Africa’s youth, French is now the fifth most-spoken language in the world and by 2050, 80% of the projected 700 millionFrench speakers will be in Africa.

While there is no denying the push for French in Ghana has a lot to do with the president’s personal affinity for the language translating into national policy, there is a good case to be made for increasing the number of Ghanaians who can speak French.

Read more on QUARTZ AFRICA

Send by Edouard Bustin

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