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Opinions of Sunday, 24 April 2011

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Acheampong Revisited

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

At the closing ceremony of a two-week capacity-building course for selected police personnel recently, Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of Human-Resource Development Mahama Hamidu, urged the need for service “personnel to include French as a second spoken and written language in the discharge of their duties” (See “Police Personnel Must Learn French” Chronicle 4/8/11).
Actually while, indeed, the English language is Ghana’s official medium of expression, both orally and literarily, nonetheless, properly speaking, English is our second language, after such primary languages as Akan, Ga, Dagbani and Ewe. Thus picking up French will imply the acquisition of at least a third language for many Ghanaians. Of course, for quite a remarkable percentage of Ghanaians, adding French to their arsenal of spoken, and even written, languages may mean the acquisition of even a third, fourth or even a fifth language.
What must be promptly emphasized here is the fact that the acquisition of a multiplicity of languages can only mean the phenomenal cultural and intellectual enrichment, as well as the rhetorical and even political empowerment, of the citizen so proactively engaged. And so, really, one cannot but unreservedly concur with Alhaji Mahama Hamidu’s call for the members of our law-enforcement agencies to acquire a working knowledge of the French language, particularly in view of the fact that all the three immediate neighbors of our country are officially classified as “Francophone.” Furthermore, Ghana’s very implication in the ECOWAS alliance necessitates the passable acquisition of the French language for both cross-national and cross-cultural communication.
And on the preceding score must be highlighted the fact that the first significant call for Ghanaians to remarkably master the French language came from the late Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong in the heady wake of the founding of the Economic Community of West African States in the early 1970s. Back then, also, as a practical means of forging cross-cultural amity, Mr. Acheampong exhorted Ghanaians to learn at least one other indigenous language in addition to their own. The overthrow of the Supreme Military Council (SMC I) in 1978 in a palace coup, led by Gen. F. W. K. Akuffo, seems to have scuttled this otherwise salutary agenda of the latter’s predecessor. This is not, however, in anyway to imply that even the kind of “benign dictatorship” spearheaded by Gen. Acheampong had any intrinsically redeeming features about the same; for to tell the reader the unalloyed truth, it did not.
At any rate, what motivated this writing is the need to also highlight the fact that materially speaking, the development of the English language as Ghana’s official medium of discourse leaves much to be desired. What is more while, indeed, language acquisition enriches the subject of such acquisition, nonetheless, it also economically empowers the erstwhile colonial powers who imposed these European languages on their former African subjects, by creating jobs overseas for the citizens and native speakers of the respective colonially imposed languages.
What the foregoing implies is that there is a great and imperative need for the so-called metropolitan countries of the West to massively support the development of these European administrative/political languages in the former colonial spheres of influence. In other words, African countries interested in the acquisition of European languages other than those of their former colonial overlords, ought to be accorded the same material assistance almost as if these postcolonial polities were an integral part of these erstwhile metropolitan countries themselves, rather than the sort of marginal and near-afterthought policy approach hitherto pursued by the latter, almost as if they were about a charitable cause. In the era of globalization, it hardly amounts to sheer importunity for Third-World countries about the mutually beneficial agenda of European cultural expansion to be materially afforded the maximum boost possible.
Ultimately, though, what ought to be foregrounded is a comprehensive language development agenda that accounts for all languages, both indigenous and foreign, as a means of forging a critical cross-cultural amity and discursive empowerment. The need for a consensual recognition and acceptance of an indigenous national language cannot also be overemphasized, if only to signal the outside world about the high premium of respect and dignity which we place on our collective national destiny. For self-respect, it has been observed, invariably, breeds its own kind.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author, most recently, of “The Obama Serenades” (Lulu.com, 2011). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net.
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