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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 October 2015


What has language got to do with poverty?

Failures are always ready to come out with thousands upon thousands of excuses to explain their status. Such people take consolation in slogans such as; “God will provide”, “God’s time is the best” and “Never too late”. This mentality has been amply captured in the saying that the lazy worker always blames his tools.

Achievers never take chances and always inspire themselves with slogans such as “Time is Money”, “A stitch in time saves nine”, “The early bird catches the mice”, “No pain, no gain” and other such slogans.

I found it quite strange, the excuse the Minister of Education, Professor Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang, offered for the endemic poverty that has engulfed much of Africa in general and Ghana in particular -- that Ghanaians were taught in the English Language instead of their mother tongues. That, to her, explained why the educated class had not been able to develop the country.

The Education Minister was making a contribution at the UN-sponsored “Shared Prosperity Forum”, held at the University of Ghana, Legon, last Friday.
I do not know if the minister had factored in her argument, the multiplicity of languages and dialects in a small country like Ghana. What it means by the logic of her argument is that if it is time for language class, the pupils have to be segregated into those studying Ga-Dangme, Ewe, Akan, Dagbaani, Nzema and so on and so forth.

Our classes would not be ready yet. For those in the Ga-Dangme group, they have to be sub-divided into Ga, Krobo, Shai, Ada and many other speakers. The Akan speakers have to be sub-divided into Asante Twi, Akuapem Twi, Fante and other derivatives.

The Ewe group is quite expansive which many people do not know. The Tongus in the southern part of the Volta Region, the Anlos along the coast and the mid-Volta group around Ho, Hohoe, Kpando and Peki all have their distinct dialects that must be catered for, because according to the minister, every pupil must be taught in his/her mother tongue.

Apart from these so-called major language groups, there are many other groups that speak various Guan dialects which are too numerous to be mentioned here. We could see where we are heading to if we are to reason with Professor Opoku Agyemang’s suggestion.

The United States of America (USA), is the richest and most powerful country in the world. It is made up of various nationalities, almost all. Just name them: The English, Irish, Japanese, Spaniards, Chinese, Koreans, Africans, Greeks, Indians, Vietnamese. In fact, it is very difficult not to find any nationality in the US.

This mix pot of different nationalities with a wide range of varied languages has been harmonised and integrated into one mighty unit called Americans through the English Language which is the official and working language and today who can make a case that the US is suffering as a result of this beautiful blend?

We all acknowledge the miracle of Singapore, a backward city-state which has become a thriving financial hub and one of the Asian Tigers with very little natural resources to show for it. Singaporeans are not native English speakers. They are mainly Chinese who are in the majority with the rest of the population being Malays and Indians. English is to them, as it is to us Ghanaians – a colonial legacy. But they made it.

Great nations such as Japan, China, France and Germany, though they may not admit it openly because of national pride, are encouraging their nationals to learn the English Language because of the advantage it holds as the most widely spoken language and the most favourite in business, commerce and diplomacy. Why should we demonise this language for our own failures? Unless we want to say that the evil things we do to ourselves were imparted to us through the English Language.
It is time we confront the truth about our predicament.

Our problem is bad leadership. We have leaders who lack vision, who do not inspire and who are criminally wicked by their corrupt nature. It has nothing to do with lack of resources and the English Language is the last thing that should come to our mind when we are discussing poverty and underdevelopment.

If we want to move out of this stranglehold of poverty, illiteracy, disease and ignorance, nobody should in anyway try to divert our attention from the root cause of these problems. Local languages must not die. But they cannot do what political leadership has failed to do.

When we begin to demand accountability, when we stop perceiving political leaders as benevolent people who dip their hands into their own chests to feed us and when we stop the glorification of people who invade and ransack our coffers for their self-gratification, we will be on the path to eradicating poverty and under-development.