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12.03.2005 Feature Article

National Language: The Debate Goes On

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Thanks for the many responses on the above subject. Since I cannot reply to all individually, I shall bundle some of the arguments and continue with the discussion.

The reactions were interesting. Amusingly, some people made me more important than I actually am, seeing in me the representative of an Akan plot to dominate the country!

Some found me arrogant and snobbish for speaking my mind. Some did not actually comment on my text but chose to rather hurl insults on me for daring to advocate any change at all in life. Going by the insults alone, I should have dropped dead by now but I shall not do these people that favour. Shame to them for not standing up to the challenge. Still, I accept their democratic right to tell me how they feel.

What is apparent, most Ghanaians find it difficult to accept truths. That about 60% of our population speaks Twi is a pain. That about 50% of the rest speaks or understands Akan is a pain. That a majority of Ghanaians either don't speak English at all or do not command it well is another pain. That this problem has to be addressed if we are to move forward is a pain. That a lot of our countrymen do really have an inferiority complex is a pain. So how do we go about solving the problem which will simply not disappear by just ignoring it? I am a bit disappointed though. Many of those opposing just wrote to say Ghana is so good that nothing should be changed. In fact, they are against any change. No reasons, no arguments. Only the fear that it could bring problems. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda are cited as warnings, as if these places were comparable with our free Ghana, where ragme ragme zo is understood from Asampaneye to Walewale! Is fear the proper approach to development? I find there is a lot of dishonesty on the subject. Some of those accusing me of wanting to impose Twi on Ghana rather advocated things like Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, Arabic, just so that it won't be Twi. How foolish and how pitiable! What they forget, all the cited languages have had to be developed to the stage they are now. Tanzania's example shows this clearly. Believe me, what our brothers and sisters there can do we can do, too. What we in Ghana need is an overall consensus which must be the essential vehicle for further agitation. Whoever now talks of imposition is simply a liar, because that is the only thing that has never taken place in Ghana. Akan-language popularity is a normal evolutionary process nobody or government to date has regulated or manipulated. Therefore this “anything is better than Twi” attitude should be seen as what it is: an attempt to ignore reality. Those in that camp should know that their personal refusal to speak Twi will not stop its popularity. They should withdraw from the debate, because they haven't understood what it is all about. Fact is, there is no monolithic Akan bloc scheming some diabolical plan. The feared Akan hegemony is a mirage or at best a scarecrow that is invoked to keep an unacceptable status quo that serves nobody. Ghana would not have been such a peaceful country, if this supposed dominance were a real imposition. JJ Rawlings' wife is a bona fide Ashanti, Busia's Naa Morkor a proper Ga woman. Thousands of ordinary Ghanaians (like myself) have crossed those ethnic barriers our detractors want to see perpetuated. And don't forget. On this topic there are enough Akans who are also against the idea. No use then playing Akans against non-Akans. Few people seemed to have noticed that I even suggested English and Twi as parallel official languages, so that nobody must go to prison for non-compliance. By Jove, if a Kusasi abhors Twi or fears Akan hegemony, all he or she does is to continue speaking Kusasi with or no English, as before. But think about it. There is always a tendency to uphold minority rights. Fine enough. However, majorities also have rights that must be respected. So if nothing at all, why not a concession for the Akan millions who don't or can't speak Borofo?

I have traveled the length and breadth of Ghana speaking Twi and have been understood without much difficulty almost everywhere. On those travels, I came to realize that we have come very far as a people. Is that not fine? Whoever does not want to acknowledge that but would rather emphasize what divides us, is a modern day Don Quixote fighting against imaginary windmills. These Ghanaians should step aside and let those of us pass who want a better, self-confident country.

What I stand for is a country using her resources well but not fearing once to do what is right. That makes the difference between people of the right stuff and those who are forever blaming somebody else for their woes. Since nobody will solve our problems for us, we need to continue that evolution that will lead us to a change truly positive. Difficulties there may be but nothing that cannot be ironed out by a people united.

Twi, the language of the Akans, deserves to be declared Ghana's national language. As I pointed out, countries with far less prerequisites have successfully done it: Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. Acknowledging this fact should not be regarded as an insult to our other folks. All neutral experts who delve in developmental affairs demand a national language other than or in addition to English. Why? Because the present situation is unacceptable, if literacy campaigns are going to be effective, if a greater part of our people are going to be involved in our quest for more democracy. Can anybody tell me why our illiterate mothers and fathers must first learn a foreign language before reading and understanding what is written or said? Is it not absurd that our Presidents speak to us first in a strange tongue, that we write letters to our parents and relatives in a foreign language? Is it really not absurd that among the first things we discard is our language when we go abroad? Is it not pitiful to watch those Ghanaians who proudly sport the fact that their foreign-born children do not speak our languages?

By the way, my advocacy for Twi has nothing to do with my own person. My English is excellent and I have no problem using it. Neither do I have anything against the English language per se, since it carries me comfortably around the world. In fact, I am not even concerned with those of us who speak English. I am pleading for an alternative for all those of our countrymen and women who don't speak English but have a good command of Twi. This applies to millions of non-Akans also. Therefore, when I said I am debating this for Ghana's unity, it was not a paradox. Millions of our countrymen, non-Akans, have a good command of Twi in some form but lack any knowledge of English. Why not give these people a chance with an alternative that really cuts across ethnic lines? Wouldn't it be sensible if all Ghanaians found a common platform to communicate, instead of telling them to speak English or fuck off, as we do today?

Before I end today's debate, let me end the confusion on my identity, which did not come out well the last time. I, Yamfo Sakyim from the Western Region, studied in Ghana, am a teacher by profession and have lived and worked in many foreign countries for decades, always remaining Ghanaian. My wife is from Leklebi Agbesia, I love highlife, my favourite food is Tuozafi, and am equally comfortable with Yor ke Gari, Akple or Banku with Tilapia. I proudly wear kente and sport the fugu in my leisure time. Curse me for my bad Ewe if you like, my wife does anyway. But I speak and understand more than Twi. And I believe that Africa must unite (but not by speaking Swahili necessarily). It is really a pity, I find, that Africa's intellectuals mostly decide against their own folks and mostly prefer to tow ready made solutions provided by aliens whenever they have to make a choice. Talking about the educated African, this is what Kwame Nkrumah had to say in his book Consciencism: “…the degree of national consciousness attained by him was not of such an order as to permit his full grasp of the laws of historical development or of the thorough-going nature of the struggle to be waged, if national independence was to be won…. the vast numbers of ordinary Africans… animated by a lively national consciousness, sought knowledge as an instrument of national emancipation and integrity. This is not to say these Africans overlooked the purely cultural value of their studies. But in order that their cultural acquisition should be valuable, they needed to be capable of appreciating it as free men“. I am one of this number. And I will be back with more.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Yamfo Sakyim
Yamfo Sakyim, © 2005

The author has 5 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: YamfoSakyim

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