Economic arguments aside; to critically understand the magnitude of colonialism in Africa, one only has to consider the language in which laws – national governing laws – in African countries are written. It is obvious that each African country writes its laws in the language or, where it is more than one, languages it has decided as the official language or languages.
Evidently, and commonly, acceptable official languages in many, if not all, African countries are colonial languages, hence, reflecting their colonial past. National governing laws are, therefore and understandably, written and applied in official languages. Why colonial languages are – and remain – the generally accepted national official languages in many, if not all, African countries is that African countries and their governments maintained the colonial education and administrative systems they inherited from the colonial regime at the time of the so-called (African) ‘independence‘.
What is disturbing, however, is that while national governing laws in many, if not all, African countries are written in national official languages – predominantly colonial languages; a significant majority of ordinary citizens who cannot and do not speak and/or understand such languages, are (often) expected to obey laws written in such languages. They, therefore, have a double burden: their inability to speak and/or understand the language in which the[ir] laws are written; and the inability to understand the law itself.
They are often, unsurprisingly, punished for disobeying and/or breaking the law; yet it is mainly a consequence of their inability to understand the law because it’s written in languages they do not understand. And when they are brought to court, they are tried using laws written in languages they cannot and do not speak and/or understand. They need someone to translate and interpret for/to them, both the law and the language in which it is written and being applied on/against them.
Evidently and the fact of the matter is that African countries and Africans are not and cannot be truly independent if their national governing laws – laws of national governance – are written and applied in their coloniser’s languages. To claim otherwise, is to be blissfully disingenuous to none but oneself; because language is an instrument of power. It’s a tool and medium of communication; and communication is central to power. In which language you communicate; particularly your intentions, objectives and goals, you also inevitably communicate and reveal your strengths and weaknesses.
If African countries have to write their national governing laws in a foreign/colonial language; or indeed, feel the need to translate their national governing laws into foreign/colonial languages, not so much for the benefit of their citizens but largely for the benefit of foreigners; they are far from independent. They are, consciously or not, demonstrating their – and indeed, this is an undeniable form of – dependence.
The French have their laws written and applied in the French language: their national language, spoken and understood, at least, on a basic level, by all French nationals. The British/English have their laws written and applied in the English language: their national language, a language spoken and understood, at least, on a basic level, by every British/English citizen/national. The German law is written and applied in the German language, which is the national language spoken and understood, at least, on a basic level, by every German citizen/national. This is the same across many European countries, perhaps, with the exception of a few. The citizens/nationals may not understand the technicalities of the[ir] national governing laws; but at least they aren’t strangers to the language in which the[ir] laws are written. That makes it much easier to understand the law if (it is) explained and interpreted for/to them than if it had to be translated, at the same time, from another (foreign) language into their language.
If an African head of state/government has or feels the need to give an interview or make a speech/address an audience in a foreign/colonial language than in his/her own (national) language; that in itself is indication of, foremost, underlying social challenges. But most importantly, it indicates that such head of state/government and his/her people aren’t independent. It’s not about trying to accommodate others, that is, foreign audience. That’s false and it’s a silly excuse.
The French president, for instance, speaks (in) French while addressing foreign audience, whether at home or on a foreign mission even if he’s fluent in other languages. The same is true with British Prime Ministers, German Chancellors and Russian presidents and other national leaders speaking to and addressing foreign audiences both at home and on foreign missions. They will have translators translating their speeches for the benefit of those who do no speak and/or understand their languages. This is about power and influence; exerting and demonstrating power and influence. But equally important, it’s about national pride and language is the ultimate medium of expression of national pride.
On the other hand, however, only African so-called ‘leaders‘ speak their colonial languages not only to foreign/colonial audiences while on foreign missions with a sense of pride in their fluency in the colonial languages, mainly to show off to their foreign/colonial audience their mastery of the colonial languages; but also to their own citizens at home even though a significant majority cannot and/or do not understand them. This is largely to create an impression of superiority and therefore remind their citizens of their inferior social status; because usually fluency in colonial languages is synonymous with – and tends to be a measure/an indication of – one’s level of ‘education‘; which, in itself, is a colonial measure. This pathetic colonial mindset has done and continues to do so much social damage in Africa.