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EDITORS: Daniel Ochieng Orwenjo; John Obiero Ogone TITLE: Language and Politics in Africa SUBTITLE: Contemporary Issues and Critical Perspectives PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing YEAR: 2010
Adnan Ajsic, English Department, Northern Arizona University
''Language and politics in Africa: Contemporary issues and critical perspectives'' is a collection of empirical, theoretical, and policy papers which document the state of affairs in the interplay between language and politics across the continent today. The papers in the volume are organized into two broad thematic sections: Part One comprises nine papers dealing with the language of politics in Africa, while Part Two offers seven papers discussing the politics of language in Africa. The contributions, edited by Daniel Ochieng Orwenjo and John Obiero Ogone of Kenyatta and Maseno Universities, respectively, offer a variety of perspectives on ''the complex twin relationship between language and politics'' (p. x) in contemporary Africa, ranging from Jairos Kangira's analysis of four funeral speeches by Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe to Theo du Plessis' discussion of the repercussions for language policy of language visibility in the changing linguistic landscape of post-apartheid South Africa.
In her foreword, Olive Mugenda, Vice-Chancellor of Kenyatta University, acknowledges the centrality of language to the African political process and places the university support in the publication of this book in the context of long-term development plans both for Kenyatta University itself and the country of Kenya. In particular, she notes the international character of the collaboration and its compatibility with ''the institutional aspirations of Kenyatta University'' (p. xii), i.e. an internationalization of the local scholarly endeavors, which goes some way towards the provision of an otherwise lacking rationale for this collection of papers.
In the opening article entitled '''Brown is saying nonsensical things, much more idiotic than Blair': An analysis of hate language in political discourse used in Zimbabwe,'' Rewai Makamani uses critical discourse analysis (CDA) to examine the rhetorical manipulations by the Mugabe regime during the 2008 election campaign. The article includes an extensive analysis of the political context which gave rise to the discourse under consideration. Makamani concludes that hate language, mainly directed at Western leaders and the Zimbabwean opposition, was merely a device in the Mugabe regime's extensive rhetorical repertoire which was used in this election campaign as a smoke screen for the regime's attempt to thwart a successful challenge by the opposition by any means necessary.
''Mugabe's graveside orations: Collective memory and nostalgia'' by Jairos Kangira continues the theme of the use of rhetoric in the Zimbabwean political discourse by analyzing the speeches given by President Mugabe at the state funerals for four government and ruling party (ZANU PF) officials in 2001. Kangira's rhetorical analysis of the speeches focuses on Mugabe's recreation of the collective memory of the anti-colonial struggle and the evocation of political nostalgia as ways to reframe the political debate and ''restore his political image ahead of the 2002 presidential election'' (p. 26). It is concluded that Mugabe successfully appropriated the rhetorical context of the burials to deflect criticism from the opposition and recast himself and his party as the only reliable political option for Zimbabwe.
Editor Daniel Ochieng Orwenjo's own contribution, ''Of shifting goal-posts and scoring own goals: Patterns of metaphorical language use in Kenya's political discourse,'' shifts the focus of analysis to metaphor and the Kenyan national political campaigns of 2005 and 2007. Orwenjo employs corpus analysis to calculate ''metaphor power indices'' (p. 69) and show that the use of metaphor in political discourse serves as a device for the manipulation of electorate's emotions; intensifies during campaigns and crises; and can have undesired non-linguistic consequences such as violence.
The fourth article, ''Turning to indigenous languages for increased citizen participation in politics and the African development process'' by Sangai Mohochi, deals with the essence of language policy in post-independence African states: the choice of language(s) for nation-building and development. Mohochi rightly argues that the continuing reliance on ex-colonial European languages prevents the majority of the electorate from participating in the political process, and has detrimental effects on development in general, proposing as a solution a greater reliance on autochthonous African languages, and those spoken across ethnic lines in particular. Although this argument is not new and has received more attention than Mohochi seems to imply, this is a useful overview of the issue, which would have been further strengthened by the inclusion of some standard references in the field (e.g. Djité 2008; Mazrui & Mazrui 1998; Myers-Scotton 1990; Prah & King 1998).
Lilian Lem Atanga, in her article ''Gendered differences in parliamentary talk in Cameroon,'' looks at how language is used by female and male MPs during two parliamentary sessions in 2005. The results confirm the findings of previous research: female MPs are verbally marginalized, speak much less often and take shorter turns, and are generally alone in drawing attention to gender-related issues, both in parliament and in society. Ironically, Atanga's is the only contribution by a female author in this volume which also happens to be the only one to discuss gender-related issues.
In ''Nigerian military coup announcements as political discourse -- a pragmatic analysis,'' Angulu Samson Abaya and Aliyu Mohammed focus on the use of speech acts in two of a total of seven coup announcements made by the Nigerian military between 1966 and 1993. The findings indicate that coup announcements are ''a composite of military and political language'' (p. 179), featuring speech acts typical of both military (e.g. command, threat) and political (e.g. promise) discourse.
Similarly to Makamani's article discussed above, ''Media argumentation in the Kenyan 2007 political elections: Manufacturing of ethnic hate'' by Wendo Nabea examines the role of the media in the production and dissemination of political discourse in an election campaign and its aftermath. Nabea uses CDA to analyze a corpus of 80 texts derived from various media such as radio, TV, text messages, and the Internet. He concludes that the media were largely misused in a political game of demonization of opponents along ethnic lines, which ultimately contributed to the spread of vicious post-election ethnic violence.
Also Richard I. C. Tambulasi's article ''Political discourse and electioneering: Reflections on Malawi's May 2009 elections'' investigates the impact of language, and more specifically, political discourse employed during an election campaign, on elections results. A significant finding here is that Malawi's ethnolinguistic groups, which usually vote along ethnic lines, seem for the first time since 1994 to have broken this pattern. Tambulasi concludes that, compared to the incumbent president Mutharika's, the persuasive power of the opposition parties' political discourse was so weak that it did not even manage to win votes in their own ethnic groups.
The final contribution in Part One, ''Mytho-linguistic construction of Gĩkũyũ cultural identity and political implications for nationalism in multi-cultural Kenya'' by Michael Wainaina, departs from the overarching theme of the section by offering an anthropological analysis of Gĩkũyũ mythology and its potential as a unifying principle in Kenyan national politics. Cognizant of the destructive potential of ethnolinguistic exclusivity, Wainaina seeks to redefine Gĩkũyũ tribal mythology and open it up to other communities in order to create an inclusive cultural space at the national level.
Part Two, as noted, examines the politics of language, and more specifically, various language-related policies in a number of countries across the continent. Etienne Smith's opening contribution, ''The 'informal' politics of linguistic pluralism: The case of Senegal,'' highlights the rather atypical phenomenon of successful development of language policy 'from below', whereby the majority autochthonous language and lingua franca of Senegal, Wolof, has increasingly challenged the hegemony of French as the country's only official language solely due to its popularity among the masses. For Smith, the main reason for this surprising development lies in the popular disengagement from a weakening francophone state, i.e. a shrinking public administration and formal economy, which gave precedence to the informal economy and effectively opened up space for 'Wolofisation'. Interestingly, Smith finds that Wolof is being appropriated by minority linguistic communities such that Wolofisation does not in fact represent a danger to the linguistic pluralism of Senegal, although, paradoxically, this process ultimately depends on the state's insistence on the official status of French as an assertion of its ethnolinguistic neutrality.
In the second article in Part Two, ''Language, ethnic minorities, and radio in South Africa: A human rights approach'', Last Moyo examines the role of radio in the implementation of the constitutional provision warranting linguistic equality for all racial and ethnic groups in South African society. Although the post-apartheid constitution recognizes all of the country's eleven major languages as official and also provides for the protection of minority linguistic communities, the status of most indigenous languages in the media has been limited to symbolic equality as public and commercial broadcasters have catered either to majority communities or lucrative niche markets. According to Moyo, community radio stations, despite increasing financial difficulties due to dwindling donor funds and certain ideological issues, have been an exception as they have sought to provide locally relevant content in the languages of their local communities, offering a platform for non-mainstream political expression and cultural maintenance. The eclectic approach to language-related policies in contemporary Africa in this section continues with Charles O. Ong'ondo and Julius O. Jwan's ''Contemporary issues in language teacher education and their implications on policy in Kenya.'' After presenting an extensive overview of current issues in language teacher education (LTE), Ong'ondo and Jwan turn towards the end of the paper to their own national context, arguing for a sociocultural approach to and the adoption of the reflective model of LTE in Kenya. Arguably, though, the contribution would have been more effective had it devoted more space to the discussion of the implications of LTE in the Kenyan context relative to the general theoretical issues in LTE.
Peter R. Petrucci's ''Debating Angolanidade online: The lingua-politics of claiming authority in discussions of Angolan language policy'' is another contribution which relies on CDA. Based on an innovative methodological approach, Petrucci offers an in-depth analysis of a selection of comments from angonoticias.com, an Angolan news website, posted in response to a series of eighteen articles about a 2004 language-in-education policy, i.e. the inclusion of six national languages in the primary school curriculum in addition to Portuguese. The online debate revolved around the question which language(s) best embodied ‘angolanidade’ (Angolanness), with a majority of participants advocating either the-colonial-turned-official-language Portuguese, or one or more national languages. Petrucci finds that the debate, although subtle, was highly politicized and dominated by ethnolinguistic tensions which derive from the postcolonial Angolan legacy of mistrust and conflict, as well as, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the high-tech contexts of language use (e.g. computer-mediated communication) favor Portuguese over national languages.
Post-apartheid South African language policy has since its formulation received much attention on account of its commitment to multilingualism. However, many scholars now argue that its effects have been mostly symbolic due to a lack of political will for full implementation (e.g. Bamgboṣe 2003; Mesthrie 2008; Orman 2008). In his contribution ''Language visibility as factor in language policy and practice in South Africa,'' Theodorus du Plessis examines the implications of formal policy commitment to multilingualism for the linguistic landscape and the standardization of geographical names in South Africa. The findings, based on an analysis of practice by standardizing and governing bodies such as the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC) and the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), include a trend towards an Africanization of the linguistic landscape in general and geographical names in particular, a reduced visibility of Afrikaans in most domains, as well as a perpetuation of apartheid policy of monolingualism in the public space, especially with respect to public signs.
In ''The national language policy implementation and experience: The case of Kiswahili in the parliament of Kenya,'' James Ogola Onyango continues the theme of language choice in postcolonial African states by focusing on the dilemma between vernacularization and internationalization, and between Kiswahili and English in the case of the Kenyan parliament. Onyango reminds that Kiswahili replaced English as the sole language of parliamentary business by presidential decree, and was used as such between 1974 and 1979. His analysis of the more recent linguistic practices in the parliament, however, shows that English has since largely resumed its previous role and that Kiswahili and English now coexist in a diglossic relationship in which English is the 'high' variety and Kiswahili the 'low'.
The final contribution, ''The development of Kabiye and its status as one of the 'national' languages of Togo'' by David Roberts, presents Kabiye's historical trajectory over the past eighty years, putting special emphasis on its failed imposition (with Ewe) as one of the two national languages of Togo. Roberts' thesis is that the development of Kabiye, especially in its written form, has closely paralleled the sociopolitical developments in the country, whereby the colonial-period migration of its speakers to other parts of the country and the Kabiye ethnic background of the former longtime dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma were among the most important factors. Regrettably, the article includes the wrong references section, which seems to be entirely unrelated to the references actually used in the text.
This volume presents the reader with an eclectic collection of papers that go a long way towards painting an accurate and detailed picture of the main issues in the language of politics and the politics of language in contemporary Africa. Virtually all contributions are richly contextualized and very informative, which makes them particularly suitable for readers looking for an entry point into the subject matter. A variety of disciplinary approaches adds interest to the volume and is certain to appeal to a wide audience in applied linguistics and beyond, while the diversity of the authors' regional backgrounds provides for a solid coverage of and relevance to the different parts of the continent. In addition, the topic treatments are current in terms of both theory and method as well as socially engaged, reflective and adequately critical. Particularly noteworthy, as Vice-Chancellor Mugenda observes in her foreword, is the opportunity this volume offers for the contributing young African scholars.
Although commendable for the effort expended, this volume also exhibits a number of surprising deficiencies and oversights. For example, it is customary for the editors of a collection such as this one to provide a rationale for it in an introductory chapter; Orwenjo and Ogone, however, do not, and thus leave the reader guessing. In a further sign of editorial (and perhaps also publisher's) inattention, most contributions exhibit orthographic and grammatical errors, as well as a cavalier attitude toward academic conventions, while the volume as a whole fails to follow a formatting standard, especially in referencing. The volume would also have profited from a more thoughtful ordering of contributions as some (e.g. Mohochi, pp. 82-123) would fit better in a different section, or else are not grouped together with thematically similar contributions within a section, both of which would have contributed to the clarity of purpose as well as aided understanding. Finally, the difference in quality between individual contributions, at times considerable, results in an uneven presentation which detracts from the overall impression of the volume.
Bamgboṣe, Ayọ 2003. Language and the African renaissance: Lessons from the South African experience. In Ekkehard Wolff (ed.), Tied tongues: The African renaissance as a challenge for language planning, 39-60. Münster: LIT Verlag.
Djité, Paulin G. 2008. The sociolinguistics of development in Africa. Clevedon, Buffalo: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Mazrui, Ali A. & Mazrui, Alamin M. 1998. The power of Babel: Language & governance in African experience. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Mesthrie, Rajend 2008. South Africa: The rocky road to nation building. In Andrew Simpson (ed.), Language & national identity in Africa, 314-388. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Myers-Scotton, Carol 1990. Élite closure as boundary maintenance: The case of Africa. In Brian Weinstein (ed.), Language policy and political development, 25-42. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Orman, Jon 2008. Language policy and nation building in post-apartheid South Africa. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
Prah, Kwesi K. & King, Yvonne (eds.) 1998. In tongues: African languages and the challenges of development. Cape Town: CASAS.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Adnan Ajsic is a PhD student in the Applied Linguistics Program at Northern
Arizona University. Adnan's research interests include issues in language
policy and planning pertaining to polycentric languages, as well as
postcolonial and post-Communist societies, the cultural political economy
of English as a global lingua franca, language and identity in diasporic
contexts, and individual differences in ultimate attainment in adult SLA.