The Minister of Education of the Republic of Ghana, Naana Opoku Agyemang, has stated that “Ghana will very soon change the use of English as a medium of instruction in school.”
Her resolve to uproot a pervasive and unrelenting vestige of British Colonial Occupation of Ghana, from 1909 to 1957, has come under immense scrutiny from policy makers in Ghana and around the world.
Pundits who challenge the policy initiative cite several reasons, none of which hold any substance when held up to the Sun.
Some social science gurus have imploded alluding to the lack of and the “absence of textbooks in chemistry, physics, biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics, in any of the Ghanaian local languages for such a decision to be plausible.” They claim, “It is impossible for Ghanaians to return to using their own languages in the basic education of their own children.”
They passionately even abuse those who point to Scandinavia, as an example, in the effort to assert their disbelief that the local languages of Ghana can in fact be used for instruction at the basic level: “I should think Scandinavians have books in their local languages. How would you say pathologist in Twi, Hausa, etc.?”
Even more, others have intimated that Ghanaian languages used in schools “will turn out to be the final nail in the coffin of Ghanaian languages that will finally establish Twi as the official language of Ghana.”
More yet, those who have even become dreadful of Twi becoming the proverbial lingua franca, plead in adoring terms, that it is “much better to leave things as they are. Ghana can’t afford to get into this sort of quagmire at the present time!”
To flesh out the arguments against the use of native languages for basic instruction in schools, one needs to carefully examine the pattern together with the historical narratives at the roots of the sentimentalities.
The arguments are three in nature.
The first is a matter of logistics. How do we implement, say Ewe, as a medium of instruction in basic schools across the Volta Region? How much would it cost the tax payer?
The second set of arguments are of the tribal kind. These analysts who are fearful of Twi – perhaps for good historical reasons, insinuate that the use of Ghanaian languages, including of course, Ga, Twi and Ewe, would somehow bring about the demise, even extinction of all Ghanaians languages, except Twi.
The third set of arguments rest on something more profound. How would the use of Ghanaian languages actually benefit Ghanaians in ways that English has not?
Taken one by one, the argument of implementation is an age old squabble. It is often used as a segway to derailing efforts to bring about constructive change. Any given social paradigm of discussion lends itself to this sort of political row and it posits to redirect national institutions away from the function of bringing about profits for posterity. There is no golden canon that can substantiate this line of refutation as any candid look at any given problem. At best this is a confutation that refuses to look at the matter in question. At worst, it is an unnecessary argument that can be made before the subject matter of any discussion is even clear to debaters.
The question of implementation belongs solely then to the realm of effort alone, or the ‘Will of Government’ than in any real attempt at arriving at a practical conclusion in policy making debates. It would be no use to discuss its merits, if any, in this regard except discard it into the doldrums of the bottomless abyss of sheer nonsensical vituperation, especially since Dr. Kwame Nkrumah successfully implemented the use of Ghanaian languages as early as the 1950s before the premature overthrow of his government by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – a clear indication Nkrumah was committed to a progressive African cause.
The fear of Twi on the other hand, is an age old historical reality. One must understand how the nation that is today Ghana, came to be bound by such a pregnant peripheral non-matter. The primacy of the old Kingdom of Asante in this discussion should not be overemphasized however. But often, the fear of Twi stems more from the tribal history of old Asante incursions or invasions into other states located within the proximity of the West African sub-region, than any warranted suspicion. Most notably, Asantes had been at war with the Fantes, the Gas and the Ewes even before the arrival of Europeans on the Gold Coast.
That much is no news.
Hence the fear of Twi becoming the dominant language is a historical narrative rooted in the fear of a large and beckoning Asante hegemony. Some pundits have retorted that “English is ENGLISH,” in the proverbial sense that it serves as the buffer to prevent an overarching Asante regime, from Kumasi, from overreaching and dominating the rest of the country. They hope that this buffer, “from this point of view, at least, is culture-neutral, so to speak.”
Some are even more muscular in their assertions iterating in warlike terms: “I have heard Twi averred to just too many times by Asantes as our ‘National Language’, as if no others mattered.”
These proclivities, no matter their lack of nuance, are directed in ways that not only miss the content of the debate at hand, but equally stoke the sense that “an Asante Army is at the gates.” The implications are nonetheless, clear.
Ghana’s immediate past is the historical context: the Asante chant – ya te yen hu – led by sycophants in Dr. K. A. Busia, and his ignorant ilk, against the Nkrumah Regime, is a constant reminder of an Asante that likes to see herself as the most dominant ethnicity in Ghana.
That is categorically false. It was wrong during Nkrumah’s time as it had always been unenlightened in the context of the Gold Coast and West Africa, and it is still yet oblivious now. Asante is not a nation capable of standing on her own if she tried. And the Republic of Ghana is better off with the state of Asante in it than without. These are the realities that do not escape the knowledge of any intellectual in Asanteman or Ghana.
Obviously, that fear is heavily lodged within the whims and caprices of those who do not believe in the intellectual evolution of our Ghanaian languages. Therefore, the fear must be allayed for the sake of Ghana, and for the sake of Asanteman as well.
We have to still confront the undercurrent of rife and distrust in our godly attempt to make Ghana into the strong republic that she needs to be. There should be an irrevocable need for government and policy makers to layout the fears of their electorates in such a way that affords the country the opportunity to confront them in real terms.
It will suffice to give but a few instances.
The Ewes of Ghana, for example, who hitherto were a part, directly or indirectly, of the Warrior Kingdom of Dahomey, may have a problem with their children eventually having to learn to read and write some Twi – that is, should Twi, say in a 100 years, come to be regarded as the lingua franca of Ghana. No matter Ghana, as a composite, may not even be around in a thousand years – nor Twi.
The same is true of the descendants of the traditional States of the Fantes and Gas. They, likewise may express some level of distaste for the proverbial Twi lingua franca that continues to be bounced around in fear. If we were to assume that the Gas still harbor some of the hard feelings about their wars some 100 years ago with the Asantes, then it is unimaginable not to assume that, even more, they harbor discontent for the poverty inherent in the neo-colonial occupations of imperialism in Ga Mashie today.
For this reason, the idea that Twi might become, or not, the lingua franca of Ghana must not only be put in its rightful perspective, it must be completely understood.
First, Twi is not a language over which only the Asantes hold sway. Far from it. The Akuapem and the Akyems, who on more historical occasions than not, have sided with the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Ga State in wars against the Asantes, also speak Twi. The Denkyira, like the Fantes, have historically not been particularly enamored by the Asantes.
Second, the sense that Twi would somehow come to replace Ga and Ewe in their respective localities is as much a fraudulent quarrel as it is a purely tribalistic wrangle. Even if Twi were to come to replace all Ghanaian languages, which will not happen in any foreseeable rendition of the future, what argument is there to make for an English language, which is not native to any part of West Africa, but is now fast wiping out almost all languages in Ghana, including Ga?
English does not only wipe out Ghanaian languages, it destines the very essence of Ghanaian culture and traditions to the unfathomable depth of extinction.
The way to save any language, including Ewe or Twi, from dying out, should rather result in the concerted effort to begin a wider augmentation of their scopes and their intellectualism. The continued writing and teaching of Ga, for example, in more expansive subjects – physics, chemistry, social science, vocational skills, basic technical skills – will only help Ga flourish, not kill it. Maintaining the parochial use of Ewe, only unto Ewe alone as a language to be exclusively studied as literature at the basic school level, however, will be that final nail in the coffin for Ewe.
On this note alone, it will be sufficient to recount some Ewe history for some effect on the different perspectives that are submitted in these kinds of discussion.
The first Europeans who arrived on the Ewe coast to trade were not received with the kind of open arms that we tend to welcome the English and the English language today. Ewes of yesteryear insisted on trading with their German counterparts in Ewe and Ewe alone. That forced the Germans to learn to read and write Ewe, which invariably benefited the Ewe language herself – quite ironically. Ewe, long before Twi or Ga or Hausa, became a widely written and studied language on the West African coast.
The same cannot be said of the state of the Ewe language as a business language today. Nor can we look at Ewes today and candidly see their renowned and fearless ancestors shine through. For how exactly should Ewe children learn to play and dance Atsiagbekor in English? But that is where we are headed.
Much worse, maintaining the use of the English language in Ghana, especially at these basic school levels, is the kind of neo-colonial occupation and imperialism that is destined to wipe out Twi, Ga and Ewe, and even threaten the future of the State of Ghana herself.
For this matter, folks are more pragmatic if they were in fear of English, not Twi; for after all, which one is responsible for the bane of Africa’s continued dance with lethargic poverty and the inequality that has gripped Africa since the coming of Europeans? The fear of Twi – that proverbial undertaker of Ghanaian languages – and the lack of a wider understanding of what is at stake in building a more Ghanaian, a more African and a more formidable educational system, is only a fanciful jadedness at best, and at worst, underscores the brutish willingness of naysayers in Ghana who do not believe that our republic also has a right to dominate world Geo-politics, let alone partake in fashioning out a new constructive direction of the future for a safer, brighter and a more egalitarian world.
Tribalism in Ghana may be rife, and the country can indulge herself in the fear of Twi all she wants, but the forces of neo-colonialism in Africa and the onset of the new age of Financial Capitalism, Capital Imperialism and Material Gluttony are even more powerful and more real. This is what deserves the Ghanaian attention more, in order to curtail and eliminate its ever-reaching tentacles.
The racism inherent in the policies of globalization by western disciples will go unrecognized in Ghana, and Africa for that matter, if folks continue to be stooped in awe of Britain, its language and its tiny queen mother.
The continued use of English as a medium of instruction, especially in our basic schools for our African children – not Britain’s – will not be the way to save Ga, Ewe or Twi. Only Ewe, Twi, Ga, Dagbani, Hausa and for that matter the institutionalization of these languages within the corridors of the elite will save them.
Come to think of it, people who use the fear of Twi, as a caveat to indulging in a neo-colonial mentality are not really in fear of Twi.
A poll conducted by the Civic Center of Accra in Ga Mashie showed that if Hausa, which has no ethnic factions that are native to Ghana, were to be used as a lingua franca, it would equally be opposed. The fact is, these folks are not afraid that Twi might eventually become the so-called lingua franca of Ghana, no – they are in love with English.
It is not that English, as they would claim, is a buffer for restoring The Peace in Ghana. No, it maintains their privilege in Ghanaian society as it is, in the same way as it preserved privilege to a past minority of the Ghanaian few, like the members of the United Gold Coast for the Colonialists (the UGCC – namely, Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, Edward Akufo-Addo, J. B. Danquah, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, and William Ofori Atta).
What is worse than losing this privilege?
Naana Opoku Agyemang is not only right, she is, like Yaa Asantewaa before her, garnishing the cooperation of all Ghanaians to ‘fight the British on the coast’ today: “Ghana is for us, not for England.” No matter the English are absolutely not interested in saving any Ghanaian language. The West’s only interests rest exclusively in finding the easiest ways to continue in the seeming perpetual exploitation of Ghana.
The minister, who has been part of the Shared Prosperity Forum in Ghana, indicated in strong terms that she is determined to push through the language policy at the highest level so that basic school African children can be thought in their mother tongues.
Naana Opoku Agyemang is on the right side of history. She might be resonating with a fledgling youth who are significantly in favor of a progressive language policy in Ghana, but she is not disillusioned about who she is and where she comes from. Elderly Ghanaians, according to the Civic Center of Accra Polls, seem to be significantly opposed to the reality, but they are by and large, history – they are incapable of comprehending the nuances of the proposition nor the future the young seeks. Ghana is not here for them to inherit – the youth are here to make Ghana into what they want it to be.
And that is more the truth than the backward attempt at invoking tribal sentiments.
Furthermore, the conscious attempt to paint Ghanaian languages as if they were at war with themselves is patently an ancient colonial act. The Asantes have influenced Dahomey, the Fantes and the Gas and so on, just as much as they have been influenced by these states in turn.
To mention but a few, even the Ga have adopted certain characteristics of Akan Chieftaincy. The speech mode of drumming associated with the Ga court is invariably Twi. The horn language of Ga Chiefs now, with a few exceptions, is mostly Twi. For example, the horn of the Akamanje Mantse sounds like this: “Onipa nni aye; Onipa nni aye, Onipa to nsu mu a ma onko, Aboa to nsu mu a yino kodi.”
How do we position ourselves to teach the future generation of Gas these drum languages?
This is not a case for that proverbial Twi that has curiously become the reason we cannot build a united Ghana. Customarily, the Gas have also cross pollinated Akan cultures to significant proportions that time would not allow for much detailing in a single article. In the same way, Ewes, through Okomfo Anokye himself (from Notsier in Dahomey) became the chief priest of the Asante Kingdom. Without him, there would have been no Asante Kingdom.
The history of the people of West Africa has, as of yet, been told predominantly by colonialists and others who, for want of recognition, toot the colonial rhetoric. They have done a great job in pitching the Asantes against the Ewe, the Ewe against the Akan, and the Fante against the Ga, and vice versa.
However, the more significant parts of our unity as Ghanaians can equally be told through and through our collaborations – especially the ones that gathered folks to fight and send the British colonial forces back home from whence they came – Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey. We are, in essence not very different people. In fact, we share the same protolanguage as much as we are not so distant cousins.
Lastly, it can be shown, that the use of Ghanaian languages for the instruction of our Ghanaian children will be more beneficial to our educational institutions and the returns of investment by the Ghanaian tax payer.
Throughout Europe, for instance, as early as the decline of the Roman Empire, most European tribes sought rather to translate all scholarly works into their mother tongues and teach their children in their local languages. There are many instances where men were beheaded by their own governments for writing and teaching religion and science in local languages and not Latin.
Africa herself should serve the supreme example for our edification. We have to learn from our distant past when we have to. The greatest civilizations that the world has ever seen, Nubia and Kemet, some 7,000 years ago, both instructed their children in their mother tongues – not some foreign language that was alien to the way of thinking and invention of the people. Yet, singlehandedly Nubia and Kemet brought what we have come to know as Civilization to the entire world. They brought us Science, Religion and Philosophy. What greater example can Ghana lean on?
Hence this vehement vituperation against the use of the mother tongues in the instruction of our own children, must be viewed from the standpoint of ignorance more so than a sincere attempt at helping keep The Peace. Since the fall of England, we have been involved in this debate with people who are only sure of bursting into tribal rhetoric at no honest effort to contribute to the matter in constructive terms.
The goal has not changed for most Ghanaians who feel the use of our mother tongues especially at the basic level should rigorously be pursued. The likes of the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Danes, and even the English who were able to accomplish reading and writing in their own languages after Latin had occupied that space for many centuries, should rather be an example. We don’t need to adopt their languages.
The Ewes, the Asantes, the Fantes and the Gas are also just as capable of using their mother tongues as the mediums of instruction in schools, at least at the basic school level, even though we might still live in a world where English continues to be a business language.
It is safe to argue, from a rigorous social science perspective that until Europeans had learned to read and write in their local languages; that until they could perform all the duties of a Human Being in their local languages, Europe never took off as a viable and significant economic, scientific and political region in the world.
For even after Europe’s so-called ‘Dark ages’, when they later had to learn science and literature from the Arabs of North Africa, Europe did not force her children to learn to read and write in Arabic neither; No – they maintained their local tongues as the mediums of instruction in their schools and institutions.
So, why should we?
If Ghana cannot do it, if Ghanaians are not prepared to do it, then there is no future for Ghana. For sure! If Ghanaians cannot do what other men have done, what other nations have done, what other races have done, then Ghana will always remain, physically and philosophically, the colony that she is to the West.
Still yet, if this question may be asked: what is the soul of the nation of Ghana? What should we continue to tell our children about the identity of our nation? That she was only colonized? That we couldn’t wean ourselves off the colonial vestige that is English? That we refuse to return to our cultures, our traditions, our customs and our rituals in all their beauty and even ugliness?
Are we really going to continue telling the next generation, and the one after that, that Ghana had no brave men and women since Yaa Asantewaa, since the Warrior Women of Dahomey, since the Ga Wulomei and since Kwame Nkrumah?
Let’s remember that we have more in common than the imperialists make us believe. You just have to take a look around to notice. So, come on. Abandon the English language. It is not who we are.