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Review of  English in Africa

Reviewer: Brent Mykel Henderson
Book Title: English in Africa
Book Author: Alamin M. Mazrui
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.1863

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Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 13:09:11 -0500
From: Brent Henderson
Subject: English in Africa: After the Cold War

AUTHOR: Mazrui, Alamin M.
TITLE: English in Africa: After the Cold War
SERIES: Multilingual Matters
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
YEAR: 2004

Brent Henderson, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Mazrui's book is a brief, opinionated essay concerning the
reality of English use in Africa in the context of
globalization and the post-colonial legacy. Assuming a
general background knowledge of colonialism in Africa,
Mazrui explores current trends of English expansion and
contraction in Africa, its impact on the educational
system, and its role in the quest for Pan-African unity and
Afrocentric discourse. The goal of the book is to spark
dialogue about the major issues involved in English use in
Africa in its global context with the hope that progress
can be made toward linguistic liberation.

The Introduction immediately dispels the common and
simplistic notion that forces of globalization are forcing
the spread of English at the direct expense of indigenous
languages. The situation is much more complicated, and
Mazrui believes that the marginalization of indigenous
African languages (and their speakers) cannot be combated
without a proper understanding of the issue involved. At
the center of the situation is Africa's relatively weak
linguistic nationalism as well as Africa's heavy political
and educational dependence on imperial languages. The key
question for Mazrui is whether or not English can be
adopted to carry the weight of the African experience. If
it can, efforts must be made to make it so. If it cannot,
then indigenous African languages must be moved front-and-
center in the dialogue of African issues. Mazrui states up
front that this will be an opinionated essay, 'one way of
seeing, one voice in the stadium of African voices.' (pg

In Chapter 1 Mazrui outlines six changes in the global
political reality precipitated by the end of the Cold War,
relating each to the spread of English as a global

1. The increased Americanization of globalization has been a
stimulus for the global spread of English.
2. The fall of the USSR has increased competition between
the US and European powers, leading to an increase of
English infiltration into Francophone areas of Africa.
3. The decline of the nation state has made it difficult for
a country to impose its ideological will on its people,
including language policy. Regional cooperation between
countries is also increasing, resulting in an expansion
of imperial language (or sometimes indigenous lingua
francas) use.
4. The construction of Islam as the West's 'Other' has
stimulated a return to Arabic movement in Africa. But
because people who speak Arabic are often considered
'ethnically Arab,' and because of English's ecumenical
quality, the movement hasn't been widespread.
5. The spread of pluralistic government encouraged by the US
has led to a spread of English (as the language of
liberation) as well as a refocus on local languages as
'ethno-nationalistic' trends have emerged.
6. IMF and World Bank demands for a decrease in educational
subsidies have made education in Africa a property of the
rich elite. Since the elite know English well, this leads
to further westernization of education in Africa and a
growing rift between a westernized upper class and the

Mazrui's conclusion is that English provides a way for
creating counter-hegemonic discourses, but also deepens
Africa's intellectual dependency on the West. Indeed, this
tension between adopting English as a tool of liberation
and yet not being limited by the use of an imperial
language is the central question of the book and Mazrui
deals with it in a number of contexts.

Chapter 2 explores the history and continued use of
English and indigenous languages in the educational systems
of Africa. Mazrui argues that the domination of English at
the secondary and post-secondary levels has created an
'intellectual dependence' ' both in material and
psychological terms ' on the West, and that this dependency
cannot be separated from linguistic dependency. Because
learning English happens through a formal system of
Western-style education (inherited from the colonial
legacy), one cannot learn English without adopting other
aspects of Western culture as well.

The chapter concludes with Mazrui's (1995) five processes
of decolonization, adapted to become five imperatives for
language and education policy in Africa:

1. Indigenization: indigenous languages must be used more
for instruction.
2. Domestication: English must be Africanized, along with
the Western school system.
3. Diversification: African languages must respond to
stimuli from languages other than just English and
4/5. Horizontal inter-penetration and vertical counter-
penetration: African languages and cultures must
exert greater influence on Western cultures and on each
other. A greater effort in translation would serve this

Part II of the book examines Africa in its global-
historical context, taking into account aspects of the
Diaspora. Mazrui argues that globalization has created a
'global apartheid' that may have created conditions for a
renewed effort of Pan-Africanism. Chapter 2 highlights the
crucial role played by English in facilitating the
beginnings of the Pan-African movement, initiated by
African-Americans whose only language was English. Though
English has divided African-Americans and Africans, it was
also adopted as the 'language of freedom' because the
concepts of justice, freedom, and human rights were part of
its cultural legacy. Mazrui points out, however, that while
imperial languages may help introduce the concepts of
rights, they are also impediments to these rights. The
central tension mentioned above again rears its head: a
balance must be struck between the question for unity among
African peoples and the imperative of social justice
realized by linguistic liberation. Moreover, Mazrui points
out that a true Pan-Africanism cannot be centered on the
common language of English alone, but must include
Francophone and Lusophone peoples as well as those in the
Caribbean and Arab nations.

Mazrui argues that while English can be useful to
create counter-hegemonic discourse, it can only be
reactionary since it remains an imperial language. A wholly
independent African perspective, he claims, must be
accomplished through the use of indigenous languages. Given
the dependence of the African elite on imperial languages
right now, Mazrui claims that this possibility can only be
realized through the African masses who are still tied
closely to indigenous tongues.

As to the possibility of a 'Black national language'
(often suggested by groups concerned with African unity),
Mazrui remains skeptical. Rather, he argues for the
centering of indigenous languages in political life,
complemented by an increased domestication of English and
the incorporation of other global languages into the Pan-
Africanist agenda, along with increased effort to penetrate
the intellectual fortresses of the North while building
bridges of cooperation in the South.

Chapter four explores the relation of English to the
recent rise of Afrocentricity. Afrocentricity is a view of
the world which puts Africa at the center of global
concerns and 'idealizes its role in human affairs' (pg 95).
It is thus different from Pan-Africanism, defined as a
quest for economic and political unity among African
peoples. Afrocentrists have been actively engaged in the
domestication of English, often employing terms and
concepts from African languages to construct symbolic
bridges within the language. Kiswahili has been the biggest
source for this due to its success as an international
language. In fact, Kiswahili has repeatedly been mentioned
as a candidate for a Black national language, though little
has ever been done to facilitate such a use. Mazrui spends
a few pages examining the issues involved in such an
adoption, outlining the debate about whether Islam and
Arabic (to which Kiswahili is culturally and linguistically
tied) are 'authentically' African.

Mazrui concludes that Afrocentricity has not gone far
enough in its domestication of English to free Afrocentric
discourse in English from its reactive nature and from
largely being a tool of the elite. Though much interesting
work has been done, Afrocentricity has largely been an
exercise of intellectuals and academics with little impact
on the masses.

The Conclusion of the book comes back to the two schools of
thought that have created the chief conflicts of the essay:
should African languages be shifted to the center of
African life, or should efforts be concentrated on coming
to terms with English as part of the Africa's reality and
domesticating it to carry the weight of the African

Mazrui comes down on the side of African languages,
arguing that the latter option of 'envoicing' English only
takes place within the elite intellectual class. He points
out that, historically, the true domestication of an
imperial language has always been 'rooted in the broader
struggles for a radically new social order.' He points to
Algeria and Grenada as examples.

Mazrui draws from an interesting array of sources
including historical documents, scholarly works, and works
by African literary figures, reflecting just how deeply
this issue effects every aspect of African society. This
essay is a perfect work for seminars or reading groups
focused on globalization and language or decolonialization.
Though opinionated, Mazrui covers the breadth of the issues
involved and resists any unfair indictments of English as a
tool of imperialism and nothing more. Indeed, in Chapter 3
Mazrui raises the question of whether a Pan-African
movement, or indeed any movement toward African unity,
would have been possible without English and other imperial
languages. Though skeptical, Mazrui is open to the
possibility that English could be domesticated enough to
legitimately express African intellectual discourse,
pointing to Ebonics and Nigerian English as possible
examples. One criticism is possible here. Ultimately,
Mazrui comes own on the side of African languages for two
reasons stated above: 1) English could only be truly
domesticated if this transformation were part of a radical
social transformation, and 2) as a language principally
confined to the elite, English cannot carry the voice of
the masses. It seems to me, however, that if the 'global
apartheid' described by Mazrui is recognized by the masses,
then conditions could be right for (1) to take place,
beginning with countries whose populations do employ some
form of English as a lingua franca. In other words, a true
domestication of English may not be entirely out of the

Second, though it is certainly unfair to suggest gaps
in an essay written for such a specific purpose, one area
neglected by Mazrui involves the practicalities of language
planning and policy. The ultimate conclusion of the essay
is that indigenous African languages must be re-centered in
African political life in order to create a legitimate
independent intellectual discourse. Little attention is
given, however, to the issues involved in accomplishing
this goal. Should regional lingua francas be employed at
the expense of smaller indigenous languages? Should
indigenous languages used in the education system be local
languages or more widely spoken indigenous tongues? Aside
from reforming the educational system, how can wider use of
African languages be encouraged? Mazrui, like many authors
who write on this topic, point to the success linguistic
nationalism of 'Swahilization' in Tanzania. However,
Swahili was widely employed as a lingua franca in Tanzania
before independence. Moreover, the highly fragmented ethno-
linguistic landscape of the country meant that a lingua
franca was necessary and allegiances to local languages
were relatively weak. This has not been the case in Kenya,
for example, where allegiances to larger languages (such as
Gikuyu and Luo) are strong, creating resistance to the use
of Swahili as a lingua franca despite its use in the
education system. My point is simply that language policy
cannot be decided based simply on political debate and then
implemented like economic or health care policy can. The
process of re-centering African languages in African
political life is a complex task whose facets cannot be
counted. While I am certain Mazrui is aware of the
difficulties involved in language planning, his essay is
content to leave those issues for policy makers to work
out, expounding only the need for such reforms in the wider
global political context.
Brent Henderson is a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at the
University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Major research
interests include minimalist morphology and syntax and the
grammar of Bantu languages. Other professional interests
include varying aspects of African linguistics; the
political science of East Africa; the history and use of
Kiswahili. He has taught Kiswahili at UIUC and studied at
the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

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