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Review of  Language and Politics in Africa

Reviewer: Adnan Ajsic
Book Title: Language and Politics in Africa
Book Author: Daniel Ochieng Orwenjo John Obiero Ogone
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 22.2873

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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)

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, 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.

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.

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