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Divide and Conquer!

Language has the ability to divide or unite people! Colonizers stripped Africans of their native languages because they knew there was power in the ability to communicate. We were fully aware of the fact that most African countries still utilized the language of their colonizers but we believed that local languages were more commonly used than not.  As we travel through West Africa we are starting to realize that French and English seem more like native languages versus secondary ones.  Having a language barrier is fine when we are talking about people speaking their native African languages. However, we are starting to feel as if European languages have become a part of the norm. Those with a certain level of education and wealth seem to gravitate and hold on tightly to these languages rather than use their “mother tongue.” We have been told that if you speak French “well” you are looked at as some type of superior being as if those who don’t are mere peasants. Language and class-ism seem to toe a fine line here. Language has definitely added a new layer of awareness to our journey.

Two Ghanaian sisters Welcoming Me "Home" as Cry Together  
When we were preparing to repatriate back to Africa, our focus as a family was to learn at least one African language. At one point, we were teaching Dj Spanish. We stopped teaching him Spanish and began to teach him Twi (one of the local languages in Ghana). We brought a Twi book, downloaded Twi apps, and spoke the language with our Ghanaian brother almost every day to learn the vocabulary. The point was for us to be able to communicate with the people we wanted to unite with, work with, and live amongst.  

When we got to Ghana, the learning curve was not difficult. The Twi language is fairly simple to pick up on. If you listen as Ghanaians speak (if they speak slowly enough) you can learn through the context. There was never a time where we were completely stumped regarding what was being communicated to us. The thing we loved most about being in Ghana was that although some Ghanaians can speak English, they primarily speak in their native tongues (Twi, GA, Ewe, etc.). Their ability to speak English was a bonus to aid us in learning their languages. Sometimes we would have to insist on them using Twi as opposed to English because they wanted to practice their English as well.  All in all, Ghana is perfect for a repatriate seeking to learn an African language if you’re adamant about it.

Ghanaian Brother Teaching Del & DJ "Ludo" (local board game) In "Twi" 
Just as we were getting familiar with the Twi language, we decided to pick up and travel around the continent. What were we thinking? Thus far, we have traveled to four African countries (South Africa, Ghana, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire), so the sample size is small, but I think we have had somewhat of a culture shock. As we traveled Togo and now Cote D’Ivoire, we have received a rude awakening. Communication has become an unexpected frustration as in both countries they speak French and rarely anything else. Handling business or simply trying to get from point A to point B has been extremely challenging for us.

As we travel the continent in search for a country to call “home,” language has now become a determining factor. Obviously, as we continue to travel the continent we evolve in our thinking.  Most West African countries are francophone countries apart from Ghana. Since we have already learned the language of our oppressor being from America, we didn’t come to Africa to immerse ourselves in another society that has been forced to learn an oppressive language. If we wanted to learn French, France is where we would have moved too!  
Our French Speaking Driver "Remy" in Togo Helping Del Buy Phone Credits 
Colonization has made it very difficult for us to come home and assimilate into some of our ancestor’s countries. Whereas, it’s easier for the oppressor’s descendants to come to Africa and fit right in. Although, we know there are many repatriates and potential repatriates who are bilingual or multilingual, I would advise everyone to take into consideration the mindset of African countries and the people, who are adamant about continuing to use the tongue of their oppressors. Who are these countries trying to attract? Will you be ostracized if you are not willing to speak English or French? How has the language affected the mindset of the people? And is the language barrier adding another dividing factor amongst us as a people?

We plan to settle in an African country where an African language is primarily used within the country and by its inhabitants. If not, that country is more than likely not the country for us. Countries choosing to drop their colonizer’s languages and use African dialects (i.e. Rwanda) show the type of progressive thinking we believe is important for Africa’s future. In our opinion, that type of decision says a lot about the leadership of that country and the direction that African country is headed. How can Africa stand on its own two feet if it relies so heavily on the traditions, languages, and customs of its colonizers?  Something to think about. Until next time…

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  1. Hi
    I am from India, the country that was once considered a Golden Bird before being colonized by the British! The oppression that continued for more than 250 years and leaders like Mahatma Gandhi were able to rescue my country from the oppressors. You might be intrigued to know that India too has a similar set of problems, continuing colonial traditions in the form of language, railways, education system etc. However, my view is a bit different from that presented in the blog post.
    While on the one hand, you are right in saying that how can Ghana progress if it continues with the colonial traditions but there should be a clear picture of what are wanted colonial traditions and ones' that are not! The biggest gift by the English to India during 300 years of rule has been the English language, education system and railways. It is because of the fluency of English language that India is able to stand on its feet, converse with people from all continents, host them, solve their IT related problems etc. I agree that local languages in India have taken a hit somewhere down the line, however, can Ghana afford not to adopt English or a modern language in the global world?

  2. Hello brother Ambuj,

    Thank you so much for your comment! The blog wasn't merely based on Ghana because as we stated in the blog Ghanaians speak English but usually refer to their mother tounge and English is secondary. However, the francophone African nations we have visited so far tend to only use French while neglecting the mother tounge. I believe we should all be bilingual because it helps when doing business but in our opinion African countries shouldn't soley depend on the language of their colonizer!

  3. Your blog is always so interesting and brings up issues I'd never had thought of. I think it's so important to learn the local language when you travel if at all possible. It makes such a big difference in your interactions with the people there. I speak Georgian, and whenever I travel in Georgia everyone is so excited I've taken the time to learn it and not Russian.

    1. How awesome is that! Thank you so much for following our journey and taking out the time to read our blogs!

  4. What an interesting post. I do believe in balance in life and it would be nice if there can be balance in the languages as well. I think to grow internationally it is important to know a language like english or french. Sometimes there are so many local languages in a country depending on the area that communication can be a problem if you don't speak anything else. English is also my second language.

    But you also need to remember your "first" language, your mother tongue. It is part of your culture and who you are, where you cane from. It is a pity if we lose that.

    Thank you for this interesting post.

    1. Our sentiments exactly Rolene! Thank you for reading!


    1. Thank you Erma for all the love and support!

  6. As a particular race of people in America, we are the descendants of Africa. Mother Africa will accept her children back. We must return to Mother Africa and claim our rights as her descendants on upon The Rights To Return Law. Wake up Black America! I am on my way back to the Land of my fore-parents.

  7. Hi,
    I just listened to the episode of The Extraordinary Negros where you guys are guests. I am amazed to find out about you and your travels. I understand the conclusion that you came to talking about a country still using the language of the oppressor. I am from Haiti, and we have two official languages: French and Creole. Everyone speaks Creole, which is a mix of French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and a few West African dialects. However, not everyone speaks French. In Haiti, speaking French is considered belonging to a more “bourgeois” class. I understand why the oppressor refused to let the enslaved speak in their native tongues (divide and conquer like you mentioned) but it hurts the soul of the country.
    Keep writing.
    Can’t wait for you book to come out.