Researchers say that there are over 1000 indigenous languages in Africa. According to Gordon Raymond G. (Ethnologue; the Languages of the World, 1995) there is a total of 2,092 languages spoken in the African continent - this only compares with Asia's 2,269 dialects. However, Asia's languages are spoken by 61 per cent of the world's population as compared to Africa's which is spoken by only 12 per cent. Europe has 239 languages spoken by 26.3 per cent of the world's population.
Language is not just a carrier of communication. It also carries the culture, values, dreams and aspirations of a people. It is a huge uniting factor in society. To say that it is difficult to unite people who cannot even comprehend one another is an understatement. How else can one explain the incessant tribal conflicts that bedevil the continent? Communities who do not share a language do not interact much. Lack of interaction gives room to all manner of negativity in thought with regard to neighbours until at some point the neighbouring community is actually seen as horned devils and any small spark, whether it's due to political or resources competition, is enough to lead to a flare up.
Africa has the lowest contribution to world trade - at 2 per cent. The devil in all this is that intra-African trade is very negligible. We would rather trade with our colonial masters than trade with our neighbours. It is undeniable that one of the factors that fuels all this is the language barrier between neighbours. Uganda might want to trade with the Congo but then the only trade languages they use is English and French, respectively; so it is much easier to trade with Britain and France, respectively.
More people speaking fewer languages are - other factors kept constant - likely to be more powerful than fewer people speaking a myriad of languages. A look at the United Nations official languages will show one where power lies. When we talk of the language factor in most African countries we tend to go ethnocentric and emotional and start talking defensively about cultural erosion and all that. If African unity is to be achieved, Africans must build their own way of comprehending one another. If prosperity is to be attained, then regional trade languages must be encouraged and developed; and if we are to have a say on the world stage we must speak with one voice; quite literally!
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