RECONCILING THE TWO WEST AFRICAS: MANAGING ETHNIC AND LINGUAL DIVERSITY FOR REGIONAL INTEGRATION
Languages of publication
In international politics, language is core in inter-state trust and relationship, and the West African region (or sub-region), which is multi-ethnic, culturally plural and bi- or multilingual in imported languages, may never evolve an integrated region if the diversity is not converted from source of disconnections to source of connections. At best, West Africans have regarded themselves as precolonial kinsmen but post-colonial strangers as a result of the factor of language barriers created in the years of colonial rule. The Yoruba, Ewe, Ashante, Mende, Temne and many more had similarities of languages and cultures and led a regular life of communal conflict and cooperation until the arrival of the French, English, Portuguese and Germans, who established sharp misunderstandings and divisions along the lines of European lingua franca. From a participation-observation experience and perspective, and having consulted literature and government records on futile integration efforts, the study, adopting a functionalist model for analysis, submits that the differences have led to alienation among West Africans since independence, and ECOWAS, despite its spirited commitment to regional integration by the protocol on free movement across the borders, has faced brick-walls from human and social forces engendered by language barriers. This paper looks beyond the artificial linguistic barriers inherent in the bilingual or multilingual character of West Africa, by exploring the richness of the linguistic diversity to advance the cause of regional integration. The paper strongly advocates that local languages spoken across most of the West African states such as Hausa, Mandingo, Peul and Yoruba be taught in primary and secondary schools, while ECOWAS leaders should agree on making English, French and Portuguese compulsory in all secondary schools and higher institutions in their respective countries. These will help demystify and dismantle the artificial linguistic barriers created by the accident of colonialism and make the formal and informal instruments, including ECOWAS towards integration, more functional.
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