Burkina Faso Breaks Colonial Ties: Drops French as Official Language

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Burkina Faso drops French as official language
Captain Ibrahim Traoré

In a historic move, Burkina Faso has officially abandoned French as its official language, marking a significant shift in its linguistic and cultural policy. This change was formalized through a constitutional amendment approved by the Burkinabè government under the leadership of Captain Ibrahim Traoré.

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The amendment, passed on Wednesday, December 6, 2023, elevates national languages to official status, relegating French to a “working language.”

French, a vestige of colonial times, has been the official language since independence in 1960. However, this change is more than a symbolic act; it’s a reclamation of the country’s diverse linguistic heritage, encouraging unity and cultural pride among its citizens.

Understanding Burkina Faso’s Historic Decision

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, French has been the lingua franca of Burkina Faso, a country with more than 60 indigenous languages. The government’s recent announcement, spearheaded by President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, heralds a new era that seeks to uplift local languages and embrace a more authentic Burkinabé identity.

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The move aligns with similar trends in Mali, Rwanda, and Gabon. Mali, under its new constitution, has not only dropped French as its official language but also embraced English, signaling a strategic pivot towards global integration. Rwanda made this transition in 2009, aiming to strengthen ties with English-speaking neighbors and position itself in the international community. Gabon, meanwhile, has started promoting English as a second language, acknowledging the growing influence of the global lingua franca.

The case of Burkina Faso, however, is unique. Here, the emphasis is on national languages, a bold step towards embracing the indigenous cultural mosaic. The linguistic change dovetails with Captain Traoré’s fiery anti-imperialism speech on the nation’s 63rd independence anniversary.

He lambasted Western imperialism and its exploitative practices, linking it directly to the widespread issues of terrorism and underdevelopment in the country. His words resonate with a growing sentiment across Africa, where the shadow of colonialism still looms large.

The Role of Language in Post-Colonial Identity

Language is more than a tool for communication; it’s a carrier of culture, history, and identity. In Burkina Faso, like many African nations, the colonial language served as a unifying medium in a linguistically diverse landscape. However, this often came at the expense of local languages and cultures. The shift away from French is not just a political statement but a cultural renaissance, reconnecting the Burkinabé people with their roots.

Implications for Dropping French as Official Language

This decision is set to revolutionize the country’s education and administrative systems, which have been predominantly French-oriented. It poses challenges such as the need for new educational materials and trained teachers in indigenous languages. Yet, it also opens doors for more inclusive governance and education, where no citizen is linguistically marginalized.

Former French Colonies Redefining Linguistic Identities

In the wake of Burkina Faso’s groundbreaking decision, it’s enlightening to look at other former French colonies that have redefined their linguistic policies post-independence. This move towards linguistic independence is not isolated to Burkina Faso but part of a broader trend across the African continent and beyond, as nations seek to strengthen their cultural and national identities in the post-colonial era.

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