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Ghana’s Membership Of The International Organisation Of Francophonie (OIF)   
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Ghana’s Membership Of The International Organisation Of Francophonie (OIF): A Reaction To Controversies Surrounding The Linguistic Issue

At the launch of the 2019 La Francophonie Festival organized by the Francophone Embassies in Ghana and Alliance Française in Accra, the Hon. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration reiterated the need for improved teaching and learning of French in our basic/tertiary institutions through technical support and capacity building, among others, and called for the adoption of French as a second foreign language.

This is cardinal in Ghana’s transition to full membership of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF) otherwise known as La Francophonie.

This has surprisingly created an erroneous impression in some quarters that the French language is being imposed on Ghanaians as a second language to the detriment of Ghanaian languages and culture. Indeed, one such person, a Ghanaian artist by name Okyeame Kwame claims making ‘’French as a second language is disrespectful to our pride and culture’’.

There is therefore the need to shed light on what the La Francophonie agenda is all about and to dispel the notion that as a people, our pride and culture are under attack.

Ghana’s relations with La Francophonie begun in September 2006 when a delegation attended the 11th Francophonie Summit in Bucharest, Romania which resulted in Ghana becoming an Associate Member of La Francophonie without first having to be an Observer which is the normal practice within La Francophonie.

This special privilege was accorded the Ghanaian request in recognition of the country’s geographical location and geopolitical role in facilitating political stability within the West African sub region. Ghana thus became one of a handful of Anglophone countries which enjoy an enviable membership of both the Commonwealth and La Francophonie.

In joining the organization, Ghana became a member of a community of over 500 million people and therefore benefits from the solidarity of the members of the community in both political and socio-economic domains. This number of speakers of the French language will rise to over 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be on the African continent.

This brings to the fore the importance of Ghana’s relations with the francophone world and by extension, the language and culture(s) binding the countries concerned.

La Francophonie has a total membership of 88 French-speaking countries worldwide with four main missions:
• Promotion of the French language, cultural and linguistic diversity
• Promotion of peace, democracy, rule of law and protection of human rights
• Support to basic/tertiary education
• Promoting co-operation among member countries for sustainable development La Francophonie implements various programmes covering civil society, youth, gender balance, environmental protection, sustainable development, digital innovation, economic policies, peace, democracy and human rights. Ghana stands to benefit immensely from these programmes as a member.

Undoubtedly Ghana shares borders to the north, east and west with French speaking countries. As Ghanaians therefore, we recognize the strategic importance of our immediate neighbours to whom we are bound by profound ties of blood, geography and history, and, indeed, of all French speaking countries, to the development of our country. Furthermore, it is important to note that out of the 15 members of ECOWAS, the majority (8) are French speaking.

Our lives, therefore, as Ghanaians, are intimately linked with the francophone world. There is no gainsaying the fact that the ability of a vast majority of Ghanaians to speak French should serve as a big boost to addressing some of our mutual concerns regarding intra-regional trade as well as promoting peace and stability which are a sine qua non for development. It is also pertinent to note

that, the international mobility and high-level management positions has eluded Ghanaians in many instances at the United Nations, ECOWAS, the African Union and even within the private sector, due to their inability to speak French or a second international language.

One could also argue, and quite rightly so, that many Ghanaians have suffered unjustly due to their inability to communicate with our francophone neighbours in French thereby missing out on numerous opportunities that exist in intra-regional and cross-border trade.

One other dimension of Ghana’s use of the French language is the cultural ties and shared values that abound. This implies that Ghanaians should by and large identify with the cultural values and norms of the francophone world which are the bedrock of co-operation and collaboration in today’s globalized world.

As far as Ghana’s educational system is concerned, there is the need to stress the point that for a long time French was taught as a compulsory subject in our lower classes of the second cycle institutions and this, for a good reason. In recent times, in recognition of its importance, most private schools in Ghana have introduced French language to their pupils at the basic school level. The importance of the French language has not been lost on our policy makers.

Upon attaining independence, Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, saw the need to establish the Ghana Institute of Languages (GIL) in 1961 which was initially directly under the office of the President. The objective was to enhance linguistic competence in modern languages, and it targeted the foreign service personnel and civil servants. Needless to say, the French language (apart from the English language) was the most important of these languages.

It is clear from the above that this linguistic drive is even more relevant to our present-day circumstances. However, in order to actualize the vision of full membership of La Francophonie, we must ensure that as many Ghanaians as possible go beyond the usual ‘bonjour-ca va?’ greetings.

This is indeed feasible because of all the foundation work done in the teaching of French even though we recognize that a huge amount of work still needs to be done to take Ghana to the next level of bilingualism (English, French and indigenous languages).

In revisiting the needless controversy which the Hon. Foreign Minister alluded to earlier, one needs to set the records straight in order for the public to disregard and treat these effusions as fruits of ignorance. The wider populace is discerning enough to realize that there are people who would do anything and everything to draw attention to themselves.

Happily, some noble voices have been raised against those ill-informed persons who unjustly criticize the drive towards making French the second foreign language.

In reacting to the criticism that French was detrimental to our national pride and culture, one social media contributor put it succinctly, “Did Kofi Annan go to the UN to speak Fanti?”. The obvious answer is that at the UN Kofi Annan spoke in English and French. Globalization is here to stay, and Ghana can ill afford to be left out.
Source: Dr. Steven A. Syme (PhD), Focal Person for Ghana (International Organisation of La Francophonie)

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