Get money, get aid.

English saves the day

Martin Davidson, the British Council’s CEO recently wrote a piece in The Guardian, arguing for the potential english language education has to improve governance in a post-referendum Sudan.

English language training is not a “quick fix” for Sudan’s problems but it can encourage development, is relatively cheap and most importantly, sustainable, underpinning other capacity building projects.

Likewise, he argues that English could provide the crucial bridge to keep relations between North and South Sudan smooth. One of his justifications:

In Sudan, there are currently three national armies and two police forces that the British Council is working with. When we asked them what their greatest need was, their responses were unanimous: “English.”

Mind you, little thought is given to the idea that perhaps these Army representatives simply know what to ask donors for. Identifying a donor’s specialty as your “greatest need” is hardly a phenonmenon in the aid world. Of course, it deserves no attention that these security services, plagued with mutinies, unstable salaries, food shortages and disease would identify English as their greatest need.

The call for English as a unifier/ development catalyst mirrors a lot of the talk we heard about Rwanda several years back when the RPF reversed forty years of post-colonial Francophonie by making English the national language. A similar justification of bridge-building was employed here. But the focus was on integrating with East Africa (and perhaps sending a ‘f**k off’ to France). It’s been hoped that an Anglophone population would likewise attract more FDI, much akin to what Davidson argues for the case of English in Sudan.

Rather than open opportunity, the switch to English has created an even greater stratification and inefficiencies in education. When I was last there in 2009, teachers who spoke no English taught nonetheless taught in the language (reading verbatim from textbooks) to an audience of students who were expected to pick up the pace, many of which had never been exposed to the language. Now, the beneficiaries of the switch to English are still urban populations (many of which were born in Uganda or the children of returnees) who already had the lions’ share of the RPF’s pro-urban policies. Education in the rural areas is still predominantly Francophone, even if the official language is English, meaning that rural migrants to urban areas are generally SOL when it comes to job opportunities.

Mind you, this happened in Rwanda, a monolingual darling of the aid community which hardly faces the constraints a new South Sudan might in a few days time. English Education is useful, but if its not provided everywhere, could very well stratifying already unequal societies.


3 responses

  1. It’s a decent point RE Rwanda, but they turned Anglophone for for political reasons (as you state) – they already had a lingua Franca. S.Sudan – to my knowledge – doesn’t really. English is the closest thing you get to it, and would make sense to adopt if relations with eg Kenya/Uganda are to be strengthened.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:14 am

  2. BTW – RAS guide to the S.Sudan referendum

    January 13, 2011 at 9:15 am

  3. aphao

    Thanks, Magnus.

    By the way, thanks for the RAS guide.

    In terms of English, it’s the official language of South Sudan and the working language of the SPLM. There doesn’t appear to be any doubt that they would continue to use it officially post-referendum. I just don’t think English will provide the sort of institutional catalyst that the British Council seems to expect from it.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm

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