Diescho’s Dictum – Towards an Afrikan National Language for Namibia [opinion]

MANY theorists have argued that a nation without a national language, its own national language is half a nation. The history of development of the nation states in Europe demonstrates that language always accompanied the evolution of nations.

Rome developed Latin, Italy developed Italian (even though it is a derivative of Latin), Germany developed German, France developed French, Portugal developed Portuguese, Spain developed Spanish and the list goes on to cover the whole Europe to the extent that Africans have become victims of these language developments. It is no measure of accident that most of us Africans are divided in accordance with the languages of our colonizers: we are Anglophones, (those who speak English), Francophones (those who speak French), Lusophones (those who speak Portuguese), Hispanophones (those who speak Spanish like Equatorial Guinea), Arabophones (the arabized Africans in South Sudan), whereas the rest of us who are Cellphones – that is those without a European language which they speak with ease.

The history of America as a former colony of Great Britain is an interesting case when it comes to language. In the beginning of what is now known as the United States of America, the new country needed a national language for its citizens.

Urban legend has it that it took one vote to determine that English become the lingua franca of America when the consideration was between English and German. According to this legend, Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg (1750-1801), himself a German-speaking lawmaker, the first ever Speaker of the House of Representatives, voted against German as the national language of America when in 1794 he cast the decisive chairman’s vote by 42 to 41 in favour of English. Muhlenberg was quoted to have said: ‘The faster the Germans become Americans, the better it will be’.

Later nations with grand designs on power understood this and embarked upon a deliberate campaign to create new nations with a lesser or greater extent of success. In the build-up to the Greater Soviet Union, the process of Russification was paramount to turn all the inhabitants of the thirteen Soviet Republics into speakers of Russian, often alongside other spoken languages that signified the distinctness of different communities within the Soviet Union. Many philanthropic scholarship programmes attach the importance of their national languages as a perquisite to commencement of studies in their countries. The current crop of Namibian students studying in Cuba or China must master Spanish or Chinese Mandarin respectively, as part of their package.

Apartheid South Africa was able to develop an economy, bedeviled though it was in the details, when it found and fashioned a language in which to speak about the world to itself – Afrikaans. Even English speaking white South Africans found some South African umbrage under the cover of a language that was only about them for the unique South African identity.

As a starting point, no one is unable to see the logic and importance of having a language for one nation, which enabled such a nation to have a conversation, let us say the ability to gossip about other peoples without the fear of being understood.

Human beings love to express their inner unedited feelings, sometimes even gossip, in a language that assures them some measure of privacy, without malice to anyone. Sometimes people feel like saying things for the exclusive consumption of the members of the conversation and not outsiders without ill intent, just to be free! A counterfactual question which still needs to be asked is whether Afrikan nations would have done better if they had their own languages in which to communicate to and about themselves, while denying their colonizers the unhindered gateway to understand them, and in so doing allow access to their inner thoughts and dreams and, by extension, their plans. In fact, even if the language chosen is similar to that of the former colonizer, it is an important self-assertion for a nation to choose the language it wishes to use in its business and official life.

Namibia has chosen English as the only official language without prohibiting the use of the myriad of indigenous languages in the nation. With that decision, the leadership at the time chose rationally not to opt for one of the languages that had the potential to put one group against the other.

English was not a mainstay language of the colonial force and therefore had a uniting force to it. In addition to joining the international community, English was a language that would make all of us suffer yet make all of us gain something new, forward-looking and liberation. In Paulo Frere’s words, English for the new Namibia was a language in which Namibia would wage the struggle for economic emancipation better. It so happens that human beings communicate their desires, including ideas of leadership and the future or their safety in human language. Most of what we know about our families is what we experienced through words. Great leaders influenced their world through spoken and written words. One esteemed American Congressman, Hubert Humphries opined that language is the artillery of power. The Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong mobilized the people towards a Chinese Revolution through language. He possessed the highest number of characters in the Chinese mandarin language.

Now that political freedom had been accomplished, it is important to develop a language, a vocabulary and syntax about how to move on to the next level of economic emancipation.

This is the stage of the New Afrikan Renaissance. In 1948, the Senegalese sage of Afrikan thought, Sheik Anta Diop posed the vexing question: Can there be a real African renaissance with an African language? In our context, maybe the time is now for us to consider the question of developing one African language to accompany English in the life of the nation as it moves forward. At the very least we need to have a meaningful conversation about this matter, regardless of how we conclude it -together. Towards that end, I am hazarding the first risk to move that we put our energies behind one of our languages and develop it as a national language – to be taught in all schools so that one day we as Namibians can identify ourselves amongst other nations, and speak in one common national language about matters that are unique to us and our character as a nation. I am proposing Otjiherero as the language for and towards that national goal. Here are my reasons:

Seeing that I am the first to suggest this, I am putting forward a language that is not my own so that my proposition as such is not self-serving, but must be considered in the context of the interest of Namibia as a nation in the medium and long terms

Otjiherero is a real Bantu language which is at the moment not a language of the majority tribe or ethnic group in the country and thus does not suffer the stigma of language of domination

In the Namibian history as such, the word Herero resonates beyond our borders and it carries with itself the power of recognition outside of the country

Otjiherero has a traditional dress code to accompany it which, in spite of the controversy, one cannot mistake to be a Namibian expression of identity with a history attached to it

Otjiherero, as one of the languages spoken by the first revolutionaries who faced the mighty German colonial military onslaught is likely to repose some of the first expressions of Namibia’s national resistance and by evoking and invoking such oral history we could fashion a ger One Namibia, One Nation

Otjiherero is easier to learn than the other languages in the country as it accommodates many words and syntaxes from Oshiwambo, RuKavango, SiZambezi and even Kiswahili

It can be argued that out of ten Namibians from any of the Thirteen Plus One Regions, at least four would follow a conversation in Otjiherero, because either the language is closer to their own, or they have been exposed to it through labour or studies mobility

Because Otjiherero is currently not the language of a dominant group, developing it follows the post-independence Namibian leadership’s logic and wisdom of choosing English as the official language, the reasoning for which was that the new language would cause us all to suffer growing pains, but allow us to enter a new world from which all of us would gain

Otjiherero has enough written and published literature upon which we can build and expand

Otjiherero is more accessible to most Namibians of all groups in the active public and private sectors since it is widely spoken in the capital and in the wider expanding industries

Otjiherero has the highest quota of African intellectuals in the country, that is those who speak it effortlessly and who would consequently serve as the most direct carriers of the language in the streets and elsewhere, not to mention that Otjiherero first language speakers are the most cohesive social group in independent Namibia who are not as divided by political enclaves as other groups in the country are

Otjiherero has a leg up already in as far as the reality is that for a language to grow, it needs champions and eloquent users. Otjiherero has that, and one of them is the Founding President who can speak it in a manner that a young Namibian would like to emulate and

Otjiherero, more than any other of our languages, has the potential to blur the existing tribal dialects, lower the linguistic barriers that exist and allow whitecolored Namibians to start appreciating how much they are part of the Afrikan family in our Zebra Nation that can speak of itself in one medium of OSHINAMIBIA!

Source : New Era