Mr Jawara, I really appreciate your thoughtful and brilliant piece on the importance of maintaining our local languages. We should embrace and encourage speaking our local languages. The backwardness of Africans is lack of common language which can be used as a medium for communication. Looking at West Africa, there are two major distinct languages — Mandinka and Fula — that are spoken in many countries. In the case of The Gambia, Mandinka language should have been developed long since as the national language since the majority of indigenous citizens are Mandinkas. This does not mean we dump all other local languages. All of them should be preserved.

Having a national identity in the form of language will be single most effective way to unite our diverse people, enhance better communication and greater understanding which would encourage better economic development and democratisation process. A national identity language builds national cohesion, eliminates tribalism in our politics and gives us the sense of empowerment.

English is a colonial language that had been imposed on Gambians mainly to allow the British colonial master to infiltrate us, entrenched his political, economic and cultural hegemony. Since we have allowed the outsiders to impose their cultural identity and values on us, why can’t we recognize one of our own languages as a national identity language to replace colonial language. This should be the vision of our 21st century political leaderships. I know the narrow-minded souls will frown on this idea. I refer them to revisit the history of many Europe where every country has her own national identity language. Each of them recognized one major language as a medium for communication. Since the majority of Gambian people speak Mandinka language, it would be best communication strategy to develop this language as a national identity language. Other African countries should also do similar thing to develop a major local language as a national identity language. For example, since majority of citizenry in Guinea Conakry (about 40%) speak Fula, the country must not hesitate to use the language as a tool of unification.

Development of one local language as a national identity language in each country is the first step towards national and regional integration that promotes trade, social cohesion, better economic development, cooperation as well as improve better security for all. We must remember that our African conflicts all derived from tribal and language differences. Therefore, the development of national identity language is the single most conflict prevention strategy geared towards promoting common interest, prosperity and guaranteed security. After developing a national identity language in each country, the next step will be to identify one language that is common in many of our people countries. Once we identify this common language, we can develop it as a regional language for political, economic and institutional communication purposes. As we embark on identifying a common language, it behooves on us to preserve all our local languages. Where possible we should integrate these languages in our education system.

Africa’s renaissance can be realized through political, economic and cultural advancement only when Africans promote their own languages. I am sick and tired of seeing people who continue to belittle themselves through their ignorance and to dismiss their own heritage or culture. We must love ourselves which can only be done if we show people who we are through the art of speaking our languages and expression of our cultures. It is time for Africans, especially Gambians to promote themselves through their languages. The development of our national identity language will be right step in the right direction for our advancement and civilisation.




  1. I agree with a National Language, and you have made a good case, but I disagree that we should just adopt Mandinka because it constitutes the largest group. Unless you are advocating the use of force to impose Mandinka on more than 50% of the population, how are you going to get everyone to accept Mandinka, as a National Language? That’s the multimillion Dollar question because many will resist it, just like Mandinkas will resist Fula as a National Language, for example. More work is needed here, Max.

    • Bax , I think if you are honest with yourself, you will realize that it is easy to adopt mandinka language than any other language in the country because mandinkas majority is over 50% of the population. If Gambian people can accept British English language so why they will resist the mandinka language as national identity language. This is easy solution . I think we hate ourselves more than we love ourselves. Comparing mandinkas with Fula is just like you compare UDP and PDOIS. PDOIS was always reluctant to accept the fact that they don’t have the support base in the country , it is the same way mandinka language will have majority support as national language in the country than fula . It is just a matter of political will to tackle this issue. No one is advocating to impose any language on any citizen. The government has to make it a policy to make mandinka language as national identity language then the rest of population will follow .

      • Max, how can you say that we accepted English? Have you forgotten the history of English? Let me remind you that English is the language of the conqueror, and as such, it was IMPOSED on the population. The generation that fell victim to the Colonial conquest did not just accept the language with open hands. They resisted it to the best that they could, until they were finally subjugated.
        Why do you think that even decades after independence, our government still had problems getting some parts of the country to send their kids to school? What was school associated with?

        You are kidding yourself if you think the whole country will jump on the Mandinka bandwagon, if government decides to adopt it as a National Language.
        Our problem would have been easier, if we had a language (lingua franca) that all can speak, regardless of ethnicity. If you look at Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau, as examples, you find that they have such a language, called Creole, which is grounded in English (in SL) and Portuguese (in GB).

        From personal experience, I think that the closest language we have to a lingua franca is Wollof, because more non-Wollofs are likely to speak Wollof, than any other language, including Mandinka. In other words, a non Mandinka is more likely to speak Wollof than Mandinka.
        When I was growing up, my community is still had remnants of Creole, but I and my generation spoke Mandinka. Today, the upcoming generation speak Wollof and this is not an isolated occurrence. Wollof has now gained a foot hold in those communities where it never used to be noticeably present. You will be surprised how many people spoke Wollof, outside Banjul, Sere Kunda and Bakau, just 20-30 years ago. You may disagree, but I think Wollof is the most influential language in The Senegambian region and the fastest growing too. So, it will make sense to have a National Language with a base in Wollof: may be up to 50%.

        • Bax , you do not have any idea which language is most influential in the country, certainly it is not Wolof by any standard and measure . Looking at The Gambia as a whole , you will realize that Wolof is spoken only in Banjul and serekunda proper . In suburban serekunda that is its surrounding like Bakau , sukuta , Lamin and up to Brikama, Wolof is not the most popular language. In kombo south and north , most influential language is not Wolof but mandinka language. Therefore it is fallacious to state that Wolof is the most influential language in Senegambia. In The Gambia, it is not the most popular and influential in the country side or provinces. Logically if Wolof is most popular language in the country then it would make sense to consider it national language but that is not the case. In Senegal, it is most popular in northern Senegal but in the southern Senegal it is not . You are right that it is growing in serekunda since Banjul is becoming a ghost city . This is the phenomenon you are seeing. Bakau , Brikama, sukuta and all of kombos are predominantly mandinka speaking towns.
          When you consider the population, it would make sense if you consider mandinka language as national identity language because more than 50 % speak mandinka . However, what we need is national identity language whether it is Wolof or mandinka but I believe mandinka is indeed best choice since the majority speak the language.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this section are the author's own and do not represent the editorial policy of Kairo News. Kairo News will trash any comment that inflames tribal, racial or religious hatred.

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