The Journal of Modern African Studies

Language choice in education: a politics of persuasion 1

Ericka A. Albaugh a1
a1 Department of Political Science, Duke University.

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The choice of indigenous versus European languages in education should be a hotly contested issue. Surprisingly, in much of Africa it is not. African states have dramatically increased their use of local languages in education over the last decade. This increase, however, has not proceeded from vocal demands on government by various language groups. Instead, it is the result of two more subtle factors: the changed attitude of a former coloniser and the work of language NGOs on the ground. These two forces have altered governments' perceptions about the utility of African languages in their education strategies. Because this political process works through persuasion, rather than bargaining, it allows choices about language in education to be less contentious than popularly assumed, separating this process from the violent ethnolinguistic conflict that is so often associated with Africa.

(Published Online February 26 2007)


1 I am grateful for support from the Social Science Research Council, from the Foreign Language and Area Studies program of the Department of Education, and from Duke's Graduate School, whose grants provided for my research in Cameroon from January to May 2001 and in Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana from September 2002 to May 2003. A fellowship from the Spencer Foundation allowed for the dissertation writing that formed the basis of this article. I would like to thank Donald Horowitz, Robert Keohane, and Steven Wilkinson for their guidance through the formative periods of the article, as well as Catharine Newbury, Giacomo Chiozza, Lesa Morrison and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on later drafts. They are not to be blamed for my errors.