Presentation of the final report of the Bamako 1979 meeting for readers of the Bisharat! web site. Return to Basic Documents. View the French version.


Proceedings of the meeting of experts

on the use of

the regional or subregional

African languages

as media of culture and communication

with the continent


Bamako (Mali), 18-22 June 1979





F I N A L   R E P O R T


The opening ceremony was presided over by His Excellency Colonel Youssouf Traoré, Minister of National Education, and was attended by His Excellency Mr. Alpha Omar Konaré, Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture.


In his capacity as the Secretary-General of the Malian National Commission for Unesco, Mr. Youssouf Traoré welcomed the experts and thanked the Director-General of Unesco for giving Mali the opportunity of hosting such an important meeting.


In his turn, Mr. Augustin Gatera, who was representing the Director-General of Unesco, thanked the Malian authorities for hosting this meeting which was a very important landmark in the co-operation between Unesco and its Member States with regard to the promotion of African languages. In this respect, he briefly took stock of the results achieved and the difficulties overcome before reaching the present stage. He then called on the experts to submit concrete proposals to the Director-General on the theme of the meeting whose twofold objective was to foster co-operation among States with a common African language and to contribute to the rational use of the resources earmarked for the promotion of these languages.


In his address, the Minister of National Education conveyed to the participants the warm welcome of the Government and people of Mali and stressed the irreplaceable role of African languages in the development process and self ­fulfilment of African peoples. He went on to point to poor performance at school due mainly to the use of non­African languages in education and mentioned Mali's experience particularly in the field of literacy work and experimentation with teaching in national languages. Lastly, he said that Mali had high hopes as regards the proceedings of this meeting which would promote co-operation among the States using the same languages and thus enable African States to avoid dispersing their efforts and wasting their human and material resources.


The following experts, who were invited in their private capacity and. as such, represented neither their respective institutions nor their countries. took part in the work of the meeting (see Annex I):


 Messrs.               G. Ansre               (Ghana)

                              A. Bamgbose      (Nigeria)

                              A. Berthe              (Mali)

                              H. Bot Ba Njock   (Cameroon)

                              O. Cisse               (Mali)

                              P. Diagne             (Senegal)

                              D. Kokora            (Ivory Coast)

                              D. Laya                 (Niger)

                              F. Lumwamu        (Congo)

                              F. Ly                      (Mali)

                              I. Mukoshy            (Nigeria)

                              A. Ouane              (Mali)

                              H. Rahingoson     (Madagascar)

                              K. Tera                 (Mali)

                              O. Yai                    (.Benin)


For various reasons, the following experts were unable to attend the meeting:

 Messrs:               M.H. Abdulaziz    (Kenya)


                              A. Afolayan          (Nigeria)

                              A. Babalola          (Nigeria)

                              B. Coulibaly         (Upper Volta)

                              M. Damane          (Lesotho)

                              G. Doualamou     (Guinée)

                              M. Kamanzi          (Burundi)

                              A. Khamisi           (Tanzania)

                              K. Mateene          (Zaire)

                              M. Rubongoya     (Uganda)

                              R. Serpell             (Zambia)

                              S. Shyirambere   (Rwanda)


The following observers attended the meeting:


                              Mrs. R. Thomas - AUDECAM

                              Mr. M. Soumare - AUPELF

                              Mr. E.O. Apronti - ICA

                              Rev. E. Balenghien - Holy See


Furthermore, the DNAFLA and the Malian Institute of Humanities sent a number of observers to the meeting.


Unesco Secretariat was represented by:


                              Mr. Augustin Gatera, Division of Cultural Studies, Paris

                              Mr. Z. Zachariev, ED/SCM, Paris

                              Mr. I. Katoke, Cultural Adviser for Africa, BREDA, Dakar

                              Mr. C. Fyle, BREDA, Dakar

                              Mrs. M. Baugier, Division of Cultural Studies, Paris


After the opening session, the experts appointed their which was composed as follows:


Chairman:                 Mr. Adama Berthe (Mali)


Vice-Chairmen:       Mr. F. Lumwamu (Congo)

                                  Mr. G. Ansre (Ghana)


Rapporteur:              Mr. Olabiyi Yai (Benin)


Following the adoption of the agenda, Mr. A. Gatera briefly presented the working documents for the meeting.


Items 1 and 2 of the agenda: Geographical scope (number of countries) and number of speakers

                                                                        or - Status


On these two items, participants had a broad exchange of views which ultimately proved fruitful.


It was not possible to avoid problems of definition. The participants generally felt it was necessary to revise and refine the definition of "language of regional intercommunication" proposed by the Niamey (July 1978) and Ouagadougou (September 1978) meetings.


Certain experts felt that the demographic weight of the language should constitute the fundamental criterion. However, the meeting overwhelmingly adopted the minimal definition of "language of regional intercommunication", that is, a language spoken in at least two African States. In this respect, the following list was drawn up, which is not necessarily exhaustive.


West Africa


Fulfulde             (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra

                           Leone, Mali, Upper Volta, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon,

                           Benin, Sudan, Chad,

Hausa               (Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Cameroon, Ghana)

Kanuri               (Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon)

Mandingo         (Mali, Senegal. Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Gambia,

                           Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta)

Songhay-Zarma        (Mali, Niger, Benin)

Tamashek        (Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Morocco)

Yoruba              (Nigeria, Benin, Togo)

Wolof                 (Senegal, Gambia)

Ewe                   (Ghana, Togo)

Bariba               (Benin, Nigeria)

Soninke            (Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia. Guinea-Bissau)

Tubu                  (Niger, Chad)

Gurmance         (Upper Volta, Benin, Niger, Togo)

Bomu                (Upper Volta, Mali)

Basaá               (Angola, Cameroon, Kenya, Zambia)

Ruhaya, Runyoro, Rutoro (Tanzania, Uganda)

Chokwe-Lunda          (Angola, Zaire, Zambia)

Kissi-Temne     (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone)

Kru                     (Ivory Coast, Liberia)

Hassaniya        (Libya, Morocco. Mali, Mauritania, etc,)

Senufo or Syenara-Mamara (Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Mali)

Nzema              (Ghana, Ivory Coast)

Nafaara             (Ghana, Ivory Coast)

Nkuraeng          (Ghana, Ivory Coast)

Dagaari             (Upper Volta, Ghana)

Kasem               (Upper Volta, Ghana)

Sisaala              (Upper Volta, Ghana)

Bimoba             (Ghana, Togo)

Chakosi             (Ghana, Togo)

Konkomba        (Ghana, Togo)


Central and East Africa


Kiteke               (Congo, Zaire, Gabon)

Kimboshi          (Congo, Zaire)

Aja                     (Benin, Togo)

Ewondo-Fang (Gabon. Equatorial Guinea. Cameroon, Congo)

Kikongo            (Zaire, Angola, Congo, Gabon)

Kinyarwanda and Kirundi (Rwanda Burundi, Tanzania, Zaire, Uganda)

Kiswahili           (Tanzania, Kenya, Zaire, Uganda, Mozambique, Malawi,

                           Comoros, Somalia, Madagascar, Sudan)

Lingala              (Zaire, Congo)

Oromo               (Ethiopia, Kenya)

Sango               (Central African Republic., Chad, Congo, Zaire, Cameroon)

Somali              (Somalia, Kenya. Ethiopia, Djibouti)

Luo                    (Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan. Ethiopia, Uganda)

Masai                (Kenya, Tanzania)

Gbaya               (Cameroon, Central African Republic)


Southern Africa


Tswana-Sotho  (Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa)

Nguni-Xhosa-Zulu-Swati-Ndebele (South Africa, Zimbabwe,


Shona               (Zimbabwe, Mozambique)

Nyanya-Cewa (Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia)

Ronga-Tsonga (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa)


In addition to this minimal definition criterion, the participants also adopted the following additional criteria which are intended to guide politicians in the event of making joint selections at the regional or continental level:



The participants noted that certain languages are in the process of becoming a lingua franca. Others simply constitute linguistic continua for which mutual-comprehension - even where it is not immediate - could be facilitated by socio-economic factors (economic integration, linguistic planning. etc.). The participants expressed the hope that African States would foster structures capable of facilitating the interaction of people speaking the same languages across borders. Thus, problems of linguistic standardization would more easily be solved.


The experts were unanimous in regretting the absence of any up-to-date statistics on African languages. They felt, however, that the time of impressionist judgements was now over and that for each African language (and particularly the regional ones), statistical data was a prerequisite for any attempt at linguistic planning.


In this connection, it was stressed that in gathering statistical information for each African language, States should bear in mind the bi/multilingual phenomenon in Africa. The figures should therefore show both the native speakers and those who use it as a second language. The meeting called upon the States to include systematically the linguistic parameter in all population censuses.


They also noted with satisfaction that some draft linguistic or socio-linguistic atlases were being drawn up under the auspices of regional institutions and with the participation or collaboration of Unesco or other international bodies.




Discussions proceeded along two main lines:


  1. a census of practices and existing materials;
  2. a precise definition of objectives.


The participants pointed out that it was unrealistic to confine African languages to purely emotive or sectoral and utilitarian (adult education) functions. These languages should, on the contrary, be concomitantly promoted in the vital sectors of the life of African people, such as education at all levels, politics, information, business and administration. It is only on this basis, they thought, that African languages would survive in the modern world and help liberate the African and raise his status on the international scene.


In this respect, participants observed that it was absolutely necessary for political leaders to take decisions capable of promoting regional or sub-regional African languages by generalizing their effective use as instruments of knowledge and communication suited to translating the realities of the modern world inherent in scientific and technological advancement in all walks of public life.


The discussions brought to light certain significant differences between various regional African languages in respect of status, level and fields of use.


It was pointed out during the discussions that the majority of these languages are used over the radio and television. The proportion of some of them amounts to 80 per cent of national programmes.


The participants however observed that the staff responsible for such African language programmes does not usually undergo the required training. It was hoped that they would be given adequate technical training so as to avoid amateurism and improvisation.


They also hoped that amateurs would be given the opportunity of following regional training courses in order to master the terminologies common to the same languages.


Certain languages are already being used as instruction media in the first 2 or 3 years of primary school. Others are just entering the experimental stage in this respect. A few have even been used as instruction media throughout primary or secondary schools.


The Participants keenly and critically examined all these experiments. They regretted the lack of a spirit of continuity in all these experiments and inadequate preparation in certain cases. They called on African governments to be more ambitious and to have a clear picture of the various stages in their future experiments.


Fortunately, the majority of the reports on regional languages indicated the existence of literacy programmes in these languages.


Literacy operations were initiated by bodies either public (national bodies, State corporations, etc.) or private (missions, academies, etc.). Unesco's role in the improvement of the quality of such literacy operations was emphasized.


Some participants pointed out that literacy in regional African languages should not be limited to the rural areas alone. Such limitation was true of the present political situation in Africa where there is a "division of languages" reflecting the division of classes in the different societies: African languages for peasants and widely-spoken European languages for the elite in urban areas. It was therefore hoped, in conclusion, that the urban élite would also be taught to read and write regional African languages.


Another field where regional languages could be used was the printed press. Some languages had one or two newspapers, generally for rural areas. There wore hardly any that could boast of a daily newspaper or "roman-photos" (papers with stories told in photographs). This press was usually mediocre.


The use of regional languages in higher education as a subject and medium of knowledge was exceptional rather than normal.


Before tackling items 3 and 4 on the agenda, the experts stressed the following observations:


  1. The selection of regional communication languages to be promoted is the sole responsibility of the States. The expert's role is limited, at the level of Unesco, to providing criteria to shed light on these choices.
  2. The participants reiterated that the selection of regional languages to be promoted should not give rise to the neglect of the other minority languages. The experts reaffirmed that the right to science and culture in one's mother tongue is an indefeasible right of all men.
  3. There was general agreement that regional meetings at the level of African organizations and Unesco could, for example, be held in regional African languages. It was therefore hoped that the terms and conditions for trying out and implementing such a proposal would be considered and studied in forthcoming Unesco meetings.
  4. Taking up an idea already expressed at the Ouagadougou meeting (1978), some participants suggested that it was time to get rid of European conceptions and patterns of a monolingual State/nation. African history rather showed multilingual geopolitic groups in which citizens were united by ties other than language. Such patterns, it was suggested, were not without relevance in the present-day post-colonial era.


Items 3 and 4 of the agenda: Institutions conducting research


The purpose of the discussions was to establish an inventory of the institutional and technical infrastructures in the different countries. The discussions revealed that institutions are of different types and purposes. Some derive from colonial structures. Others are of recent creation. Some have the means of directing research towards the needs and choices of research workers. Others are state institutions with specific programmes.


The experts all regretted the lack of co-operation between the various institutions conducting research on inter-African languages. This shortcoming is noticeable at two levels.


·        at the State level: lack of co-operation among the institutional infrastructures of the same State;

·        at the inter-State level : lack of co-operation among institutions conducting research on the same language spoken by two or more States.


In attempting to explain this situation, the participants suggested several causes:


The participants stressed that this lack of co-operation should be examined at the political level. It is a question of policy and political affinities. Nevertheless, Unesco could play a significant role in fostering awareness of possible co-operation among States. Unesco should intensify its information and co-ordination work through existing regional centres and those to be set up.


Some participants remarked that there was personal co-operation among researchers of different nationalities working on regional languages. To remedy the lack of institutionalized cooperation, the participants hoped that:


a)     meetings of experts, on regional or subregional languages would be followed by meetings and decisions to be implemented at the level of the political leaders of the States concerned

b)     meetings on regional or subregional languages would be based, to the extent possible, on the already existing geopolitical infrastructures (UDEAC, CDEAO, CEAO, CPGL, etc.).


Before beginning the second important phase of the meeting which was to draw up a co­ordinated programme of research and publications, the meeting deemed it necessary to hold exploratory theoretical discussions on the devising of an overall scheme of co­operation among States with a view to Promoting their common languages. At the end of the discussions, three committees covering three different geographical regions (West Africa, Central Africa, East and Southern Africa) were set up to prepare practical programmes for the inter-African languages concerned.


The following overall scheme developed from the plenary session discussions was proposed as a basis for resolutions and recommendations.


Item 5 of the agenda: Co-ordinated programme of research and publications


(a) Drawing up of an overall scheme of co-operation between States with a view to promoting their common languages


Taking account of the discussions based on the documentation submitted to the participants by Unesco, the statements made and the ensuing exchange of views the experts drew the following conclusions which serve as a background for the preparation of practical projects on the inter-African languages selected.


1. Although in the long run it might be possible to draw up an exhaustive list of inter-African languages and the countries in which they are spoken, it is practically impossible to determine in the near future the number of speakers (native or non-natives) of each language considered. In this respect, all the figures given provide information that is often very approximate. The experts felt it was absolutely necessary to conduct censuses including a language section.


2. A common language is characterized, in all the countries where it is used, by a different number of speakers, different status spheres and levels of use. In any case, the experts re­marked that in very many cases, investigations were far advanced in some countries, whereas they were not even planned or were at an embryonic stage in other countries using the same language.


3. To be able to draw up a list of all African institutions working for the promotion of inter-African languages, it would have been necessary to convene a meeting of experts from all African States. The experts therefore generally gave the names of the institutions in their respective countries and mentioned some institutions existing in certain countries which were not repre­sented at the meeting. To bridge this gap, it would be advisable for Unesco to contact those countries concerned.


4. The experts observed that official machinery for systematic co-operation between States with a common African language was rare. However, projects were pointed out in this respect, particularly the Sociolinguistic Atlas Project of the Entente countries (ASOL Project) and the project for the promotion of the peul-Mandingo languages. Tile experts regretted the fact that in many cases, even at the level of each State, there was as yet no such co-operation. The officials in charge of linguistic or pedagogical research and those in charge of the mass media never or very rarely collaborate, whereas they are all working for the promotion of the same language. The result of this lack of co-operation is considerable wastage of the resources available, whereas it would be more rational to use the experience already acquired in other countries or even the material already available on the spot or in other countries of the same linguistic region.


5. The experts further recalled that political leaders, in spite of their declarations of intent, do not always carry through their recommendations or, in some cases, persist in impeding the promotion of African languages.


6. To translate inter-African co-operation into concrete terms, the experts present at Bamako undertook to send the following in­ as soon as possible to African institutions and special­ists working on the same inter-African languages:


a)     a brief description of the institution to which they belong (date of commencement, programme under way, achievements, etc.);

b)     a list of works already produced and, if possible, a copy thereof;

c)      facilities (training courses, publications. etc,) that could be offered researchers from other institutions conducting research on the same language;

d)     a list of other national institutions working on the same language. The experts admitted that on the whole, they already had a considerable amount of information on this subject;

e)     the nature of assistance expected.


7. The experts observed that the time had come to move on to the operational stage because, in the majority of cases, theoretical investigations were far advanced, at least in some countries. To do so, they felt that urgent need for contacts to be established between all those responsible for the promotion of the same inter­-African languages, especially linguists, educators and those res­ponsible for the press, radio and television, with the aim of achieving use of these languages at all levels, given the urgent need to enable the entire African population to Participate effec­tively in all activities of national life. In this connection, they regretted that the majority of the African population was kept apart by the use of foreign languages.


8. Noting that there was no structure for co-ordination among linguists and linguists' associations at continental level, the experts hoped that Unesco and other interested organizations would help facilitate co-operation on the continental scale among all those responsible for the promotion of African languages


9. The experts observed that even when African States have clearly defined a linguistic policy on African languages, they did not always make an overall, accurate and staggered estimate of the cost of operations and projects, especially medium and long-term ones. To remedy this situation, the experts advised that Unesco be consulted and play a more dynamic role in the search for sources of financing and in the evaluation of the costs of projects for the promotion of African languages at national and regional levels.


10. The experts all stressed the difficulties encountered in publishing and disseminating their work, difficulties that are even more pronounced when it comes to literary creation in African langu­ages. They emphasized the extent to which co-operation between countries where the sane language is spoken would provide a wider market and thereby facilitate production in African languages and, by priority, for the African public.


11. They strongly urged that contacts be made with the African National Radio and Television Union (URTNA) with headquarters in Dakar for the Purpose of a systematic exchange of radio programmes among African States with the same languages of intercommunication.







Following the criteria laid down for determining a language of regional intercommunication, Kiswahili was chosen as the language for the East African region.


This moreover has been a long-standing factual situation that needs no further explanation; the problem now is to determine how Kiswahili can effectively play the role assigned to it.


1. Policy for promoting Kiswahili


(i) At the level of universities, research centres and institutes.


Several universities, centres and institutes both in East Africa and elsewhere are at present studying and/or teaching Kiswahili as a mother tongue or foreign language. Unfortunately, it has been noticed that quite often there is a lack of contact and cooperation among these different bodies.


In order that there should be a joint effort and a fruitful exchange of experience, factors absolutely necessary for the promotion of Kiswahili, the meeting:



(ii) At the level of Swahili-speaking States:


In Swahili-speaking countries, research and action have been carried out on and in Kiswahili to make the language a medium of knowledge transmission and of communication adapted to the modern world. Here again, unfortunately, there is inadequate contact, which sometimes results in divergent views that are detrimental to the promotion of Kiswahili.


The meeting therefore:



For this purpose, it is necessary for meetings to be organized urgently between those responsible for theoretical research, pedagogical research, the media and the authorities. The meeting therefore invited the EACROTANAL to consider meetings for this purpose and called upon Unesco to assist it.


(iii) At the level of other African States:


The desire to communicate in an African language of regional inter-communication is shared nowadays by many African peoples. That is why the meeting encouraged States, especially those of East Africa, to recognize Kiswahili and to promote it as a modern language to be taught in schools and universities in the same way as other languages such as English, French, Russian, etc.


(iv) At the level of the OAU and other international African Organizations


Given the progress made in the study and use of Kiswahili and in accordance with the wishes expressed on several occasions, the meeting invited the OAU, Unesco, etc., to recognize Kiswahili and to promote it as a language for official meetings.


2. Promotion programme


For Kiswahili to be able to play the role assigned to it, much work needs to be done on it. In this connection, the meeting approved and recommended the different projects submitted by the EACROTANAL, namely:


(i) The preparation and compiling of bilingual dictionaries (Arabic-Swahili, Swahili-Arabic, Malagasy-Swahili, Swahili-Malagasy, etc.)


This necessarily calls for the training of researchers and lexicographers.


(ii) The training of the teaching staff and preparation of pedagogical materials for the teaching of Kiswahili as a foreign modern language.


(iii) The training of interpreters and translators from Swahili into another African or foreign language and vice­versa.


(iv) The training of specialized personnel capable of working in Kiswahili (announcers, secretaries, journalists. etc.).


(v) The translation of outstanding Swahili books into other languages particularly African.


(vi) The production of documents and artistic material on Swahili culture, in the form of records and films, as such material is necessary for the dissemination of the Swahili language and culture.


(vii) The preparation and 'drawing up of an East African linguistic map emphasizing the "Swahili area" and other linguistic zones related to or fundamentally different from Swahili.


3. Conclusion


The meeting





In the absence of delegates and experts representing Southern Africa, the meeting:





Kiswahili is not the only language of regional intercommunication in East Africa. There are other languages which extend beyond national borders and are spoken in two or more countries: these include Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Luo, Masai and Arabic.


In accordance with the spirit and purpose of the meeting, the committee called for the organization of meetings among the different users of these languages with a view to drawing up research and promotion projects.







After a lengthy discussion on the general linguistic situation in Central Africa, the committee observed that apart from the Central African Republic which had clearly defined a language policy, no other State had an explicit policy on African languages.




Central African countries are regarded as the geographical block formed by:





1. List:

Ewondo-Fang  (Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Congo, etc ....)

Kikongo            (Zaire, Congo, Angola, Gabon)

Sango               (Central Af rican Republic, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, Zaire)

Lingala              (Zaire, Congo)

Gbaya               (Cameroon, Central African -Republic etc....)

Teke                  (Congo, Gabon, Zaire).


[table here]


The policy of the Central African States is at present not defined. Certain facts can however be established. Some languages have been used over the radio and television since independence, though they do not have any specific legal status. Such is the case with Lingala and Kikongo in the Congo and Zaire, Ewondo in Cameroon, Fang in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. We can theref ore work on the basis of the actual usage (even if not official) of certain subregional languages and propose practical programmes as regards some of them.




1. Regionally speaking, the experts hoped to see a meeting of all Central African linguists convened, so as to put their heads together and define an overall strategy towards the promotion of the languages of this region.


2. Furthermore, the programmes currently under way (the Central African thematic lexicon programmes) or starting off (the Central African Linguistic Atlas) should be given special support by Unesco.




Three programmes could be initiated:


A. Ewondo-Fang (Fang-Beti) Programme: (Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo).


B. Lingala-Kikongo Programme           (Congo, Zaire, Angola)


C. Sango Programme (Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Congo).


1. Research work


a)     Compilation of documentation on each language.

b)     Harmonization of transcription in accordance, as much as possible, with the standards of the reference alphabet developed in Niamey in 1978.

c)      Preparation of educational, reference and population documents:

spelling books


vocabulary and grammar books, etc.

d)     Preparation of unified technical terminologies for the countries concerned.

e)     Publication of texts in these languages (literature, history, etc.).

f)        Study tours by researchers to the countries where any of the languages are used.


2. Training and information -activities


a)     Organization of annual national or subregional seminars on each of the programmes. Such seminars should be attended by linguists, educators, pressmen, printers, etc.

b)     Setting up of national language committees responsible for disseminating and popularizing the languages concerned among the users.

c)      Creation of a liaison bulletin for each linguistic zone (1 for Fang-Beti, 1 for Kikongo, 1 for Lingala and 1 for Sango).

d)     Training courses for research workers in regional, subregional or national institutions.

e)     Organization by researchers and educators of popularization programmes dealing with the language(s) of the country. Such programmes should be run exclusively in these languages.

f)        Setting up of newspapers published exclusively in subregional languages.




1. To Central African States


Since no State (except the Central African has as yet defined its language policy, we recommend that the Central African States:


a)     seek the assistance of existing institutions or those to be set up in defining a language policy;

b)     see to the sound implementation of the standards laid down by the different institutions concerned;

c)      foster the use of regional and subregional languages in all the mass media: radio, press, cinema, television;

d)     encourage the production and dissemination of documents, literary works, etc. in national languages.


2. To Unesco


a)     periodically organize, at the level of each subregional language, seminars, training courses and study tours aimed at the scientific and technical training of the personnel responsible for implementing the programmes in African languages: teachers, researchers, investigators, technical staff, etc.;

b)     help States and researchers expand interdisciplinary cooperation on the scale of the linguistic area concerned;

c)      gather and disseminate information on all works under way on African languages;

d)     urgently study the possibility of devising, in collaboration with professionals in the typewriting industry, a standard keyboard producing the African alphabet symbols.





The committee first of all adopted an effective working method for the study of languages of Inter-State communication in West Africa. An eight-point table showing nine languages of intercommunication was established.


Certain languages of Inter-State communication like Wolof, Senoufo, etc. were not discussed, due to the fact that the committee had no specific information on them. Such languages could be examined during future meetings. The following is the eight-point working table showing the languages studied by the Committee on West Africa.


[table here]





The meeting of experts on the "use of the regional or subregional African languages as media of culture and communication within the continent":


1.      Considering that the absolute necessity for States to resort to African languages both for cultural and multisectoral development is today an established fact;

2.      Considering the desire for co-operation expressed both within the OAU and in regional or subregional bodies;

3.      Considering the resolution adopted by the twentieth session of the Unesco General Conference on Unesco Project Horizon 2000 for the promotion of African languages;

4.      Considering the inadequate co-operation among African States in the promotion of languages common to them, co-operation that could enable them to avoid dispersing efforts and wasting resources;

5.      Considering that languages have increasingly to become operative tools in the administrative, political, legal economic and socio-cultural life in present-day Africa;

6.      Considering the necessity for African languages to play their full role as means of communicating the most recent achievements of modern science and technology and that such a role can neither be played empirically nor in ignorance of the experiences of the other continents;


Recommends that the African States, the OAU, Unesco and other public and private bodies concerned:


  1. Should use such regional structures as the Economic Community of West African States (CEAO) the Development Community of West African Countries (CDEAO), the Central African Customs and Economic Union (UDEAC), the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) etc., to promote inter-African languages.
  2. Use regional or subregional African languages as working languages at inter-African meetings (conferences, symposia),
  3. Organize an international symposium on theoretical and practical problems posed by the adaptation of African languages to modern science (terminologies, etc.).
  4. Publish a liaison bulletin within each linguistic zone.
  5. That future meetings of African linguists be devoted future meetings of African linguists [sic] to the effective launching of some projects for the promotion of regional or subregional languages on the basis of the programme drawn up during this meeting and with the participation of all the States concerned.
  6. Calls upon Unesco and the OAU to provide regional centres for oral tradition and African languages (Centre for Historical and Linguistic Studies by Oral Tradition (CEHLTO), Regional Centre for Research and Documentation on Oral Tradition and for the Development of African Languages (CERDOTOLA), East African Centre for Research on Oral Tradition and African National Languages (EACROTANAL), Southern African Centre) with the means to attain the targets laid down in the Ten-Year Plan.


Thanks to Aboubacar Mahamane of CELHTO in Niamey for help with obtaining a copy of African languages: Proceedings of the meeting of experts on the use of the regional or subregional African languages as media of culture and communication with the continent, Bamako (Mali), 18-22 June 1979. Paris: UNESCO, 1981, from which selections are reproduced here. Formatting by DZO.

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