Presentation of the OAU Language Plan of Action 1986 for readers of the Bisharat! web site. Return to Basic Documents.

General Secretariat
B.P. 3243
Addis Ababa

20 - 25 JULY 1987

Res. CM 1123 (XLVl)
Original: English



We, Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity, meeting in our 22nd Ordinary Session, in Addis Ababa, from 28 to 30 July 1986.



That language is at the heart of a people's culture and further convinced that, in accordance with the provisions of the Cultural Charter for Africa, the cultural advancement of the African peoples and the acceleration of their economic and social development will not be possible without harnessing in a practical manner indigenous African languages in that advancement and development;


That, as in other spheres of her national life, Africa needs to assert her independence and identity in the field of language;


That, up to the present, the majority of Member States have not taken the necessary practical steps to accord their indigenous languages their rightful official role as provided for by the Cultural Charter for Africa, the Lagos Plan of Action and other related resolutions of the Organization of African Unity;


That each sovereign state has the right to devise a language policy that reflects the cultural and socio-economic realities of its country, which is consonant or in close harmony with the needs and aspirations of its people;


That the adoption and practical promotion of African languages as the official languages of the state is dependent primarily, and as matter of absolute imperative, on the political will and determination of each sovereign state;


That the adoption and practical promotion of African languages as the official languages of the state are certain to have great advantages over the use of non-indigenous languages in democratising the process of formal education and involvement of the African populations in the political, cultural and economic affairs of their country;


That illiteracy is an obstacle to the economic, cultural and social development of African countries and that mass literacy campaigns cannot succeed without the use of indigenous African languages;


That, in recognition of the ever-growing interdependence and interaction at all levels of human endeavour and brotherhood of man, communication with the outside world beyond the boundaries of the African continent is inevitable and ought to be provided for or reflected in the language policies to be devised and implemented by each sovereign state;


That the promotion of African languages, especially those which transcend national frontiers, is a vital factor in the cause of African Unity;


That, within Africa itself, the existence side by side in almost all African countries of several languages is a major fact of life and the knowledge that, because of this, multilingualism (i.e. the mastery and use of several languages by individuals for purpose of daily communication) is an equally dominant social feature of life in these countries, should induce Member States to make the promotion of multilingualism in their countries a prime consideration in the evolution of an appropriate language policy;


To adopt the Language Plan of Action for Africa, as set out below:



The aims and objectives of this Plan of Action are as follows:

a.       To encourage each and every Member State to have a clearly defined language policy;

b.       To ensure that all languages within the boundaries of Member States are recognised and accepted as a source of mutual enrichment;

c.       To liberate the African peoples from undue reliance on the utilisation of non-indigenous languages as the dominant, official languages of the state in favour of the gradual take-over of appropriate and carefully selected indigenous African languages in this domain;

d.       To ensure that African languages, by appropriate legal provision and practical promotion, assume their rightful role as the means of official communication in the public affairs of each Member State, in replacement of European languages, which have hitherto played this role;

e.       To encourage the increased use African languages as vehicles of instruction at all educational levels;

f.         To ensure that all the sectors of the political and socio-economic systems of each Member State is mobilised in such a manner that they play their due part in ensuring that the African language(s) prescribed as official language(s) assume their intended role in the shortest time possible;

g.       To foster and promote national, regional and continental linguistic unity in Africa, in the context of the multilingualism prevailing in most African countries.



a.       Policy Formulation:

Whether at the national, regional or continental levels, the selection and prescription without undue delay of certain viable national, regional or continental indigenous African languages as the official languages to be used for the formal official functions of the State, regional groupings or the OAU.

b.       Implementation and Promotion:

The subsequent implementation of the language policy adopted and the incorporation of the official African languages in the political, educational, social, cultural and economic lives of the people.

c.       Modernisation:

The modernisation as necessary and by any means required of the indigenous African languages selected and prescribed as official languages.

d.       Mobilisation of Resources:

The mobilisation of financial, human and other resources, and all relevant public and private institutions, in the practical promotion of the chosen official languages.



In order to fulfil the objectives set out in Part I, the African States solemnly subscribe to the following programme of action:

a.       At continental level and as a concrete expression and demonstration of the OAU's seriousness of purpose, the adoption without undue delay by the Organization of African Unity and the regional associations, organizations or institutions affiliated to it of viable indigenous African languages as working languages;

b.       To encourage regional associations, organizations or institutions already accorded or those applying for observer status to the OAU to adopt indigenous African languages as their working languages;

c.       At regional level, the adoption by regional groupings of viable, regional indigenous African languages as official or working languages;

d.       At national level, the imperative need for each OAU Member State to consider it necessary and primary that it formulates with the minimum of delay a language policy that places an indigenous African language or language spoken and in active use by its peoples at the centre of its socio-economic development;

e.       In order to fulfil the objectives in (d), the need by each Member State to establish a national language council, where none exists, or to strengthen it, where one already exists, as a national sounding board for the formulation of an appropriate national language policy;

f.         The absolute necessity that each Member State, as a matter of supreme practical importance, follows up the formulation of an appropriate national language policy with an adequate and sustained allocation of the necessary financial and material resources, to ensure that the language or languages prescribed as official language(s) achieve(s) a level of modernisation that meets the needs of administering a modern State;

g.       In recognition of the negative estimation in which indigenous African languages are generally held in Africa, by the general public, the necessity for each Member State, as part of its national programme of promoting those African languages duly prescribed as official languages, to mount a sustained campaign of educating or re-educating the national population about the inherent or potential practical utility of African languages to counter the present widespread negative attitudes in Africa towards these languages;

h.       In recognition that the formal national education system plays a key role in the practical use of any language, the need for each Member State to ensure that all the sectors (i.e. primary, secondary and tertiary) of the national education system, are pressed as appropriate in the service of the practical promotion of the indigenous language(s) selected and prescribed as (an) official language(s);

i.         Aware that African universities, research institutes and other institutions concerned with the study and promotion of African languages have a unique role to play in strengthening the role these languages play in the daily lives of the African peoples, the need for these institutions to strike a proper balance in future between the scientific study of the African languages and their actual use and practical promotion

j.         In connection with (i) above, the need for each Member State to render its national universities and other research and related institutions a primary instrument for the practical promotion of African languages, as regards such critical promotional activities, as the compilation of technical and general dictionaries, the writing of textbooks on useful subjects, the training of teachers of language, translators, interpreters, broadcasters and journalists, the production of useful books and other types of literature, relevant to the lives of contemporary Africans and the up-dating of vocabulary in African languages;

k.       In recognition of the fact that to impart formal or other types of knowledge, the vehicle of instruction or communication should be a language familiar to the learner, the absolute necessity that each Member State should, as an essential part of its educational policy, prescribe as media or vehicles of instruction those indigenous African languages, that best and most effectively facilitate the learning process;

l.         In recognition of the singularly strategic role widespread literacy among the national population plays, in the socio-economic development of a country, and recognising further that literacy education will be greatly facilitated and speeded up, if languages familiar to the national population are employed, the advisability of using indigenous African languages as media of instruction in national literacy campaigns mounted by Member States.

Text source: Annexure 2 of "Towards a National Language Plan for South Africa: Final Report of the Language Plan Task Group," 8 August 1996. . Thanks to Profs. Bob Herbert and Russell Kaschula for their help in locating a source for the document.

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