Saturday, September 25, 2010

Parlez-vous Esperanto? - Mozambique

Obladi, oblada! Or is it obligo, oblago? I’m sure it’s obla — something…

Hey Jeed! What the hell are you saying?

Carlos, I have asked you never to call me Jeed again. I’m not Jeed. My name is Jide…

No way! You either bear John or Joseph. You can’t be bearing Jeeddah here. This is Mozambique, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

I don’t give a damn whether this is Mozambique or Matabeleland. I don’t even give a damn whether it is Pearl of the Indian Ocean or Coconut of the Limpopo River. Just let me say thank you to the waitress in the language she understands.

Ahaa! Is that why you were trying to obladi-oblada me? What exactly were you trying to say? Maybe I can help you.

I was trying to say thank you. Is it not obladi, oblada?

No, it’s obrigado…



I don’t want this obrigado business. It sounds like desperado. How about something in her native tongue? Something African, something very authentic.

That’s asking for the impossible because I don’t know which ethnic group she belongs to. As small as they are, they have about 10 different languages.

How many are they?

I think they are about 18 million divided into about 10 different ethnic groups. There are the Makua from the north, the Tsonga in the south, the Chope, the Shona, the Sena, the Nyanja, the Nyangue, the Chuabo, the Yao, the Ndau, and the Makonde…

That’s even manageable. Do you know that tiny Gabon, with a population of less than two million, is made up of about 40 ethnic groups and each having its own language?

Wao! Then the giant itself, I mean Niagara, must have up to 100 languages…

Hundred what?! You must be joking! With a population of 140 million, we already have over 250 ethnic groups and languages. And that’s tentative. They may soon discover new Niagarans, like the Koma were accidentally discovered by some evangelists in the jungle.

Who are the comma?

Well, the KOMA, not comma, people were discovered sometime ago to be Niagarans. And this is no joke. Through aerial surveys and new imaging techniques, more ethnic groups and more languages are bound to be discovered going by the Wakama census conducted last year.

That’s the problem of Africa.

What’s that?

The continent is a babel of tongues. We do not understand one another. Can’t we, for a moment, leave politics aside and decide which one out of our many languages we should choose as our lingua franca?

Never! It’s not possible.

Why do you say so?

Nobody will want to surrender his mother tongue to another, no matter the need to attain mutual intelligibility for the common good.

Indeed, that’s the bane of African unity. For many decades, there have been calls for Africans to come together to fashion a common means of communication among the more than 2,000 ethnic groups and languages in the continent. In North Africa, Arabic is the lingua franca but it is not original to Africa. In Southern and Eastern Africa, the common lingua franca is Swahili, while in the West African sub-region, Hausa is the most widely spoken. Both Hausa and Swahili are two African languages on both BBC and the Voice of America. In 1977, there was a gathering of eggheads at the Festival of Arts and Culture, called FESTAC ’77, to brainstorm on the possibility of adopting a common language as Africa’s lingua franca to ease understanding among Africans and give us a sense of pride. As usual, the evil combination of unhealthy rivalry and unnecessary politicisation made sure that the colloquium did not matter much to the political leaders and its recommendations, like the often much-touted African unity, were thrown into the pending tray where they have been ever since.

You can’t blame our leaders for that. Even the United Nations, UN, has not been able to adopt one of the five languages of the super powers as the official language as well as lingua franca among all nations. So, that’s what Africa copied and what countries like Niagara copied by having no local lingua franca. Instead they adopt foreign languages, vestiges of colonisation, as both their official language and lingua franca. What a shame!

I think the UN should be more ashamed because I learnt that some linguistic experts once suggested that the UN should adopt a neutral language as the world’s lingua franca some years back, but the idea was shot down in mid-trajectory…

Is there any language that is neutral?

Yes. In 1887, an artificial language called ESPERANTO was invented by one Dr. Ludwik Zamenh aka Dr. Esperanto (a Polish physician) to facilitate global mutual intelligibility but the idea was left to die…

No. I think we need to do something like that for Mother Africa. Swahili is already one language that is an aggregation of many south and east African languages plus, even, Arabic woven together in a sort of creative linguistic tapestry that is easy to learn and is acceptable to all and sundry. Can’t we have something like that for the rest of Africa? Esperanto, where are you? Come and rescue us.

Perhaps, we shall all be saved the embarrassment of communication with one another through alien languages.

Parlez-vous Esperanto?



  1. Esperanto left to die?

    By no means. Please check out at

    or write to

  2. Like Gunnar, I was astounded by the statement that non-ethnic Esperanto has been left to die. The 95th annual World Esperanto Congress took place last month in Cuba:
    Come and join us in Copenhagen next year!
    A modern rationale for Esperanto can be found in the Prague

  3. Esperanto!! Yea!!