Why Francophone Africa is less dynamic than Anglophone

Why Francophone Africa is less dynamic than Anglophone

I realize that’s a rather brash title and I don’t like it at all, but it’s not mine. It’s actually from Neo’s [now dead] blog called, Carnets d’un étudiant africain…exilé en Europe (Notebooks of an African student… exiled in Europe [note, site now dead]) who is a French-speaking African. He writes really well and if you don’t speak French, but have the patience to use the Google Translate (it does have “hiccups”) I highly recommend reading his blog.

For some time, I have indeed wondered why it is that the English speaking countries seem to be doing better overall than the French speaking countries. Obviously, this hasn’t always been the case, but currently countries like Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and yes, Nigeria are either up and coming or in general, doing quite well. Then on the other hand, countries such as all the Guineas, both Congos, CAR, Cote d’Ivoire, and others still have a ways to go in a great number of issues. There are exceptions to this gross generalization of course in that Senegal and Benin are doing rather well and Zimbabwe is not. But overall it begs the question: were the British a better Colonial power than the French, Belgians, Germans, Italians, Portuguese, or Spaniards? The answer is no, not really because that’s a lot like asking, which terminal cancer you think is the best to have. Amongst the field of choice, there are maybe slightly better options, but overall, it’s all the same damned thing.

It’s clear that Neo has thought a great deal about this as he’s brought points that I had never considered, which basically comes down to the work ethic of Protestant vs. Catholic. Yes, European religions are still having an affect on 21st century Africa.

Je pense que c’est du au fait que les anglophones ont mieux intégré, en même temps que la colonisation, la culture économique néo-libérale… Cette culture économique est entièrement basée sur des concepts et une idéologie anglo-saxonne (anglaise du 18e et 19e siècle, puis américaine au 20e) et donc protestante.

I think it’s the fact that the English were better integrated, along with colonization, and a culture of economic neo-liberalism… This economic culture is based entirely on concepts and Anglo-Saxon ideology (English 18th and 19th century and American 20th) of the Protestant.

…la France comme les autres pays latins s’inscrit dans une tradition chrétienne catholique qui a toujours encouragé les individus à privilégier la pauvreté et l’humilité (pour entrer plus facilement dans le royaume de Dieu), du moyen-Âge jusqu’au dix-neuvième siècle, où le capitalisme était vivement critiqué…

…France, like other Latin countries as part of a Catholic Christian tradition has always encouraged people to focus on poverty and humility (for easier entry into the kingdom of God), the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century, when capitalism was strongly criticized…

He talks in more depth about these issues, but it’s a great argument to show that when countries in African were nonchalantly carved between various European powers, they not only took on the common language of the Colonist, but also a great deal of their religious and cultural ideology. Again, a very good read and very mighty HT to my Editor in Chief for pointing me to this article in this first place.

17 Replies to “Why Francophone Africa is less dynamic than Anglophone”

  1. The catholic-protestant gap may apply in Europe or in the Americas (countries with European population) but I don’t think it does in Africa, at least not considerably. I intend to develop my ideas about it on a forthcoming article.

  2. One remark: in the maps, Madagascar is marked both francophone and anglophone. Is it changing from French to English like Rwanda?

  3. According to Wikipedia, both French and English are official languages. Not sure what the meaning of that is as I was under the impression that it was indeed just French, but maybe there is a slow shift to English? It also happens to be one of the few countries in Africa where the local language has a strong presence and I’m under the impression that above French or English, Malagasy is spoken more than anything else.

  4. I think a similar argument is presented in Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. Perhaps this is where “Neo” takes his perspective from?
    I come from Cameroon, from Anglo-Cameroon. Some of my fellow Anglo-Cam people view Franco-Cameroun as troubled when it comes to work and ethics and “work ethics.” And they would probably agree with you when you say the French and their brand of cultural imperialism are to blame for what’s wrong in French Cameroun. Not that British Cameroonians are perfect either–or untainted (ha!) by colonialism.
    As far as religion goes, they might disagree, because a good number of Anglo-Cameroonians are Catholic. There’s also the question of indigenous religous practices and traditional cultural values. I think countless historical, social, economic, political things shape African countries, not to mention the diversity of each country’s citizenry. I wonder about things like subsistence practices and traditional social organization (kinship structure, polities, etc, “beautiful” African things that persist in the face or modernization) and how these shape how Africans survive (sometimes with quite a bit of grace and dignity!)in a pretty unforgiving context of global oppression.

  5. To answer the question in the title, two words: Napoleonic centralization.

    About Madagascar: The government that took over after the coup did away with English as an official language (added in 06) as one of its early brilliant measures. (thanks Francafrique). The majority of the population communicates readily in French.

  6. This is actually only part of the story. It has to do with the legal system in each country. English-speaking countries adopted the Common Law System, which originates from the concept of Natural Justice. According to this principle, “a man can do anything he wants, so long as he does not break any laws”. On the other hand, Roman and Napoleonic codes require prior authorization of activities. You need permission to do things. In a business context, this translates to a “can do” attitude in English speaking countries and more layers of Bureaucracy in countries whose legal systems are based on the Napoleanic Code. If this were as simple as religion, how would you explain Germany, which is both Catholic and Protestant?

  7. Hi Jon,

    By Napoleonic centralization, I was referring to a french system that tries to systematically direct all the administrative process to the capital city and through the state apparatus. This is a recipe for disaster in African nations where the distance between communities is so vast that provinces need to be empowered to carry infrastructure building. However the Nap.code as you stated clearly played a role too.

  8. I like where Jon and Lova are going with it. Centralisation and Napoleonic Code could very much explain a lot of the apathy. I didn’t even know that the difference in the justice system could be so fundamental.
    Decentralisation is not worse for Africa than any other place in the world. Yet we can see that Napoleonic code would necessitate or create Centralisation. Since Decision and Permission would have to come from the Top… In that Centralisation and Napoleonic Code could be thought to work hand in hand… Very interesting take on the question

  9. There are some really great topics coming up in the comments. I would encourage everyone, if they have a blog to write some more on this as it’s a topic that hasn’t been discussed all that much and is something that I feel is worth looking in to a great deal more.
    If you do write an article, please link to it from here. I know that I as well as many others would love to read another take on this as I am mostly just quoting from another source article.

  10. Hi!
    I never said that it’s just a religious question.
    All of us agree that a good governance system is a key factor of development. But, in Africa, our administrations comes from our respective colonist, which are themselves based and constructed on socio-cultural parameters (include religion) of their countries.

  11. Sorry if this seems obvious, but I can’t help thinking that a really important factor is the international gain recieved by English-speaking countries simply because they can communicate with more of the world. It must at least play an important role in the success of various countries, and to my mind (Disavowed catholic raised English in Quebec) is a much clearer explanation for the language-derived gap than the underlying religions (at least if by religion we mean religious attitudes to labor).

    Of course, the Catholic church turns what it touches to shit, so I’m open to the idea that simply by dint of having them as a second layer of colonial power French colonies were worse off all along. (Modern example would be delirious priests telling people that contraception is a sin).

    I like the idea of the structure of political society playing a role, I’m sure all of these things factor in to some degree.

  12. Désolé si cela semble évident, mais je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser que d’un facteur très important est le gain internationale reçue par les pays anglophones tout simplement parce qu’ils ne peuvent plus communiquer avec le monde. Il doit au moins jouer un rôle important dans la réussite de divers pays, et à mon avis (catholique Désavoué soulevé l’anglais au Québec) est une explication beaucoup plus claire pour l’écart de la langue dérivés sous-jacents que les religions (du moins si on entend par religion attitudes religieuses au travail).

    Bien sûr, l’Eglise catholique se transforme ce qu’il touche à la merde, alors je suis ouvert à l’idée que tout simplement, à force de les avoir comme une seconde couche de puissance coloniale colonies françaises ont été moins bien lotis tout au long. (Par exemple moderne serait prêtres délire de dire aux gens que la contraception est un péché).

    J’aime l’idée de la structure de jouer un rôle politique de la société, je suis sûr que toutes ces choses facteur dans une certaine mesure

  13. A number of countries on both sides are predominantly Muslim (Mauritania, Senegal, Tanzania) ruling out religious influence, but the Napoleonic code would still have had some influence on the Francophone countries. What about the fact that the French destroyed the infrastructure they built as they left their newly independent colonies (Guinea comes to mind as a particularly egregious example), whereas the Brits never left at all in some places such as Zambia and Zimbabwe (ok, Zim has been a basket case but that’s all Mugabe’s doing). I wonder if they helped/guided their newly independent ‘kids’ while they found their way vice the poor orphaned Francphonies. How do South Africa and Ethiopia fit in to the discussion? Ethiopia was never colonized while SA was run by whites until 20 yrs ago.

  14. Tanzania is actually more Christian than Muslim, although above anything else, everyone seems to have a core of African beliefs that define their religions, so that’s not really part of the argument.

    Most of the infrastructure destruction was done by Africans after independence, such as you see in Congo DRC. Eritrea was definitely an exception as it was looted by European powers, but that was during WWII, so all bets are off there.

    South Africa would fall under that “more dynamic” Anglophone Africa, but really, it’s something completely different as the climate and environment has allowed for a less nomadic development of the people.

    As for Ethiopia, again, they’re their own beast. Ethiopia was technically “colonized” by Italy briefly, but the bigger thing that screwed Ethiopia was the Cold War and the US/USSR propping up shitty dictators.

  15. I am from Francophone West Africa, I am bilingual French-English; I agreed that France is the worst colonialist;I use to look at anglophone Africans as ”weird” but since I learned English, my eyes have more open about the world, I can communicate with all nationalities, and have access to much information on the internet; I wish my country was Anglophone :(

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