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Parliament's local language gambit: a mere exercise in symbolism with no substance

With surprise, I learned of the resolution passed by Ghana's esteemed parliament to introduce the use of local languages in their proceedings following the Easter recess.

It’s not only a laughable endeavour but follows a laughable and rather concerning trend of majoring in the minors at the expense of pressing national issues. On a Skype call with some acquaintances in China, we laughed about the symbolic gesture masquerading as progress - to put it more accurately, they laughed at me.

Whereas the symbolic allure of using local languages in Ghana’s parliament might seem like a well-intentioned notion, it is a misguided one and only goes to highlights the troubling tendency of the our lawmakers to prioritise headline-grabbing actions

This isn't merely an ill-conceived notion; it's a pattern under the current house, a pattern suggesting a disconnect between grand gestures and the gritty realities faced by ordinary Ghanaians.

Let's unpack why this language overhaul will prove more obstructive than inclusive:

Impracticality on a Grand Scale: Ghana boasts a rich tapestry of languages. This is usually a source of pride, but will soon become a logistical nightmare in Parliament should each language be duly represented.

Eʋegbe alone, for instance, has at least 4 core linguistic branches that are actively spoken in Ghana - branches that differ so much that there are words in Aŋlɔ that you wouldn’t easily translate into Fongbe or Tɔŋu. Some academic researchers claim there are up to 32 variations of the Ewe language spoken in Ghana.

Which of these numerous Ghanaian local languages will be prioritised for used in parliament?

Imagine real-time, accurate translation amidst heated debates, nuanced policy discussions, and the need for immediate, precise communication. We risk turning legislative proceedings into a linguistic Tower of Babel, stifling efficiency and breeding potential misinterpretation.

Resources: A Question of Priorities: Quality translators, fluent not just in the basics of these languages but in the specialised jargon of law and policy, are not easy to come by. Does the state possess the financial resources and training facilities for such a massive undertaking? 

And even if the state does possess these resources, are these funds not better used addressing the dire straits of our education system or crumbling healthcare infrastructure?

The Illusion of Inclusivity:  The very citizens this plan supposedly serves might well be those most ostracised by it. Many Ghanaians are multilingual, yes, but there's a vast difference between everyday colloquialism and the intricacies of legislative debate.

Whereas the cultural objectives of the state are entrenched constitutionally in Chapter 5, Article 39 (3), this doesn’t supersede English being the official language of Ghana. And what parliament conducts is official business, notwithstanding how chaotic and unordained their behaviour can look like to us sometimes.

Instead of opening the doors of Parliament, we risk alienating those without fluency in the select languages deemed worthy of the floor.

Distraction from Real Issues: This misplaced focus smacks of political expediency rather than genuine nation-building. Where are the bold plans to curb youth unemployment? Revitalise our stagnant economy? Tackle the corruption that permeates government institutions? 

The Ghanaian Parliament stands accused of fiddling with language while Rome burns on issues of actual consequence.

However, this is just to be expected, it isn't the first such grand symbolic gesture to come out of the NPP administration. Recall the lavish expenditure on the National Cathedral amidst crumbling social safety nets. Recall the renaming frenzy at the expense of addressing the underlying factors hindering the institutions in question.

If Parliament now desires to champion Ghana's languages, let them do so effectively:

  • Invest in Endangered Languages: Fund grassroots revitalisation programs with educators and communities holding the knowledge.
  • Multilingual Educational Models: Promote early childhood programs to foster true fluency and cultural appreciation.
  • Translation Initiatives: Sponsor the translation of important national documents making accessibility a reality, not a soundbite.

Ghana's diversity should be a source of strength, not paralysis. While language is vital, efficient governance cannot be sacrificed on the altar of superficial symbolism. True inclusive governance is built on a Parliament capable of making clear-headed decisions on  matters of national urgency.

Ghanaians deserve more than symbolic gestures. Linguistic diversity is an asset, but let it not become a smokescreen for inaction on the very real problems that plague our nation. It's time for the Ghanaian Parliament to focus on substance, on genuine nation-building, and on solutions that improve the lives of all citizens, not just those who speak a select few languages.

Our parliamentarians must be held to a higher standard - one that demands solutions tailored to Ghana's needs, not self-serving theatrics.

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