In This Review

State-Building and Multilingual Education in Africa
State-Building and Multilingual Education in Africa
By Ericka A. Albaugh
Cambridge University Press, 2014, 336 pp

Given how difficult it can be to create a sense of nationhood in places where people construct their identities from many different sources, one might think that large African states would try to educate their citizens in a single national language in order to promote national cohesion. But in fact, four out of five African countries officially encourage education in multiple local languages. Albaugh argues convincingly that this counterintuitive development stems from an odd alliance that formed in the 1990s among elites in African countries, donor states, and international nongovernmental organizations that worked on education. The democratization of the region in the 1990s forced African governing elites to find new tools for maintaining their power. By helping strengthen regional identities, local language instruction represented a way for central authorities to divide and conquer, since it discouraged subnational groups from forming opposition blocs. Meanwhile, Western donor states, especially France, believed that official education in vernacular languages would also make it more likely for Africans to learn European languages. Finally, nongovernmental educational organizations tended to prize cultural diversity over the exigencies of nation building and lobbied on behalf of multilingualism. Theoretically rich, well documented, and sophisticated in its argumentation, Albaugh’s book is one of the finest available on the origins of public policy and the process of state building in Africa.