Random thoughts on returning from French Africa

If you’re a human being who speaks French, you’re more likely to be African than European. La Francophonie’s demographic center of gravity is now somewhere around Bamako, Mali.

If you’re a human being who is literate in French — say, at a high school graduate level — you’re probably European. But not for much longer. Demographic growth plus the slow-but-steady rise of literacy rates in most of Africa means that by the next decade, most literate Francophones will be African too.
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La Francophonie again

I’m in Senegal for a couple of weeks, on business.

Pretty much everything I wrote about French in Burundi in this post last year applies to French in Senegal. All educated Senegalese speak French; most speak it really well; they’ve also picked up a lot of distinctly Gallic tics of gesture and conversational patterning. The French fascination with their former colonies is a lot easier to understand once you’ve visited; if you’re French, it must be so pleasant to be someplace where French is the language of learning and prestige, where everyone who matters speaks French, and where there’s never a need to break out the English.

There are some differences. Gallicization seems to run deeper here than in Burundi. No, that’s not exactly right. More like: the European influences seems more assimilated. In Burundi, rich and elite Burundians can seem like wannabe Belgians, cut-and-pasting the culture of the former colonists. Elite Senegalese seem to be more comfortable integrating the different influences. It may just be that Senegal is a much less desperately-screwed-up place than Burundi, and so has less of a cultural cringe… I’m not sure. Continue reading

A modest proposal for CAP reform

I’ve been in Canada for the last month, getting in my last family visit before settling in to the serious business of either going back to school or collecting unemployment checks. My family is large – Great-Grandpa had 25 children, and Grandpa had 9 – so it takes a while if you go to see my family. Ours is a large, disorganised, occasionally frightening clan who, depending on pure whim, identifies itself as either German-Canadian, Dutch-Canadian, Russian-Canadian or Ukrainian-Canadian. Our tribal language is an obscure dialect of Low Saxon (Platt for the actual Germans out there) spoken primarily in Paraguay, Mexico, Central America and Saskatchewan, and whose most famous speaker is, arguably, Homer Simpson. It’s a long story, don’t ask. It not being much of a literary language, we all just say our ancestors spoke German – the liturgical language of my clan’s particular sect.

In contrast to Europe and the US, Canadians are a lot less disturbed about asking people about their ethnic identities or expressing some loyalty to them. I guess the main reason is that Canada has never really pretended to be a nation built atop an identity, but rather a place where an identity of sorts has slowly built up from the existence of a nation. There is no Canadian myth of the melting pot, and as our soon-to-be new Governor General has demonstrated, no serious demand for nativism in public office. Michaëlle Jean, who is slated to be the powerless and unelected Canadian head-of-state when the Queen is out of the country – e.g., practically always – when she is sworn in on the 27th, is no doubt the most attractive candidate we’ve ever had for the office. And, like her predecessor, she is a former CBC/SRC reporter and talking head.

Ms Jean and I share an endemically Canadian charateristic: We both can and do identify ourselves shamelessly as several different kinds of hyphenated Canadians. She is French Canadian, but that’s hardly strange. She is also Franco-Canadian – Ms Jean has dual citizenship with France, making her the first EU citizen to be Governor General of Canada and the first French citizen to be acting head of state of Canada since 1763. But more unprecedentedly, she is Haitian-Canadian and – as logically follows – African-Canadian.

Yes, Ms Jean is black, and furthermore in an interracial marriage. Well, that’s Canada for you. America puts black folk in squalid emergency shelters, we put ours in Rideau Hall.
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