Health, the economy and language in Africa: a case study

Although growth in Sub Saharan Africa is estimated to have decelerated to 1.5% in 2016, as commodity exporters adjust to low commodity prices, Africa's growth record over the past two decades has been impressive. Despite downside risks arising from a renewed spread of the Ebola epidemic, violent insurgencies, lower commodity prices, and volatile global financial conditions, growth in the region is projected to rebound to 2.9% in 2017 and rise above 3.5% by 2018 (Global Economic Prospects, World Bank 2017).

Yet, institutions like the African Development Bank (AfDB) are calling for “inclusive economic growth” and the need to “build resilience through equity and inclusion”; and two of the AfDB’s new President’s five core operational priorities (the High 5s) are “Integrate Africa” and “Improve the living conditions of Africans”.  

What is the missing link? Why is it that the majority of the African people are not benefitting from this economic growth? How can the Sub Saharan Africa be “integrated” and “the living conditions” of its people effectively “improved”? How can we build bridges between economic growth, language and sustainable development? 

This presentation argues that, much like the FAO in the late 1980s, “there is no development without communication” (Balit, 1988) and that one of the root causes of fragility and inability to achieve the goal of inclusive growth in Sub Saharan Africa is the marginalisation of the majority of the people, due to the absence of efficient and effective language policy and planning.

A graduate from Georgetown University (PhD, 1985), Paulin is Professor of Applied Sociolinguistics and author of several publications on the role of language in sustainable development in Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia. The recipient of numerous honours and awards and a member of the editorial boards of several international journals of sociolinguistics, he has spent his entire academic career working in the United States, Australia and Asia (China and the Lao PDR). Paulin is now an international consultant in Language and Education.