African Economies


For a long time, Africa has been known as the “dark continent” due to many factors, among them the low rates of development and the poor state of the economies of many of the countries on the continent. However, this is likely to change in future as a number of countries on the continent begin to register impressive economic growths. In fact, the African economy has been growing much faster than that of other sections of the world. It is estimated that in the next 35 years, the African continent will be contributing a substantial percentage of the global GDP. This has seen interest in the African countries rise. Right now, seven out of the ten fastest growing economies are from Africa (Wetherly and Otto 442). On the African continent, the fastest growing countries are South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, and Botswana (Jerven 134). It is notable that a majority of these countries are English speaking; and an observation of African economies reveals that the English speaking countries on the continent have better performing economies than the French speaking ones, even when they are located in the same regions of the continent and have the same resources. This paper will briefly explore the reasons for this disparity in the performance of the English and French speaking countries with a view to discussing the factors that could be causing the spread.

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The Reasons for the Spread of the Performance

The world over, English speaking counties have stronger economies than French speaking ones.  This seems to have been replicated in Africa, where English speaking countries (known as Anglophone Africa) have stronger economies than the French speaking ones (known as Francophone Africa).  Previously, not much has been given to the Language a country speaks. It has been taken for granted with many countries simply following the language of the colonial master, which was already in wide use in education and official systems. It was the easy choice, seen by many countries as the least disruptive of the status quo. But the role a language plays in a nations overall economic and welfare development begin to be looked at keenly when Rwanda recently switched from French to English as the official language. There were both political and economic reasons behind this decision. It is clear that there are major differences in the economic strengths of English speaking and French speaking African countries. There are a number of factors responsible for this difference in the performance of the two groups of countries.

The official language a country uses has a major impact on its business and economic performance, as the language its citizens can speak will determine who they will do business with and what kind of business they will engage in. The positive influence of English is not limited to the continent, but spreads across the world. The world’s richest country, America, is English speaking. So is Britain, which was at for a long time the most powerful nation on Earth with colonies spread across every continent of the world. At the end of the day, it all boils to one factor; competition (International Monetary Fund 18). The Countries are competing for the little available market for their goods and services. The English-speaking countries have an advantage in this competitive structure; they have the language to reach the most lucrative markets of the world in America, which has the highest per capita income in the world and the highest number of Millionaires on the Globe. French speaking countries have a limitation when they try to reach such markets, hence, the spread in the economies.

There is also evidence to show that the English-speaking rich countries channeled their aid more to the English-speaking countries than to those whose official language was French. While there is little to show that aid has a direct contribution to economic development, it is a fact that money was put into the countries and even if some or all of it was misappropriated, some of it must have found its way into the economy (Moyo 32). This began during colonialism. The British had a booming economy and had the resources to finance their African economies. Their colonial administrators were well funded and were able to set up strong systems of administration and some economic activity began taking shape. There was stability and order. On the other hand, the French administrations on the continent were poorly funded and disorganized and economic growth does not take root in such an environment.

Another reason that could explain the difference in the economic performances of English and French speaking African is tourism. Tourism contributes a substantial portion of the African economies, as Africa is still one of the few places in the world with wildlife herds still roaming its jungles. It has been observed that most tourists usually prefer to visit those countries in which their language is spoken. Most French tourists will visit West African French speaking countries while many from America and Britain will choose English speaking African destinations such as Kenya. It is also factual that because of economic power and the seasons, America and Britain contribute a majority of the world’s tourists.  This has become even more pronounced in this era where tourists do not just visit in order to see the beautiful scenery, wildlife, physical features and the sunny beaches, but also to interact with and learn the culture of the people, in what is now being branded cultural tourism. In such cases, one would naturally choose a country in which he can communicate with the people he interacts with easily. Thus, English speaking countries end up gaining by receiving a higher number of tourists and therefore higher income (Smith and Robinson 47).

Another reason why English-speaking Africa countries have stronger economies than the French speaking ones is colonial history. History and economics scholars have posited that the colonial legacy is responsible for the unbalanced development of African countries. The colonial countries had different perceptions of their colonies. While the language itself is playing a part as discussed above, there are other factors which may not be linked to language, but which are lingering effects of the policies put in place by the colonizing countries at independence. With the exception of a few countries such as Rwanda who have intentionally changed their official language status, African countries speak the language of the countries that colonized them. There have been studies showing that Britain, which colonized most of the African English-speaking countries, had a more dedicated approach to the colonies than France. Britain looked at the colonies as part of the greater British Empire and went to large expends to develop them and improve their economies, which gave them a firm foundation and whose effect is still being felt. Many other colonizers, France among them, viewed the colonies only as sources of raw materials and cheap labor to develop the home country. The official policy of Britain was that the colonies were to be part of the global capitalist system, and were to be developed so that they could produce goods and services to the world economy; therefore, some industrial development and agricultural expansion were put in place (Butler 133).

Britain also undertook more infrastructural development in its colonies compared to France. In east Africa for example, one of the first things the British administration undertook is the construction of the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi. This led to the opening up of the interior, as travel was easier and goods could be transported to the coast and eventually to other countries by sea more easily and fast. Most of the early towns in Kenya in fact came up along the railway line (Soja 21). This was replicated in most of the British colonies in Africa. British was at that time the most powerful nation in the world, and the country’s economy was doing well, with enough money to undertake such projects in the colonies. They were put on a firm course of economic growth early by these projects.  Such projects were less in the French colonies. While there might have been intentions to invest in mega projects the way the British were doing, the French government was experiencing financial difficulties and could not afford to carry out any major projects. There was a policy in France that individuals could undertake investments in foreign countries, but the taxpayers’ money could only be used for development projects in France and not in other countries (Thomas 112).

The French colonies also remained behind in economic development due to a system that was adapted by the French to deal with the Africans. This system was called assimilation, which was an attempt to completely transform the Africans into black Frenchmen. The British, on the other hand, practiced a system called association, where the Africans in the colonies they ruled were allowed to retain their identity as Africans even as they attained education and employment. Of the two systems, the British system was the one which had some dignity in the way they perceived the subject. French assimilation stripped the Africans of their dignity and left them without an identity. To become assimilated Frenchmen, Africans were supposed to fully acquire the French language and culture, including mannerisms such as eating, dressing, and music. Only few Africans were considered good enough to be allowed to be fully assimilated. The people were made to feel that their own culture and language were inferior and unworthy of investing in. they lost their identity.

When they eventually gained independence, they were very alienated from their surroundings and culture. They did not have enough pride and dignity in anything local. The system of the French had made the people lose value and faith in the local systems. Left on their own, such people took too long to accept that they were good enough to steer development in those countries. It is for this reason that countries which had been colonized by French depended on aid for a longer time than the ones colonized by the British (Shillington 456). One of the aspects that added to the impact of the assimilation system was the attempted forceful assimilation of the Africans, which saw military battalions arrest people and force them to be assimilated into French culture. There was increased animosity between the colonial masters and their subjects, a situation which cannot allow any meaningful economic growth. The British, on the other hand, used diplomacy, with efforts to woo the Africans to their side. A number of Africans collaborated with the British, and it is many of the collaborators who took over the countries when British ceded power. This provided a smooth transition.

Therefore, the French modeled their colonies in such a way that they would crumple without the French themselves running them. They made no efforts to train enough people who would take over and successfully run the economies to successful levels. It would seem that the French were not ready to hand over to the Africans at any time. On the other hand, the British tried to get enough professionals to take over after independence. They were ready to take over once the British left, since some had, in fact, worked closely with the British. The effect of assimilation as compared to those of association were seen most after independence. The former French colonies had almost no infrastructure or government systems to build their economies on. The British ones were, on the other hand, already on the path to prosperity. To this day, the disparity is still evident everywhere on the continent (Manning 61).

One other factor that works to the advantage of the English-speaking countries is America. America could be said to be the most significant player on world economy, and a discussion on the economies of African countries such as this one would be incomplete without a discussion on the role played by America. It is the world’s most powerful country both politically, military wise and economically. It is an English-speaking country, and any country that does not have English as one of its languages suffers a lot of setbacks and delays in trying to engage with America. The dollar is the main currency of international trade and is the most used currency of the World Bank and the IMF. A lot of international trade transactions even in other countries are done using the dollar. Whenever the US economy has problems, the whole world usually feels the effect. The USA is known to hold powerful views about its friends in the world, and can greatly influence the financial health of those countries by, for example, advising its citizens against travelling or doing business with those countries. There is every economic advantage to be gained by doing business with the world’s richest country, and such business is boosted if there is an easy way in which the deals will be negotiated (Piketty 61).

In fact, the Influence of English is now felt across the world not because of Britain, but because of America. It is also true that language is a carrier of culture in addition to it being a system of communication. This means that when one acquires a language, they also acquire the culture of the speakers of that language. English was the language of the capitalist British and America. The English-speaking countries this also had capitalism as a system ingrained in their mindset. A case of two neighbors, Kenya and Tanzania, illustrates this. Tanzania refused to take on any of the foreign languages, insisting on Swahili. Kenya, her neighbor, readily embraced English. Now, Kenya is East Africa’s leading economy while Tanzania is the poorest East African state. Language, therefore, is much more than just a way of saying something. It defines a people; it gives them an identity.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the English-Speaking countries’ economies are performing better because of the same reason other English-speaking countries of the world are doing well; the power of English as a world language. It has been argued by linguists and economists that English is a powerful tool of much economic value to a country and to individuals, and that countries that do not have an English-speaking population are missing out on major economic opportunities. Currently, there are billions of people in the world who are desperately trying to learn English even as adults, especially in countries that do not officially use English. They have realized firsthand the disadvantage of not having English in international trade.

English is the language of trade, say some economists. It is also the language of technology and education in many spheres. Therefore, the English-speaking African countries have for long been reaping the benefits of the language over their French counterparts. In business, numbers are everything; and English being the language spoken by the largest number of people on the globe brings in the numbers. This is the reason millions of people are learning English. There are even closer linkages that have been made to the relationship between English and economic prosperity. Some studies have found that a rise in English proficiency of a country resulted in a corresponding rise in economic performance (Piketty 4).


             Language plays a major part in the development of a country. As discussed in this paper, some of the disparities witnessed in the language blocks are historical, and are direct offshoots of the efforts put in by the colonial masters. Others have a direct connection to the language itself, with English being a powerful tool in the economic development of a country. While colonialism can generally be said to have been disastrous to Africa, it is clear that different countries had different approaches to the way they dealt with Africa, and the consequence can be felt up to the moment. In all colonialism cases however, self interest, and not the interest of the colonized states, was the key factor why African economies continue to suffer to date. This explains why in countries such as South Africa, where the colonial master thought they would stay forever, there were some sound economic policies laid, and such economies are fairly strong now. But where the colonial masters looked at the colonized country as a source of free raw materials to develop their countries back at home, the economies continue to suffer. Of interest, however, is that countries do not now just think of the traditional subjects such as mathematics and economics when they want to review their curricular for economic gain. Now, they seriously think about the language of trade too.

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