English comes to Madagascar by the ballot

10th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

ANTANANARIVO, April 10, 2007 (AFP) - French-speaking Madagascar voted this week to reform its constitution, partly to make English an official language in a bid to woo foreign investments and open up to the world's lingua franca.

ANTANANARIVO, April 10, 2007 (AFP) - French-speaking Madagascar voted this week to reform its constitution, partly to make English an official language in a bid to woo foreign investments and open up to the world's lingua franca.

Despite poor participation due to bad weather in Wednesday's referendum, early results showed strong backing for the text that also seeks to boost presidential powers and scrap the autonomy of six provinces.

In addition to English, French and Malagasy will be the Indian Ocean island's official languages.

Currently, French is the official language in Madagascar, home to some 18 million people, while Malagasy is its national tongue.

"We have begun using English more and more," said Jean-Eric Rakotoarisoa, one of the officials who drafted the proposed new basic law.

"Madagascar has joined anglophone bodies like the SADC (Southern African Development Community). Therefore some communication will be in English."

"Because we want to attract investors, it is important that the laws on investment be written in English so that anglophones get interested in our market," said Rakotoarisoa.

According to the Economic Development Board of Madagascar, the country is targetting to attain 500 million dollars of foreign direct investment annually by 2012 from the current 287 million dollars.

In 2004, the latest available statistics, Madagacascar was world's 154th recipient of foreign direct investment which accounted for 4.7 percent of its GDP.

Currently, France is the leading foreign investor in Madagascar, followed by Mauritius and China.

The former French colony has maintained close political, economic and cultural ties with Paris since independence in 1960 and has the second highest number of French schools in the world.

But relations between them worsened in 2002, when France belatedly recognised Marc Ravalomanana, a fluent English-speaker, as the president following months of political crisis sparked by his predecessor's refusal to accept defeat.

However, President Jacques Chirac's two visits to the island in 2004 and 2005 helped thaw the frosty ties.

"We cannot remain stuck in the 100 years of French influence. It is good that Madagascar is opening up to other languages," said Alain Villechalane, the director of the Alliance Francaise language institutions in Madagascar.

If the referendum is passed, Madagascar is set to follow the example of Rwanda, a tiny central African nation that in 2002 adopted English as one of the country's three official languages, although not via a referendum.

But unlike Madagascar, Rwanda has severed diplomatic ties with France after a row erupted last year when a French judge called for the prosecution of President Paul Kagame for complicity in the death of his predecessor.

Rwanda ordered the closure of the French embassy in Kigali, expelled French diplomats and shut down the French school and cultural centre.

To boost the use of English, Madagascar's education ministry recently began publishing a bi-monthly English-language newspaper that is distributed to schools.

"This is to promote English, not to replace French. It is to open up to the world," said Vohangy Lalao Ratsimba-Razafimahefa, an education coordinator.

But with only one English-language school in the country, Madagascar has a long road ahead of it before fluency in the language becomes widespread.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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