Digital technology: Promoting the use of Togolese national languages

Screenshot of Éwé language alphabet from YouTube channel of Sena Gameli

Despite the government's intention to promote the teaching of national languages other than French in Togo, in practice, it is done mainly by private online initiatives. 

While French remains the official language of Togo, 53 local languages are in fact spoken there. These languages mainly fall within two groups: the Gur languages spoken in the north and the Kwa languages spoken in the south. Both groups belong to the Niger-Congo language family and include languages such as EweKabiye, Tem, Moba, and Fula. In 1975, Ewe, which is prevalent in the south, and Kabiye, which is mainly spoken in the north, were designated as the country's national languages.

As both languages are spoken as well as written, this designation should have ultimately led to their inclusion in the country’s education system. However, their place within the education system remains somewhat marginal owing to their categorization as optional subjects starting from secondary school. 

What’s more, despite frequent statements of intent, these languages are not taught nationwide nor used to teach other subjects. For example, during a symposium on the introduction of bilingual education in July 2022, the Togolese government stated its intention to introduce Ewe lessons in the northern Maritime region and Kabiye lessons in the southern Kara region. However, Togolese children still rarely have the opportunity to take classes in national languages other than French.

The linguistic mosaic complicating language education

There is also a stark contrast between the Ewe and Kabiye languages themselves. The south is more linguistically unified by the fact most citizens speak Ewe at home as well as outside. However, Kabiye doesn’t feature as prominently in the linguistic landscape of the north, owing to certain the reluctance of certain ethnic groups to learn this language over their own local languages.

In an online publication, the Togolese news website, iciLome, raised some key points:

(…)Le kabyè et l’ewé étaient enseignés comme deuxième voire troisième langue, respectivement au nord et au sud du pays. Sans aucune réussite notable. Si l’Ewé constitue la lingua franca dont l’enseignement était accepté sans conteste par la majorité des citoyens au Sud, l’enseignement du kabyè l’était moins au nord, qui a un paysage sociolinguistique beaucoup plus varié(…)

Kabiye and Ewe were taught as second or even third languages in the north and south respectively. Without any notable success. While most citizens accepted the teaching of the Ewe language in the south, where it is the lingua franca, the teaching of Kabiye was much less accepted in the north where the sociolinguistic landscape is much more diverse (…)

In a Facebook post, the Togolese civil society organization, Veille Citoyenne Togo, discussed the governments’ intentions to introduce lessons in these two languages in Togolese schools:

L'enseignement des langues nationales à l'école.
La réforme de l'enseignement au Togo en 1975 a introduit l'enseignement du kabyè et l'ewe dans les écoles publiques sur toute l'étendue du territoire national. L'enseignement de ces 2 langues était dans le but de renforcer l'unité nationale.
47 ans après, il est important d'apporter des améliorations à cette réforme parce que l'unité nationale ne saurait se faire avec 2 langues nationales.
Au Togo, il existe plus de 50 langues locales, mais chaque région a une langue dominante.
Il serait donc nécessaire, et dans le souci de l'unité nationale d'enseigner la langue dominante d'une région dans toutes les écoles publiques de ladite région.
En Effet, le Moba qui est la langue dominante dans la région des savanes doit être enseigné uniquement à tous les élèves inscrits dans les écoles publiques et privées dans cette région.
Le Tem qui est la langue dominante dans la région Centrale doit être enseigné aux élèves de toutes les écoles publiques et privées dans cette région.
Par ces 02 exemples concrets, l'ewe et le kabyè doivent être respectivement enseignés dans la région maritime et dans la région de la kara.
Au Ghana, ce système a été adopté pour préserver l'unité nationale du pays.
Par ailleurs, dans le souci de l'unité nationale, il faut introduire une réforme qui modifie la loi qui fait de l'ewe et du kabyè les 2 langues nationales. Il faut élargir cette liste à 5 langues nationales correspondant aux 5 régions du Togo.
Le Moba, le Tem, et Ouatchi doivent être ajoutés à la liste des langues nationales au Togo.
A la télévision nationale et dans les médias publics, le journal en langue nationale doit se faire dans les 05 langues nationales cités ci-dessus.

Teaching national languages in school.
The Reform of Education Act of 1975 in Togo introduced the teaching of Kabiye and Ewe in public schools throughout the country to strengthen its national unity.
However, 47 years on, it is essential that this reform be amended since national unity is not something these two national languages can achieve.
There are more than 50 local languages in Togo, but each region has its own dominant language.
In the interest of national unity, it would therefore be better to teach the dominant regional language of any given region in its public schools.
In fact, Moba, which is the dominant language of the Savanes region, should only be taught to students in all public and private schools in this region.
Likewise, the Tem language, which is dominant in the Centrale region, should be taught to all students in this region’s public and private schools.
Based on these two specific examples, Ewe and Kabiye should therefore be taught in the Maritime and Kara regions respectively.
This system has already been enforced in Ghana to uphold its national unity.
The law that designated Ewe and Kabiye as the country’s two national languages should also be reformed in the interest of national unity.
This list should include five national languages in accordance with the five regions of Togo. Moba, Tem, and Waci should thereby be added to this list of national languages.
What’s more, national language news on national television and public media should also be provided in the above-mentioned 5 national languages.

However, the comments on this post are indicative of the difference in opinions towards the government's approach.

Digital teaching aids in Ewe

Today’s widespread internet access and smartphone use are essentially game changers in making digital teaching and local language use a reality.

 TV5Monde video shows how an app, developed in Togo, has enabled smartphones to become teaching aids in some schools:

One such example in Togo are the Ewe language courses created by Roger Mawulolo Lasmothey, a Togolose Ewe language enthusiast and blogger living in Senegal. On his Facebook page, Mawulolo provides guidance on learning this language. As shown in this screenshot:

Lesson 72 – Inclusion

The word ‘inclusion’ translates as xɔxɔɖeme in Ewe

Xɔ= accept/welcome/receive

Xɔx= acceptance

ɖeme= into/in/within

Women’s digital inclusion               Ewe School with Mawulolo

He also used his Twitter account to explain the term ‘independence’ in this local language:

Lesson 75 – Independence

April 27 is Togo Independence Day. This is therefore the perfect opportunity to tell you that one of the Ewe translations for “independence” is “Ɖ𝗼𝗸𝘂𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗻ɔ𝗻ɔ”.

Happy Independence Day to everyone in Togo! 🇹🇬#ewe #tɔɖiamawulolo #Blog228

— Togolese bloggers 🇹🇬 (@Blog228) April 27, 2023

These initiatives have also earned him various nominations for national awards, such as the 5th edition of the Togo Top Impact awards. This event rewards Togolese individuals whose projects have made an impact.

RT @DidierKissode: Dear Twitter Users! With your help, the “À L'ÉCOLE DE L'ÉWÉ” [Ewe School] initiative has been chosen for the jury voting round of the @TogoTopImpact Awards. We'll see you in February to find out the 2022 BEST DIGITAL SOLUTION in #Togo. Thank you for all your support…

— Togo | Retweet (@leTogoRT) January 18, 2023

Another Ewe language teaching initiative is that created by Sena Gameli on his YouTube Channel. Sena is a young Togolese man, born and raised in France, who wishes to stay true to his African roots.

Here is a video of his lessons on his YouTube channel:

Sena has enabled many people to gain a basic understanding of this language’s oral and written concepts. Several comments on this video are testament to his support in learning this language within the Togolese diaspora. According to 2016 estimates, there are between 1.5 million and 2 million individuals in the Togolese diaspora, 80 percent of whom mainly live in African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, or European countries like Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium.

These online language initiatives thereby indicate a real appetite for online learning and practice. It is now up to the Togolese government to ramp up these modern and effective ways of learning national languages.

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