MIDWAY: Au revoir, le Français

Rwanda is a small and not especially influential country, but it has made a decision which, I fear, may have consequences disproportionate to its size and importance. It has officially ditched French and adopted English as its language of international communication, and as the language taught in its schools. True, Rwanda had reasons other than linguistic to snub French. It still blames France for, in effect, not preventing the Hutus from massacring 800,000 Tutsis.

But that resentment has taken second place as a motive for dumping the language. The main reason is business, as was made clear by Rwanda’s trade and industry minister, in dismissive terms: “French is spoken only in France, some parts of West Africa, parts of Canada and Switzerland.” By contrast, “English has emerged as a backbone for growth and development not only in the region but around the globe.”

Last year, Rwanda became a member of the East African Community, joining Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi, only the last of which remains Francophone. But how long before it too succumbs to the lure of English? Next year, Rwanda is expected to be admitted to the Commonwealth.

Algeria and Madagascar have made overtures to join. They haven’t done so because they love English culture or want to play cricket. Theirs is a calculated business decision to enter a club which will offer them the best opportunities, and if that club speaks English, they’ll learn the language.

It gives me no pleasure to see a magnificent culture and the most wonderful language in the world cast aside for the sake of a few more bucks, but the trend is inevitable. Even when

the world goes astray, as now, the discussions of its chaos are carried out in English.

President Sarkozy managed to get a lot of French heard, but that was only because France is the current holder of the European Union presidency.

Any European crisis next year, when the Czechs and Swedes are in charge, is likely to be discussed primarily in English. There was one small consolation for the French last week:

the Nobel prize for literature went to JMG Le Clezio, a Frenchman.