VI. Borrowing a leaf

African language newspaper sustainability: Lessons to learn from Asia


Even though both Africa and Asia experienced colonisation by Europe, the two continents seem to have dealt with it differently, particularly as concerns the use of their indigenous or local languages. This is also reflected in the choice of languages used in their media, as well as the acceptance and economic performance of the indigenous language media in both continents.

Salawu (2006a) notes that the story of indigenous language newspapers rising and dying is the same across most parts of Africa. In 1930, there were nineteen registered African language newspapers in South Africa, including the isiXhosa Imvo Za^antsmdn and Inkundlaya Bantu. Today, most of those newspapers are nonexistent. As recently as the 1990s, there used to be newspapers in fifteen Ghanaian languages; today, there are none (Salawu 2006b). In the colonial Democratic Republic of Congo, there were more than 150 periodicals in indigenous languages; today, the story is different (Vinck 2006). In Cameroon, there is hardly a remarkable indigenous language newspaper (Tanjong and Muluh 2006). Of all the newspapers in the first to the fourth ‘waves’ of indigenous language press in Nigeria (Folarin and Mohammed 1996), only Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo (established in 1937) still exists today. Iroyin Yoruba, established in 1945, existed till 1996 when it was finally laid to rest. Meanwhile, many other newspapers that came after Gaskiya and Iroyin Yoruba have ceased to exist.

There are, however, some outstanding success stories in African language newspaper publishing. In Yorubaland (Nigeria) today, for instance, there are still some Yoruba newspapers serving the people. Among them, Alaroye is a phenomenal success. In South Africa, there is a daily Zulu newspaper, Isolezwe. The newspaper has become a household name among its readers, while its popularity is attested to by the fact that it sells over 100,000 copies per day (Salawu 2013). Reports indicate that the newspaper, launched in 2002, has even lured readers away from established English language publications (Salawu 2006b, 55). Ilanga in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has been in existence since 1903. And, among the 125 newspapers in Ethiopia, 108 are in Amharic, 2 are in Oromo and 1 is in Tigre. Ethiopia is one of the three countries in Africa (with Tanzania and Somalia) where a local language is used as a medium of instruction and for official and administrative purposes.

What is of interest in this chapter is the reason why businesses in the African language press are unstable and what lessons can be learnt from their Asian counterparts. Just like Africa, Asia was also a colonized continent. The power of the English language and its attendant attraction, for instance, is also felt in the former Asian colonies. This, in a way, has also had implications for the survival of indigenous language newspapers in Asia. Interestingly, Asian language newspapers are, compared to a majority of their African counterparts, thriving well and, in a good number of cases, performing better than English language press in terms of circulation. This chapter therefore examines the local language newspaper landscape in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and draws out lessons the African language press can learn from their performance.

Cultural studies: the theoretical underpinning

With respect to the issue of language, cultural studies focus on how and why different languages are used in more specific cultural contexts, in spite of the influence of macro forces (Ricento 2000, 18). While acknowledging the influence of the latter, Pennycook (2000) alerts us to the element of human agency, which is said to play a major role in the choices people make about the use of the languages of wider communication, like English, as well as the use of their own languages. Thus, Pennycook and his fellow postmodernist scholars do not merely see local peoples as victims of the hegemony of English, but rather as actors with the freedom to choose what to make of English and of their indigenous languages (Barker 2002; Grossberg 1995; Hall 1993a, 1993b; Chibita 2006, 252). In contrast to critical political economy, cultural studies explain to us why local language media continue resisting total extinction against all odds. Human agency is critical for the colonised peoples of this world to keep resisting the supplanting of their languages by the hegemonic languages of the colonialists. Human agency is required for postcolonial societies to keep breathing life into their indigenous languages in various spheres, such as media, education, the judiciary and religion.

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