The Asmara declaration on African languages and literatures
The Against All Odds Conference on African Languages
and Literatures into the 21st Century was held in Asmara, Eritrea early
in January 2000. Participants from Africa and beyond spent a stimulating
week at workshops, meetings and performances, and ended the week issuing
a declaration, whose full text is below:
We writers and scholars from all
regions of Africa gathered in Asmara, Eritrea from January 11 to 17,
2000 at the conference titled Against All Odds: African Languages and
Literatures into the 21st Century. This was the first conference on
African languages and literatures ever to be held on African soil, with
participants from East, West, North, Southern Africa and from the diaspora
and by writers and scholars from around the world. We examined the state
of African languages in literature, scholarship, publishing, education
and administration in Africa and throughout the world. We celebrated
the vitality of African languages and literatures and affirmed their
potential. We noted with pride that despite all the odds against them,
African languages as vehicles of communication and knowledge survive
and have a written continuity of thousands of years. Colonialism created
some of the most serious obstacles against African languages and literatures.
We noted with concern the fact that these colonial obstacles still haunt
independent Africa and continue to block the mind of the continent.
We identified a profound incongruity in colonial languages speaking
for the continent. At the start of a new century and millennium, Africa
must firmly reject this incongruity and affirm a new beginning by returning
to its languages and heritage.
At this historic conference, we writers and scholars
from all regions of Africa gathered in Asmara, Eritrea declare that:
1. African languages must take on the duty, the
responsibility and the challenge of speaking for the continent.
2. The vitality and equality of African languages
must be recognized as a basis for the future empowerment of African
3. The diversity of African languages reflects
the rich cultural heritage of Africa and must be used as an instrument
of African unity.
4. Dialogue among African languages is essential:
African languages must use the instrument of translation to advance
communication among all people, including the disabled.
5. All African children have the inalienable
right to attend school and learn in their mother tongues. Every effort
should be made to develop African languages at all levels of education.
6. Promoting research on African languages is
vital for their development, while the advancement of African research
and documentation will be best served by the use of African languages.
7. The effective and rapid development of science
and technology in Africa depends on the use of African languages and
modern technology must be used for the development of African languages.
8. Democracy is essential for the equal development
of African languages, and African languages are vital for the development
of democracy based on equality and social justice.
9. African languages like all languages contain
gender bias. The role of African languages in development must overcome
this gender bias and achieve gender equality.
10. African languages are essential for the decolonization
of African minds and for the African Renaissance.
The initiative which has materialized in the Against
All Odds conference must be continued through biennial conferences in
different parts of Africa. In order to organize future conferences in
different parts of Africa, create a forum of dialogue and co-operation
and advance the principles of this declaration, a permanent secretariat
will be established, which will be initially based in Asmara, Eritrea.
Translated into as many African languages as possible
and based on these principles, the Asmara Declaration is affirmed by
all participants in Against All Odds. We call upon all African states,
the OAU, the UN and all international organizations that serve Africa
to join this effort of recognition and support for African languages,
with this declaration as a basis for new policies.
While we acknowledge with pride the retention
of African languages in some parts of Africa and the diaspora and the
role of African languages in the formation of new languages, we urge
all people in Africa and the diaspora to join in the spirit of this
declaration and become part of the efforts to realize its goals.
Asmara, 17th January 2000 [end] [BPN, no 2627,
2000, p. 8.]
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