French enables us to communicate with other peoples in struggle - Thomas Sankara

Speech by Thomas Sankara at the First Francophone Summit in February 17, 1986.

Submitted by Lizblasczak on December 21, 2022

The first Francophone Summit was held in Paris February 17-19, 1986, attended by numerous heads of state of French-speaking countries. Burkina Faso was represented by Henri Zongo, minister of economic development. The following is the message to the conference that Sankara sent, which was published in Sidawaya.

"As a result of colonialism, we have become a part of the French-speaking world, even though only 10 percent of Burkinabè speak the language. When we proclaim ourselves part of the French-speaking world, we do so with two preconditions: first, the French language is simply a means of expressing our reality. And second, like any language, French must open itself to experiencing the sociological and historical realities of its own evolution.

Initially, for us, French was the language of the colonizer, the ultimate cultural and ideological vehicle of foreign and imperialist domination. But subsequently it was with this language that we were able to master the dialectical method of analyzing imperialism, putting us in a position to organize ourselves politically to fight and win.

Today in Burkina the Burkinabè people and their political leadership, the National Council of the Revolution, no longer use the French language as a vehicle of cultural alienation, but as a means of communication with other people's.

Our presence at this conference is justified by the fact that from the point of view of the National Council of the Revolution, there are two French Languages, the French spoken by those in metropolitan France, and the French spoken on the five continents.

In order to contribute to the enrichment of this universalized French, we intend to participate in this gathering and asses how the French language brings us closer to others. That's why I wish to thank the French authorities very sincerely for this welcome initiative.

It is through the intermediary of the French language that we, with our African brothers, analyze our respective situations and seek to join efforts in common struggle.

It is through the intermediary of the French language that we shared the struggle of the Vietnamese people, and that we are reaching a better understanding of the cry of the Caledonian people.¹

It is through the French language that we discover the richness of European culture, and defend the rights of our workers who have emigrated.

It is through the intermediary of the French language that we read the great educators of the proletariat and all those who, in a utopian or scientific manner, have put their pens at the service of the class struggle.

Finally, it is in French that we sing the Internationale, the hymn of the oppressed, of "the wretched of the earth."

We, for our part, interpret the universality of the French language to mean that we should use this language in conformity with our militant internationalism. We firmly believe in unity between the people's. This unity will emerge from shared convictions, because we all suffer the same exploitation and the same oppresion, no matter the social forms or how it may be dressed up over the course of time.

That is why, in our view, the French language, if it wishes to serve the ideals of 1789 more than those of the colonial expeditions, must accept other languages as expressions of the sensibilities of other peoples. In accepting other people, the French language must accept idioms and concepts that the realities of France have not permitted the French to get to know.

Who could, out of vanity or false pride, entangle themselves in circuitous formulations to convey in French, for example, the words Islam or baraka, when the Arabic language expresses these realities better than any other? Or the word pianissimo, the sweet musical expression from the other side of the Piedmont? Or the word Apartheid, exported to France from Albion, without Perfidiousness,² with all its Shakespearean richness.

To refuse to integrate the languages of others into French is to erect barriers of cultural chauvinism. Let us not forget that other languages have accepted terms from the French language that are untranslatable in their own. For example, English with its "fair play," adopted from French the aristocratic and bourgeois term champagne. The German language, in its realpolitik, squarely admits, without beating around the bush, the French word arrangement. Finally, Paul, Moore, Banta, Wolof, and many other African languages have assimilated, with suppressed anger, the oppressive and exploitative terms impôts [taxes], corvée, and prison.

This diversity [diversité] brings us together in the French speaking family. We make it rhyme with friendship [amitié] and fraternity [fraternité].

To refuse to integrate other languages is to be unaware of the roots and history of one's own. Every language is the product of several others, today more so than in the past,because of the cultural permeability created in these modern times by the powerful means of communication. To reject other languages is to adopt a rigid attitude against progress, and that approach stems from an ideology inspired by reaction.

Burkina Faso opens itself to other people's and counts heavily on the culture of others to grow richer. For we are convinced that we are headed toward a universal civilization that will lead us to a universal language. This is the framework for our use of French.

For the genuine progress of humanity! Forward!

Homeland or death, we will win!"

¹ In the mid-1980s, the archipelago of New Caledonia, a French colony in the South Pacific, was the scene of widespread anticolonial mobilization by the Kanaks, its native population.

² "Perfidious Albion," an epiteth of French origin, refers to Britain.

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