Divided by a Common Language: Comparing Nigerian, American and British English

By Farooq A. Kperogi (Saturday, 18 August 2007)

Another Nigerian English expression that appears in British English but with an entirely unrelated meaning is “go-slow.” We use “go-slow” to mean traffic jam—what Americans also call “snarl-up.” In British English, however, “go-slow” is a form of industrial protest where workers, instead of going on an out-and-out strike, deliberately slow down work in order to win demands from their employers. (Americans call this a “slowdown”). So if you are in Britain and you tell your employer that you were late to work because of a “go-slow,” he would probably think you’re on some kind of a one-man strike! It’s also important to note that in informal American English, “go-slow” is used as an adjective to mean “deliberate and careful” (example: Yar’Adua’s go-slow effort to maintain a sense of continuity and order).

I was musing on this the other day when the news came that another African American military leader had been picked to carry the weight of still another important controversial aspect of Bush Administration foreign policy. On July 10, the Defense Department announced that Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, the Army's only active black four-star general, will take over Pentagon's new Africa Command or “Africom.”

The Bush administration's new obsession with AFRICOM and its militaristic approach has many malign consequences. It increases U.S. interference in the affairs of Africa. It brings more military hardware to a continent that already has too much. By helping to build machineries of repression, these policies reinforce undemocratic practices and reward leaders responsive not to the interests or needs of their people but to the demands and dictates of U.S. military agents. Making military force a higher priority than development and diplomacy creates an imbalance that can encourage irresponsible regimes to use U.S. sourced military might to oppress their own people, now or potentially in the future. These fatally flawed policies create instability, foment tensions, and lead to a less secure world.

Humanitarian efforts will remain vital in the years ahead, but gone are the days when the United States can blindly reward governments that refuse to invest in their own people. Africom is the recognition that African growth can only occur in an environment where security, development, and good governance are integrally linked. There is no substitute for boots—and eyes and ears—on the ground. A well-designed Africom will enable smarter, more strategic engagement of African states as true partners, rather then end-recipients of aid and programs.

We also pledged to take African American leaders to Liberia. Last month, our 25-person delegation visited businesses in Monrovia, toured villages in the countryside and met with Liberians from all walks of life. We were awed by the challenges but moved by the sense of hope and faith Liberians have in their future. Every Liberian with whom we spoke said that the country will not return to war. Liberians want to rebuild their lives by finding jobs, restoring their homes and educating their children.

Timbuktu was home to the University of Sankore, which at its height had 25,000 scholars. An army of scribes, gifted in calligraphy, earned their living copying the manuscripts brought by travelers. Prominent families added those copies to their own libraries. As a result, Timbuktu became a repository of an extensive and eclectic collection of manuscripts. “Astronomy, botany, pharmacology, geometry, geography, chemistry, biology,” said Ali Imam Ben Essayouti, the descendant of a family of imams that keeps a vast library in one of the city’s mosques. “There is Islamic law, family law, women’s rights, human rights, laws regarding livestock, children’s rights. All subjects under the sun, they are represented here.”

“There is no doubt China has been good for Zambia,” said Felix Mutati, Zambia’s minister of finance. “Why should we have a bad attitude toward the Chinese when they are doing all the right things? They are bringing investment, world-class technology, jobs, value addition. What more can you ask for?” But across Africa, and especially in the relatively robust economies of southern Africa, there are clear winners and losers. Textile mills and other factories here in Zambia have suffered and even closed as cheap Chinese goods flood the world market, eliminating jobs in a country that sorely needs them. The Chinese investment in copper mining here has left a trail of heartbreak and recrimination after one of the worst industrial accidents in Zambian history, a blast at a Chinese-owned explosives factory in Chambishi in 2005 that killed 46 people, most of them in their 20s.

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