Colonialization in Africa has undoubtedly altered the course of many African nations. Some countries have retained major cultural traits like the language of their colonizers while others have not. This difference can be attributed to many factors namely the identity of the country colonizing and the one colonized, as well as the ways European settlers implemented their policies as observed in the cases of Eritrea and Gabon. Eritrea rejected Italian as its national language whereas Gabon embraced French as its national language
France had the advantage of being, at the time, a powerful state and of holding a lot of countries under its dominion. Italy merely arrived on the continent and got a hold on Eritrea because Great Britain wanted to limit its competition against France on the continent and also because King Menelik allowed it through a treaty. Italian citizens had reservations about the idea of colonialization and thought that it was a wasteful endeavor given the fact that the state was relatively new. In France on the other hand, colonialization of Africa had been lucrative and it was thus encouraged. Consequently, Italy had less resources to offer in Eritrea and it did not have the domestic backing necessary to recreate a small Italy in Eritrea. It was thus easier for France to spread its hegemon in Gabon compared to Italy in Eritrea.
Gabon and Eritrea have very distinct pre-colonial history that contributed in their attitudes towards the language of the colonizers. Eritrea was part of Ethiopia and was ruled under King Menelik. When Italians arrived in Eritrea, they found a people connected through linguistic and religious similarities. These common characteristics created a barrier for the Italians who were not able to divide and conquer. Furthermore, the Italians did not make an effort to incorporate Eritreans into their education system. In actuality, they despised the idea. For this reasons, Eritreans were in the Italian army and lived among them, but they were not immersed into Italian culture. Contrary to Eritrea, Gabon was not a unified state when the French arrived. It was inhabited by many different ethnic groups, which forced France to unify them through French. Just like Italy, France used Gabon as an army based, but also established missionary stations for the natives, where France was the only language that could be taught or spoken. By establishing this rule, French became more embedded into the culture and it insured that no other colonizers came to Gabon.
While it was clear that Eritreans wanted Italians to live and wanted to be self-ruled, Gabonese did not want to be independent from France and they welcomed the French influence on their culture. This factor also sheds light on why the colonizer’s language was retained in Gabon and not in Eritrea.
The cultural stronghold that France and Italy had on Gabon and Eritrea respectively informed the ways in which they conduct international relations nowadays. the wars Eritrea had with Ethiopia and Italy as well as their detachment from the Italian education system put Eritrea in a position of dependence on the international community. Much of Gabon’s standing in the international community, whether economical or alliances with other nations, is largely due to its connection to the French language. The latter is changing with the increasing relationship of Gabon and China.
Le Jeune Afrique