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To Paris's Dismay, English Is En Vogue With Zaire Rebels

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The sign in the radio station reads "SILENCE." The announcer greets his audience with a "Good afternoon, dear listeners." Then he delivers the news in the mother tongue of England.

This studio in eastern Zaire is nothing exceptional for Africa. There are a couple wooden chairs, televisions, a desk, and basic broadcasting equipment. A producer is on hand to monitor sound.

But the broadcast here behind rebel lines is revolutionary, linguistically speaking. English-speaking rebels - first in Rwanda and now in Zaire - are creating an Anglophone crescent in what was once the linguistic domain of the French and French-speaking Belgians. This is occurring much to the consternation of Paris, which feels its traditional cultural influence is diminishing on the continent it considers to be a source of vestigial prestige.

Since 1994, when Rwanda's English-speaking Tutsi rebels took power from the French-speaking Hutu majority, Rwanda has become an increasingly English-speaking domain.

The lingual map of Central Africa has been altered further with the seizure of a large swath of eastern Zaire since late October by Rwandan-backed rebels, some of whom lace their Swahili with English words and are not fully fluent in French.

"English is becoming more important in this part of the world," said Roy Ruvuna, as he prepared to announce the news in English for Bukavu's rebel station, Voice of the People. He adds, "English is becoming en vogue here. Increasingly more people want to speak it. In addition, we have listeners here from other parts of eastern Africa who need information about what is going on here."

Shop signs in rebel areas are still in French, as are formal papers issued by the rebels. Schools teach English, although French remains dominant in the classroom.

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