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To more Africans, English is hip - and can even save lives

French is becoming passé as US influence grows and English is seen as the language of opportunity.

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For a wiry young priest named Richard Diroma, learning English may be a matter of life and death.

With militias lurking on the town's outskirts, the Rev. Diroma yearns to speak directly to English-speaking UN peacekeepers aiming to protect him and his flock. So, on a recent rain-drenched afternoon he's sitting in a dim classroom conjugating verbs. And he's not alone.

Here in the heart of Africa, where France's language, culture, and philosophy have dominated since francophone Belgians began colonizing in the 1870s, French is becoming passé. Bunia's hipsters greet each other with, "Hello," not "Bonjour." English classes are filling up.

The reasons are many - and emblematic of similar shifts across Africa. English is seen as the language of business and global opportunity. It also connects anglophones with US largess, which is growing because of the war on terrorism - and sometimes allows them to vent anger at France.

Many people "are not yet paying attention to this, but it's going to be one of the most important changes in Africa in coming years," says Mamadou Diouf, who teaches African history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Consider:

• Traditionally French-speaking Rwanda has made English its top official language, in part because of lingering animosity toward France over what Rwanda's leaders see as French complicity in the 1994 genocide.

• In the former French colony of Ivory Coast, growing nationalist anger at France over the past year has spurred affection for English. Some disaffected youths chanted "USA is better" while ransacking French businesses in the capital last October.

• In Senegal, also a former French colony, English is now common among the elite. Wealthy citizens are increasingly forsaking the Sorbonne in Paris for a US education. The president vows to help the US fight terror - and has received an aid influx.

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