One issue that I find fascinating in the study of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is the position of the Arabic language in majority non-Arab societies. In academic literature on Islam in Africa, particularly on Francophone West Africa, one often reads about young scholars who have Arabic literacy (and, sometimes, degrees from Islamic institutes in the region or in the Arab world) but struggle to find employment because the state treats their credentials and skills as second class. (See, for example, Galilou Abdoulaye’s “The Graduates of Islamic Universities in Benin: a Modern Elite Seeking Social, Religious and Political Recognition” in the volume Islam in Africa.) As I discuss in my dissertation, Arabophones and graduates of Arab universities can sometimes attain considerable status and fame in countries like Nigeria, though it is true that governments’ and societies’ attitudes toward Arabophones can be quite mixed.
The former French colony of Chad is, according to the CIA, 12.3% Arab, although many non-Arab Muslim Chadians attain Arabic proficiency for religious and professional reasons. Given the background I mention above, I was intrigued to read about Chad’s newly opened, bilingual National School for Judicial Training, whose first class of sixty students includes thirty Francophones and thirty Arabophones. The School’s mission, if this source (French) accurately represents the text of the 2009 law that created it, is to produce magistrates, clerks, lawyers, and other judicial personnel.
I doubt that opening a bilingual school will reorient the Chadian legal system, which is, according to Wikipedia, “based on French civil law and Chadian customary law where the latter does not interfere with public order or constitutional guarantees of equality.” But with the school emphasizing linguistic training and admitting Arabophones, it will be interesting to see how the Chadian government moves Arabophone graduates into judicial positions, and what kinds of positions it gives them. In many Francophone West African countries there are “Franco-Arabe” primary and secondary schools, but post-secondary state institutions emphasizing Arabic proficiency outside the context of university Arabic departments are relatively rare in my experience.