Posts falsely claim Senegal jettisons French for Arabic as its official language

Strained diplomatic ties between France and its former colonies in the Sahel region have been fodder for false claims. Recently, several posts claimed Senegal had dumped French for Arabic as its official language. But the claim is false: Senegalese authorities told AFP that French is still the country’s official language and the only one officially recognised by the constitution.

“Senegal is officially adopting Arabic as their first language. No longer French!,” reads the caption of an X post that has gathered more than 2,000 shares and comments since it was published on May 1, 2024.

Screenshot of the false X post, taken on May 20, 2024

Attached to the post is a picture of a young boy holding a wooden slate with Arabic writing inscribed on it.

The claim also appeared on X in English, as well as in Arabic on Facebook and on X.

Several posts also made the claim in French, which AFP Fact Check debunked in French here.

Former French colonies in West Africa have pivoted away from France in recent years, leading to impaired diplomatic ties.

Anti-France sentiments have risen in countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and lately Niger (archived here).

Since anti-establishment figure Bassirou Diomaye Faye was elected as Senegal’s new president in March, France has been under pressure to strengthen ties with the country.

Faye was elected on pledges of radical reform and promises to restore national “sovereignty” over key industries (archived here).

However, the claim that Senegal has dropped French for Arabic as its official language is false.

Still French

To verify the claim, we searched the keywords “official language Senegal” and “Arabic”, in French and English.

The search results showed that several news websites also published the claim, such as the Middle East Monitor group (archived here), which has since deleted its report.

AFP Fact Check then contacted a spokesperson for the Senegalese authorities on May 3, 2024, who confirmed that “the official language of Senegal has not changed”.

Used by the Senegalese administration, in education, and for business, French is the official language in the country. Many Senegalese also speak Wolof, Pular and Serer.

According to the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), created in 1970 and which brings together 88 states or governments with the mission of promoting the French language in the world, 26 percent of the Senegalese population was French-speaking as of 2022 (archived here).

Senegal’s constitution still recognises French as the West African country’s official language (archived here).

The constitution’s first article states that “The official language of the Republic of Senegal is French. The national languages are Diola, Malinke, Pular, Serer, Soninke, Wolof and any other national language which will be codified” (archived here).

The Arabic language nevertheless plays an important role in Senegal, where more than 90 percent of the population is Muslim. 

Is there content that you would like AFP to fact-check? Get in touch.

Contact us