Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Friday, October 6, 2017 in Home | 2 comments

A guide to the most commonly spoken languages in Africa

A guide to the most commonly spoken languages in Africa


In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) voiced its desires to boast a diverse workforce, yet, to this day the majority of their interns still come from wealthy countries [1]. In actual fact, in 2015, only 20% of all interns at the WHO headquarters in Geneva originated from low- or middle-income countries (LMICs). It is rather disconcerting when one realizes that while 85% of the world’s population is resigned to live in LMICs, 80% of WHO interns come from rich countries.

Paul Ashigbie, a former World Health Organization (WHO) intern, was quoted as saying: “Growing up in Ghana, it had been my dream to work with one of the UN agencies. I know I was not the only one with this desire, so I count myself lucky to be at Boston University at the right time to benefit from an internship opportunity at the WHO. This opportunity would have been much more difficult to come by back in Ghana”.

Why is it that the inhabitants of the continent that have produced some of the greatest minds and spirits of the last century such as Nobel Prize Winners Nelson Mandela, Wole Soyinka and Kofi Annan, do not get afforded the same opportunities as individuals from 1st world countries?


The United Nations only has six official languages namely English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish while the top ten most frequently used languages in Africa [2] include ones such as Swahili and
Zulu. There are, however, two languages that appear on both lists: English and Arabic. An estimated 700 million individuals on the African continent speak English with more than 100 million calling Arabic their mother tongue. Taking these figures into consideration there is simply no cause to blame a language barrier [3] for the fact that less than 2% of all interns hired by the UN hail from the African continent.


While the United Nations is commonly regarded as the birthplace of human rights they are failing by their own standards through their reliance on unpaid interns. Although the norm for many years, unpaid internships at the UN first shot to the news headlines after David Hyde’s tent-dwelling stint in 2015. Youngsters, especially those hailing from often war-torn and impoverished African countries [4] simply cannot afford to work for free or even a ridiculously low stipend.

It is a terribly sad reality that many brilliant young minds are losing out on possible life-changing opportunities because of factors well beyond their control. Equal opportunities should exist for all regardless of financial status and cultural differences. It is only once we truly start harnessing the power of the youth that the world can truly unite in all of its diversity.


The Geneva Interns Association is proud to have received this article written by Jackie Edwards. Now working as a writer, Jackie started her career in the travel and leisure industry, but after becoming a mom refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health initiatives local to her home as both herself and her youngest daughter are on the autism spectrum, click here>>


  1. Hello
    I am interested in forming an intern’s association for those of us working in the United Nations Office of Nairobi as well as the larger region of Sub-Saharan Africa (ROAf). Is anyone available to have a conversation with me about this, Tapi?

  2. The linked article with Top 10 most spoken languages in Africa may or may not be correct…
    There are over 60 million Portuguese speakers in sub-saharan Africa alone, where the language is official in the following countries: Angola, Moçambique, Cabo Verde, São Tomé e Príncipe, Guiné-Bissau.
    (Source: UN-Habitat).

    We are in agreement, however, that a language barrier is not the case regarding no more than 2% of interns being from an African country at HQ offices of the United Nations. One of the issues we see in Nairobi is the financial difficulty of travel and being apart from dependents in the family. If transport and a stipend were allotted to any and every intern in the UN system, we would see a lot more global representation between continents and a lot less of an internship programme dominated by a higher economic class.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

peliculas de comedia