The use of English and French languages in Cameroon has since independence from the French and British colonial masters been a source of pride for the country, even if today that legacy is posing serious challenges. Issues raised by Common Law Lawyers and Teachers’ Trade Unions in 2016 which have degenerated within the past three years have seen the Head of State taking various measures to ensure that the situation did not get out of hand. One of such technical and inclusive decisions was the creation on 23 January 2017 of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (NCPBM).
Given its importance and urgency, the entire framework was quickly put in place for the institution to hit the ground. Thus, by 27 April 2017, former Prime Minister, Peter Mafany Musonge and his team were empowered to start work by meeting grass-root population and making concrete proposals for policy actions that could meet the country’s dire desire for social cohesion and political stability. Although concerns for multiculturalism in the country are equally important, the initial emphasis by the Musonge Commission on the linguistic component of its mission has been evident. Of late, campaigns by the institution against the growing level of hate speech are signs that they are conscious of the task at hand and the resolve to build on long-term benefits of their actions.
Various field trips by members of the NCPBM to the North West and South West Regions helped them not only to have close contacts with the population, but equally gather views and preoccupations that could foster the sense of collective wellbeing in Cameroon. Similar discussions with high-level officials in Yaounde, beginning with the Prime Minister, Head of Government, also paved the way for the creation of greater awareness on the crux of the matter. It may take time for their recommendations to be felt by the masses, but the creation of a link between the administration and the people could be an important step.
Getting both official languages to have equal status in public space as stipulated by the Constitution, may still be a long way, but the NCPBM has the uphill task to overcome such a setback. From every indication, the Commission has the backing to go all out and achieve its results, no matter any feet-dragging from certain public officials. “Besides the bodies that I instructed the Government to set up and which are already at work, we are ready to go an extra mile,” President Paul Biya declared in 2017 while referring to the NCPBM; thereby demonstrating the will to ensure that awareness is reinforced on all legitimate claims that seek to promote national cohesion. Consequently, bilingualism as one of the pillars of our identity as a people needs to be preserved, at all cost.
Undoubtedly, one of the trademarks of Cameroon is its unique character of having French and English as the two official languages. Deliberately or not, the situation, according to genuine claims by the Teachers Trade Unions and Lawyers of the Anglophone part of the country has exposed several ill-advised policies that suggest neglect. Individually and collectively, Cameroonians, in general, occupy prestigious positions at the global level, thanks to the bi-cultural reality of British and French colonial heritages. These are some of the reasons that make the NCPBM important and justified its role in working towards a harmonious country.
Consequently, the NCPBM has a mission that goes beyond the problems which led to its creation and must work in making policy decisions that can last over time and guarantee a peaceful nation where no one feels left behind unjustly. Complaints may never lack, but shortfalls ought not to be witnessed in areas where the laws of the land have provided the required procedure and rules to be respected by all
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