Multiculturalism: To Whom Much Is Given…

To say the least, the characteristic rancour observed in the two English-speaking regions of the country in the past few weeks seems to be living some moments of respite, even if only seen in a mild resumption of activity, since the decree to institute a National Commission on Bilingualism and Multiculturalism was announced last Tuesday. Even if the decree does not directly address the issues at the base of which the crisis in these regions took such disturbing proportions as observed today, one must be honest enough to recognize that it is an important measure that vindicates a clear political will to address what has been seen so far to pit the two language communities in an eyeball-to-eyeball posture. Critics have hurriedly pointed to the fact that this could just be another commission;  an innuendo suggesting that other commissions set up to address issues, sometimes even more pressing than the present one, have never really worked with the required expedition, let alone talk about producing findings that can help find a solution to the problem in question. The first fear is about whether the commission will have the necessary leverage or teeth to be able to address the problems of bilingualism when it is known that many of the divisive issues that have often led to conflict situations require immediate adjudication. Such critics should find refuge in the fact that the commission is placed under the direct authority of the President of the Republic with the view to maintaining peace and consolidating the country’s unity and strengthening its people’s willingness and day-to-day experience with respect to living together. The commission is also accessible to all aggrieved citizens by virtue of Article 3 of the decree which inter-alia determines that it also receives “petitions against discrimination arising from non-compliance with the constitutional provisions on bilingualism and multiculturalism and reporting thereon to the President of the Republic.” Another major worry has been about the composition of the commission. Article 4, (line 2) states that; “commissioners shall be chosen from among personalities of Cameroonian nationality with recognized competence, moral rectitude, intellectual honesty and patriotism.”  The President of the Republic obviously has the privilege, latitude and knowledge to determine those Cameroonians who fulfil these conditions because too often, many people have taken such openings as an opportunity to compensate political loyalty. One can also see a lot of under-the-table deals to obtain membership of the commission. It is going to be a very difficult responsibility to sit on the commission and on a daily basis check not only the functioning of bilingualism, but also find immediate solutions to problems that crop up. Membership is not going to be a sinecure; rather it requires patriotic men and women who have the desire to have a Cameroon, in which all sons and daughters live in absolute harmony, at heart. The weight of responsibility is so heavy that commissioners must seek new and innovative ways of ensuring that bilingualism is effectively applied, not only as a constitutional obligation, but as a confidence-building measure that can help bring the two language communities closer. This, all the more so, because bilingualism as a constitutional issue, has existed since Reunification and if 56 years after we are still coming back on it, simply means that the problems surrounding the effective implementation of official bilingualism are deeper than the ordinary eye can see. The commission must not be seen or even perceived as a gadget to reward political cronies. Those sitting on the commission should be dedicated Cameroonians imbued simply with the desire to serve their fatherland and must have as an invisible maxim that to him that much is given, much is expected, especially at this given time of our history.

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