A member of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, NCPBM, George Ngwane, says it is time Cameroonians put an end to the discriminatory use of the country’s official languages, English and French.
Ngwane’s appeal is the content of an interview he granted CRTV. The resourceful and compelling exchange was broadcast on CRTV’s flagship program Cameroon Calling of Sunday August 30.
His appeal comes after teams from the Bilingualism Commission ended one week of evaluation of the use of French and English across different ministries in Yaounde. The observations of Ngwane who has a wealth of experience in fast tracking multiculturalism and bilingualism are resourceful, inspirational and worth reading. Read on…
You have been on the field evaluating the use of English and French in Ministries, what is the importance of such visits?
You remember this follow up and evaluation comes up at time when the law of 24 December 2019 that was promulgated by the president of the country and so it was important for us to shed light on this law and share experiences with these new ministries. I want to also draw to your attention that one ministry came up which is the ministry of Decentralization and Local Development and it also needed to have some kind of assessment on how Bilingualism is practiced within them.
In a nutshell, our task was to see after the 2017 mission what has been done in terms of the recommendations we made and the new recommendation we have proposed to the Ministry.
So what did you find out in the field?
I must say that we had mixed results in the ministries. There are ministries that have been able to actually get up to about 60% of the recommendations and there are other ministries that have not been able to come up with a full program. For example, there are ministries that up to now have not been able to institute the Bilingualism Day.
We also found that some of them don’t understand that the focus of the two official languages is on the users. It’s important to start understanding that users have a choice on how they are going to be served in the ministries and how they are going to respond.
We also had the feeling that some of them don’t still reflect in their documents that we’re a bilingual country.
Overall, I will say that most of the ministries had about 60% implementation of the policy put in place by the Bilingualism Commission.
Does it mean after the 2017 mission, there was virtually nothing the commission could do to ensure that bilingualism is effectively practiced everywhere?
We did an evaluation. We needed to use recommendation we made in 2016 as a yardstick to find out exactly how far they have gone and when I say 60%, that doesn’t give them a pass mark because there is a 40% that is totally clueless on how bilingualism should be practiced and it has to go on.
It is a permanent process. We need to remind them.
One of the ministries that has managed to do well because they have been able to put things in English and French.
We had to move through to the receptionist and others to find out if they are bilingual because these are the interfaces between the ministries and the population.
They need to have a mastery of the two languages. If they don’t have, do they have a team spirit where they can call their fellow colleagues to help them in the other language?
Have they been able to attend linguistic centres to improve on those languages? Has the Ministers been to speak? We found ministers that are able to speak English and French. That’s our heart cry as compared to the previous years when it has all been French… I’m not saying it has been bed of roses.
When you say that some ministries are lying low, don’t you think they consider the work done by your commission as a mere formality?
The National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism is a watchdog. The kind of watchdog policy that it does is one that should be very permanent. I think some of them are lying low because they still don’t know about sanctions that could be meted on them.
We in the commission and for someone like me who has studied a lot of commissions, I will tell you sanctions are not a priority to the commission. It is incentives that act as a form of sanctions because when you’re incentivised, the other person who is already facing self-sections and so if ministries that are lying low actually think that it’s business as usual, then they are actually making a big mistake.
I will tell you that that we already have the possibilities of coming out with the best ministries with the best practice in Bilingualism. We are thinking of having what they call imperative appointments. Imperative appointments in bilingualism means you are able to apply for a post only when you have a bilingual proficiency.
We are thinking of instituting what is called a bilingual bonus which means bonuses are given to you at the level of your mastery. This is more at the level of individual bilingualism and what I think is more challenging is at the level of institutional bilingualism and that is why we have to visit the ministries as often as we can.
Following the Promulgation of the law on official languages, what is going to change as far as the practice of bilingualism is concerned? You indicated that one of the field objective of that mission was to raise awareness of that law.
When you look at section 2, paragraph 2 that says all the users should be served in the language of their choice. It’s very important for ministries or relevant bodies to realize that that has to change.
You know in yesteryears, this stereotype of Je ne comprend pas votres anglais had prevailed. We need such stigmas to actually be eradicated and that starts with a change of the mindset.
You will agree with me that we’re not going to give everyone 2,5 or 10 years to change since this will have to take a long while but it’s now we need to give them what we call a shock therapy for them to understand that bilingualism has come to stay.
We’re actually behind time because we had reunification in 1961 which means we had to different linguistic backgrounds and when we had the 1972 revolution, it also reinforced it. What needs to change now is for people to have a sense of acceptance, a sense of tolerance and keep way the whole idea of language discrimination.
In 2017, members of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism were deployed in the various ministries. In 2018, they went to state enterprises and corperations. This time that is closed to three years, they have gone back to the various ministries. Does it mean that the work of the commission is limited to Public institutions?
Language commissions can only attain to institutions that have the permission of the state and are subsidized by the state. So we have a right to go to the ministries and we have a right to go to state corperations that are subsidized by the state. But nonetheless, because we have other avenues like a contact number and a website, there are opportunities for those who have faced discrimination to get to the commission and be able to express their feelings..
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has been a headache to us because we already had plans to go to the regions and there in the regions, we had to meet everyone who has a stake concerning bilingualism. We actually go beyond corperations but we know that our remit of the work that we are supposed to do is limited to organisations that receive subventions from the state.
There is this allegation that some ministries and others public institutions find it difficult to produce important and highly sensitive documents in both French and English at the same time because those hold key positions in those institutions speak the same language. Have you come across such a case?
I think we were a little bit fortunate that even at the opening sessions, the Ministries were asked to be open and frank as possible. I don’t remember any ministry that did not give us what we call classified documents. We read them but we may not carry them along with us.
I am taking about documents that are meant for Public consumption.
That probably didn’t come to our knowledge. As far as we are concerned, we are only looking at those documents that are meant for Public consumption. There may be possibilities that there may be certain documents that were not put at our disposal but we had a template that we’re supposed to follow to see the documents that were to be out at our disposal and as far as I am concerned, those were done. Press Releases, Internal communiques and so on.
But let me tell you one of things we found out that was a little disturbing. It was the fact that some of the documents that are sent to the North West and South West are sent in French and that is why we said, No. There is a principle of proportionality and when we are dealing with North West and South West, we can be sure that English language has a higher proportion in terms of consumers. So that should be done in English.
The National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism was created in the wake of the Unrest in the NW and SW according to some people to help tackle the problems raised by the Common Law Lawyers and the Association of Anglophone Teachers Trade Unions. What if someone tells you that the impact of the commission as far as that is concerned is yet to being felt?
Let me say this. Sometimes I feel that the commission itself is a victim of its own creation. It was created at a time when people had different expectations about what the commission is supposed to do and most people haven’t time to read the article of the commission and so anyone who has a stake in the Anglophone crisis actually thinks that nothing has been done so car.
I was a member of the education committee in 2017 that gave rise to a couple of things that happened to what we have to today. I think that what the teacher were actually referring to was the fact that some of the teachers that come into the Anglophone regions teach in French and the lawyers also said that most of the people that were appointed within the legal structure are French-Speaking who have probably little or no iota of English Language. Therefore, if we have commission that is coming now to set straight the records of trying to make sure that teachers are not sent to that part of the country without a mastery of English Language, then, part of the problem that you may call the Anglophone crisis is being resolved at the level of the language and you will agree with me George that as far as the Anglophone crisis is concerned, it is a different all game when it comes to language. As far we are concerned at the National Commission, we have been able to look at the situation that was a bone of contention which lawyers and the teachers raised. I’m not saying that all has been perfect and again that this reflected in the new law that even if magistrates and courts are sent to the English-Speaking regions, the people must be allowed to express themselves in the language of their own choice. That’s article 34. Secondly, we’re thinking of interpretation and bilingual people sent in the North West and South West. So as far as I am concerned, we may not be able to get hold of the whole Anglophone crisis, we are looking at the component that is relevant to the national commission.
So after the second field mission of the commission coming close to
3years after the third, are we going to wait for three more years to get the next field mission?
When you look at the attributions of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, we are a consultative body and as a consultative body, we make our reports and sent them to the president of Republic. The president of Republic may now be able to also convey some of his concerns to the commission and then we can go on from there.
I can’t say for sure whether we are going to wait for the third mission. Again, that is being taken care of in our program and that is done as a consensus by the president of our National Commission Mr. Mafany Musonge. For now, I can tell you that we have done the second evaluation. We may not wait for the third mission. Something else may need to come.
Transcribed by CAMWATCH News