Sunday, 7 May 2017

Cameroon: Bilingualism, Multiculturalism - 'Cultures Must Not Avoid or Oppose One Another'

"The President of the Senate, The Right Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, The First President of the Supreme Court and the Procureur General of the Supreme Court, The President of the Economic and Social Council, Members of Government, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and Representatives of International Organizations, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is a singular honour for me to take the floor on behalf of the Head of State, His Excellency Paul Biya. I would like to welcome you all to this commissioning ceremony of the Chairperson and Members of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. We are witnessing a memorable day in Cameroon's history of nation-building.

In fact, the commissioning of the first team of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism holds bright prospects for consolidating our desire to live together. For the first time, our country recently established an institution dedicated to strengthening the bonds that bind us, transcending differences of language and culture. This institution will, in fact, work to promote our cultural diversity and our two official languages, the aim being to consolidate national unity and national integration. In his address to the nation on 31 December 2016, President Paul Biya stressed that "Cameroons unity is a precious heritage which no one has the right to take liberties with. Your huge turnout in this hall of the Yaounde Conference Centre shows that the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism is a welcome and relevant institution. Cameroon in its entirety assembles here today to applaud the clear-sightedness of the Head of State.

By Philemon Yang
We very sincerely thank the President of the Republic for establishing this Commission. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Decree of 23 January 2017 relating to the establishment, organization and functioning of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism points out that the Commission shall be responsible for "promoting bilingualism and multiculturalism in Cameroon, with a view to maintaining peace, consolidating the country's national unity and strengthening its peoples willingness and day-to-day experience with respect to living together". Bilingualism and multiculturalism have their roots in the history of the people of Cameroon; they are enriched by the evolving present and define the future. Alongside the other republican institutions, this new Commission will work to impart special meaning to the opening words of our Constitution [AND I QUOTE]: "We, the people of Cameroon, Proud of our linguistic and cultural diversity, an enriching feature of our national identity. but profoundly aware of the imperative need to further consolidate our unity; solemnly declare that we constitute one and the same Nation, bound by the same destiny; and assert our firm determination to build the Cameroonian Fatherland on the basis of the ideals of fraternity, justice and progress. [END OF QUOTE] Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, Designed for reflection and action, the Commission works to promote three key values: bilingualism, multiculturalism and togetherness. Let us pause awhile and reflect on each of these values. Bilingualism is enshrined in the Constitution of Cameroon since 1961. With the Constitutional amendment of 1996, these provisions were reaffirmed in unequivocal terms. Indeed, Article 1, paragraph 3, thereof provides that: [AND 1 QUOTE] "The official languages of the Republic of Cameroon shall be English and French, both languages having the same status. The State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country". [END OF QUOTE] Bilingualism must be respected in the day-to-day running of ail public services across the country. A meaningful policy of bilingualism is being implemented by the State. This can be seen particularly in the educational system where the youth are prepared for bilingual certificates. Efforts have been made in Government and other services where Translation Units are now widespread. For all that, we still need to improve our bilingualism? which many other countries envy us. With respect to multiculturalism, this refers to our respective cultures: the way we are, the way we live and perceive the world - ways with which successive generations of Cameroonians have identified themselves. Our cultures are a heritage that must be enhanced, preserved and handed down to future generations. The diversity of cultures is real in Cameroon; that cannot be denied. Cultures must not avoid or oppose one another. They are riches that must be shared through permanent inter-cultural dialogue and mutual enrichment in a spirit of perpetual fecundation and renewal.

Philemon Yang
The Constitution has even raised one of the components of our multiculturalism to a real national cause. It obliges the Republic to [AND I QUOTE] "protect and promote national languages". [END OF QUOTE]. For its part, living together is the ingredient without which the Nation is a lame idea. Togetherness is founded on our common history, made up of shared joy and pain. It is the fruit of our attachment to "the cradle of our forefathers" and the conviction of drawing closer to that "Land of Promise, Land of Glory". Our country's trajectory has not been one long and quiet river. The tests that attended the birth of an independent Cameroon as well as the successes won on the arena of nation-building have forged stronger bonds that bind us. However, we must always bear in mind that togetherness is not something you win once and for all. It must be nurtured and resolutely tended. That is one of the duties of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. The National Commission is therefore an interface between citizens and the President of the Republic, under whose authority it is placed.

The Commission is thus responsible notably for: [I QUOTE] - submitting reports and recommendations on issues relating to the protection and promotion of bilingualism and multiculturalism to the President of the Republic and the Government; - monitoring the implementation of constitutional provisions establishing English and French as two official languages of equal status, and especially ensuring their use in ail government services, semipublic bodies as well as any State-subsidized body; - conducting any study or survey and proposing measures likely to strengthen Cameroon's bilingual and multicultural character; - preparing and submitting to the President of the Republic draft instruments on bilingualism, multiculturalism and togetherness; - popularizing legal instruments on bilingualism, multiculturalism and togetherness; - receiving petitions against discriminations arising from non-compliance with constitutional provisions on bilingualism and multiculturalism and reporting thereon to the President of the Republic; - performing any other task assigned to it by the President of the Republic, including mediation. [END OF QUOTE] The National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism must listen to society. This attitude will enable it to receive and treat ail petitions from citizens who are victims of language-or culture-based discrimination. Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, To coordinate the new Commission, the President of the Republic came up with a wise mix. He has chosen 15 personalities whose profiles reflect the variety and wealth of Cameroon's human resources.

Ali share a number of common traits, including patriotism and commitment to the noblest causes in Cameroon. The experience at the highest level of public affairs of some members sits side by side with the youthful ardour of other members. The pedagogic assets from the education sector will complement the thoroughness of legal minds. Beyond the representation of the ten Regions, the Head of State also mainstreamed gender and our main socio-cultural areas in the choice of the 15 Commissioners. I have no doubt that, under the leadership of its Chairperson, Mr. Peter Mafany Musonge, the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism will discharge its duties effectively.

The Cameroonian people will not stint on their support. The Commission can also count on Government's unfailing commitment. The promotion of bilingualism and multiculturalism now has its champions. Their earnest endeavours will certainly usher in a new era of togetherness in Cameroon. It is on this note of hope that 1 declare commissioned the Chairperson and Members of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. Long Live Cameroon and its Illustrious Leader, the President of the Republic, Head of State, His Excellency Paul Biya. Thank you for your kind attention."

*The speech of His Excellency Philemon Yang Prime Minister, Head of Government during the official commissioning ceremony of the members of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism in Yaounde on 27 April 2017. Copyright © 2017 Cameroon Tribune.

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