Bilingual (English & African French) status almost mars Cameroon Election polls

Cameroon has 230 indigenous languages! Yes, you read right with 55 of these languages being national languages, 3 being lingua franca and 2 which are English & African French being the country’s official languages thus being referred to as both Francophone and Anglophone.

How Cameroon became bilingual (English & African French)

After Germany lost its toll on Cameroon, 80% of the country was controlled by France and the rest by the British in 1916 and when the two parties joined in 1961 after both gained independence, the country officially became bilingual.

Why the chaos?

Turns out the parts where English is spoken predominantly being the Northwest and Southwest of the country have unattended to frustrations that include the state’s decision of making French compulsory in their schools and offices. It is these frustration on which they based to try and disrupt the voting process that took place last Sunday.

It is reported that roadblocks were set up in some parts of the country where vigilantes or ‘separatists’ would confiscate or destroy people’s voting cards. Despite these actions, the African Union election observers led by Kwezi Ahoomey-Zunu reported that the general voting process went on well and fairly enough apart from sporadic shots in the Northwest and Southwest problematic areas.

Language fracas

Cameroon which has been under president Paul Biya for 3 decades now and having the 86 year old standing for his 7th term after term limits were scrapped under his leadership, has English and African French as its official languages with the latter being dominant.

French dominates with 57.6% of the population speaking it while English takes up 25.2%. It should be noted that a civil war has already broken out or is looming over these 2 languages in the Cameroon as the English speaking part of the country has military separatists fighting for their freedom and in retaliation having heavy gunfights with the country’s army with the latter trying to squash them.

The United Nations reports that more than 20,000 people have fled the English speaking regions to forests and Nigeria fleeing from the ongoing clashes that have seen over 70 villages torched and with an over 200 death toll.

Significance of Languages

The above emphasize how important languages are and can be and are therefore more than vehicles of communication. In the Cameroon example, Languages are a form of identity for people that associate with them and therefore that is why we see some people going at lengths of sparking wars if they feel like their identity is being threatened.

In relation to the above argument, Languages maybe used as a vehicle of peace or anarchy by groups or individuals that want a certain point put across. This maybe for selfish reasons of destabilizing a country for their own benefits or for genuine purposes of freeing an oppressed people.

Other countries that faced instability due to Languages

This languages saga is mentioned in the Bible where God decided to confuse the languages of a people that once spoke one at the tower of Babel and this continues in Belgium with the Dutch, French and German, Turkey with the Kurdish rebels and so many other examples where a minority group having their own language feels repressed by the dominant group with its language. Other Bilingual Countries  include;

Not that professional translation services would solve the language problem entirely however, it would ease on the problem in the short run as other measures are devised.

By Angela Kyolaba

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