The faces of friends and family staring at me when I say ‘Good Morning’ in Douala or ‘Bonjour’ in Kumba depict an image of language incomprehension or crises. Trying to get at the complexities of my bilingual story and lived experiences, and following My BIYA’s quote ‘A woman who speaks two languages is worth two women. Cameroonians have a fundamental interest in being bilingual’, I can paint a portrait of people with an ethnic and linguistic situation harboring the coexistence of about 250 mother tongues, exploring issues around multi-culturalism and identity.
I am interested in the tension between being a citizen of English expression and a denizen of French expression. Why is there a complexity of my identity when I enter a ministerial quarter and address the receptionist in my first language which happens not only to be an asset (Bilingualism maximizes opportunities of quality employment. Bilingualism opens up the mastery of communication tools in productive and beneficial information and communication technologies. Bilingualism widens the scope of human relationships reinforcing the capacity to adapt to the fast changing world. Bilingualism fosters the development of critical thinking and creativity.), but is also backed by the 1996 Constitution which stipulates that Cameroon has English & French as official languages of equal value.
I am disturbed by the differencecompetent citizens of English expression endure in terms of political and economic positioning. Why must I be second to a colleague who can barely wipe my academic or professional pair of shoes just because I am of English expression? Why will my boss always remind me that she/he does not understand English so I must either rephrase the sentence or rewrite the report in French? Why will interesting news topics proposed by journalists of English expression be shut down in the news conferences and immediately considered seconds after, when a journalist of French expression repeats the same proposal in Molière’s language? Why will I be reminded by administrative authorities that ‘my English is very poor’ each time I need a feed in English? Why are English Newscasts not given the same importance and attention (in terms of production and broadcast) in media houses? Why must I enter an intellectual fight with my boss just to have the jingle of the News bear its name ‘THE NEWS’ instead of ‘Le 18H’ as they would want to call it? Why must the news file be called JTA instead of ‘THE NEWS’ as the French version is called ‘LE JOURNAL’?
Why must I struggle with the video editor to use the following inscriptions ‘MINSEE’, ‘MINWEF’, ‘MINPH’, ‘MINBE’, to name these, to identify the Ministry of Secondary Education, Ministry of Women’s Empowerment & the Family, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Basic Education? Why must it be ‘Andre MAMA FOUDA - MINSANTE’ and never ‘Andre MAMA FOUDA-MINPH’ even for me the Anglophone journalist in a country where English and French are of equal value?
Why must I struggle all the time with technicians to inscribe ‘REBROADCAST’ or ‘REPLAY’ at the top right hand corner of the screen for my shows anytime there is a repeat of my programs, and not ‘REDIFFUSSION’? Why must French speaking journalists always go and cover the ‘okro’-related stories and leave their colleagues behind with the intention of relaying facts upon their return from the field for writing? And then, when the English colleague goes to the field, phone calls are made left and right by the almighty French colleagues preventing the communication cells from giving stipends to the English reporter on the field? Why will technicians deliberately start the English news with some lateness but always begin the French News on time? The list of ‘why’ can go on and on. But you see? These are some of the bitter language difficulties competent workers of English expression endure to satisfy clients who can’t afford missing their products or services.
All of these happens under the watchful eyes of authorities designed to shape the smooth functioning of the house, steer productivity, engage competition and outgrow the potential of the organ. There is very little we do to anticipate for which we are certain in such circumstances, especially when some colleagues of English Expression are not only stooges, but will fight against those who defend their interests.
Nothing ever ceased to surprise me for I had always known my professional bilingualism journey would be tough, and I chose to stand my grounds with the creation of English shows wherein thousands derived satisfaction, as they didn’t have to travel airwaves to Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, The Gambia, Zimbabwe just to name these, to get the same content. And honestly I have never felt this fulfilled because my fine art has been lauded for its exploration of the Anglophone identity and history severally. I wanted to create a wearable art and piece which sized every Anglophone watching from Domayo, GarouaBoulai, Bambalang, Bali Nyonga, Banso, Nkwen, Bafut, Mankon, Nkambe, Oku, Ndu,Tiko, Limbe, Kumb, Buea, Mutengene, Muyuka, Idenau, Mamfe, Lebialem, Bassa, Edea, Kribi, Lolodorf and even without national boundaries. This created accessibility to my work as there came a time, I didn’t have to look for guests. Social media became a point of contact for outspoken panelists and interesting topics reflecting pertinent realities for discussions that could lead change. They will always get to you when they find interest and content wherever you hide.
Unite our hearts and minds to honor our culture would have been a brilliant idea if we still do not have citizens who have consciously chosen to sideline the 1996 constitution, the educational policy via Law No 98/004 of 14th April 1993, the provisions of Arête No 055/B1/1464/MINEDUB/MINESEC of 06 July, 2011 or the Ministerial decision No 1141/B1/1464 of the 28th of October, 2002, thinking Cameroon belongs only to them.
With the twist taking another turn as Health workers begin striking on Monday January 16, 2017, the Country is shaking and the Centre may no longer have the energy to hold the things falling apart. Why must things fall apart anyway when parties can discuss ideas for a way forward? Why can’t parties concerned inspire change by taking action, which is to invite ‘Mr Dialogue and Mrs Understanding’ on the table to lead change?