Interviewed by Yerima Kini Nsom — A senior translator and human rights scholar, Joseph Yuh Kijem, has called on Anglophone parliamentarians at the National Assembly and the Senate to press for the enactment of a law that would ensure the effective implementation of Cameroon’s bilingual policy.

He made the call in an exclusive interview with The Post in Yaounde recently. Yuh Kijem, who is a translator at the Central Bureau for Censuses and Population Studies, popularly known by its French acronym as BUCREP, says there is no law to enhance the implementation of bilingualism in the country. To him, 80 percent of official documents are published only in French, thereby violating the Anglophone Cameroonian’s rights to information. Read on:

The Post: As a translator, how would you describe your job in Cameroon?

Yuh Kijem: My job is quite demanding at some levels. There are so many bottlenecks in this profession in Cameroon at the basic, social, moral and other levels. As a translator, it is not easy to make it in Cameroon that is why many translators have decided to leave the country for greener pastures. The few of us who have decided to stay are struggling to make the best out of the funny situation.

As translators, do you immediately see yourselves as movers and shakers of the bilingualism in Cameroon?

In principle that is the case but in practice it isn’t because the powers that be it consider translation to be an inconsequential profession. And that is a paradox because Cameroon being a bilingual country should do everything possible to enhance the profession which is the case in Canada. But unfortunately for us, we don’t see that important role we are supposed to play. I am sorry to say so.

What stops you from doing your work, thereby, enhancing this bilingualism?

So many impediments. The first one is that so many Cameroonians consider themselves as translators. It is unfortunate but that is a fact. They play the role of translators and at times when they get stuck somewhere and become desperate, they start looking for translators.

In that tight corner you find yourself doing work within a limited period of time. Some authorities consider themselves to be translators because they can master a bit of English and French. Secondly, when a document is very confidential they don’t see the need to involve translators in the administrative process. They sideline translators.

The third aspect is at the level of examinations. When you have examinations, the professional schools concerned decide to look for translators within their various circles and that is why they send out very awkward translations. And it is a pity. On a positive note, there are some authorities who decide to enable translators feel at ease in their profession, but they are very few.

How has this marginalisation of translators contributed to the low level of bilingualism?

The marginalisation of translators has caused a lot of damage to and dampened our policy of bilingualism. When you have a translation service which is being headed by a non-professional, be sure that you can only have approximate translation of documents.

If somebody who read bilingual letters, history or geography, or anything which doesn’t have any close link with bilingualism in the university, the result is obvious. Secondly, some administrative structures do their uttermost to make sure that the workers speak both languages.

We are struggling to see that we can have some classes, coupled with the fact that we have pilot centres. We are struggling to see how we can enhance bilingualism by creating some permanent structures which can play the role of enhancement. But unfortunately for us as I earlier said, there are some authorities who find it necessary to foster bilingualism or translation.

Do we have many non-professionals heading translation units in the ministries?

I don’t really have statistics but I know some few Ministries which I can assure you that so many non-professionals who are not unit heads work in those units. Some of them are there as translators which is quite unfortunate. It is just like journalism; you have some guys, non-professionals who decide to ruin the profession by giving it a bad image, whereas it is the role of the professionals to ensure that it shouldn’t be the case. It is not easy but as translators we are struggling to see how we can cleanse the profession of all those who are not professionals.

What would you say is your worst day as a translator?

That is a difficult one. But I have had so many bad days. Talking of a worst day is very difficult.

Do you have any example of a certain translation that you believe was poorly done in a way that distorted information?

We are all human beings and can’t be so perfect. In my former and current office one, once in a while I discover that you go astray and the damage has already been done and the documents concerned have already been forwarded. In that case, what do you do?

You just simply have to struggle to correct your errors and do better next time because to err is human. When you commit such errors the main thing is to learn from this error. You should be humble enough to learn from the errors. And that is one of the good qualities of a professional, learning from your errors.

You are also a human rights activist, when a document is not translated from one language to the other, do you see any violation of rights of Cameroonians in this?

I see a lot of violation in it because Cameroon is a bilingual country. That should not happen. As far as the policy of bilingualism is concerned the State has to ensure that documents are sent out in both languages. So I feel very bad when I discover that a document, especially a sensitive document, a very important document is not translated. It becomes very frustrating. It is due to these frustrations that many professionals have been forced to leave the country.

According to our policy of bilingualism, the State is compelled to satisfy Cameroonians in both languages. It is not a matter of favouring one language to the other. If this policy is respected we are going to have a linguistic balance in this country. It is unfortunate because 80 percent of official documents are not translated. But I don’t think that is the case in Canada. Bilingualism is a constitutional issue and should not be taken for granted.

Can we say that the non-translation of documents from French to English is a violation of the rights of information of Anglophones?

It is. And that has been going on for the past fifty years which is rather unfortunate. I am appealing to all our English-speaking Parliamentarians to make an effort, to go a bit far in their quest for linguistic balance because when you have a law on bilingualism which we don’t have, we can make sure that officials of a particular rank are compelled to be bilingual.

That extra mile is necessary in this country to ensure that balance. Bilingual classes should also be introduced in schools. It is necessary that both languages are given equal treatments.

First published in The Post print edition no 01503