Friday, March 27, 2015

Cameroon anglophone lawyers forced to make submissions in French

The official languages of Cameroon are French English and French. But French dominates partly because majority of Cameroonians are French-speaking, and partly because French is directly or indirectly forced down the throats of English-speaking Cameroonians. Reports of English-speaking lawyers in the North West region of Cameroon forced to make submissions in French buttress the point.

The legal department of the Appeals Court in Bamenda decided, according to Cameroon Journal, to serve lawyers in the North West region of Cameroon uniquely in the French language, and obliged the lawyers to make submissions in French. In response, the lawyers agreed a meeting on March 9, 2015 to paralyze the court if forced to make submissions in French. Cameroon Journal reports that the lawyers also threatened to create their own independent Bar Council, and questioned the government's decision to appoint only French-speaking Cameroonians at the legal department of the Appeals Court in the north west.
It's worthy to highlight that the North West region is predominantly English-speaking and most of the lawyers practicing law in the region are anglophones. Why then would a legal department in an English-speaking region decide to serve English-speaking lawyers in the French language?

In my view, the decision is based on the fact that the people working there are either unwilling or unable to speak English, which is a typical attitude in public offices in most parts of Cameroon. There's no problem with not wanting to speak English but there's a big problem, in my opinion, when inability to speak English leads to compulsory French for others.

Cameroon, as stated previously, is a bilingual country. Civil servants appointed by the government should have working knowledge of both languages -- or should at least be willing to use interpreters to make up for their shortcomings. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with the government appointing francophones to work in the legal department of the Appeals Court in an anglophone region but the appointed people should not force their language on the those they serve.

In my perspective, courts and legal departments should ideally serve people in a language they, the people, understand. Lawyers should have the liberty and freedom to make submissions in a language of their own choosing. While French-speaking staff in the legal department should be free to speak French English-speaking lawyers on their part should be free to make submissions in English. Lawyers in an English-speaking jurisdiction shouldn't be forced to make submissions in French simply because court officials and staff cannot speak or understand English.

Opposition by lawyers of the North West region to what is, I believe, a misguided attempt by the legal department of the Bamenda Appeals Court to force French down their throats is justifiable. But the lawyers shouldn't move to kick out French completely from courts in the North West region. After all Cameroon is bilingual. The lawyers should should insist on making submissions in a language of their choosing. Courts should not be in the business of prioritizing one official language over the other due to staff incompetence.

The way I see it, this problem wouldn't have existed if government appointees met basic language requirements. Politically motivated appointments fueled by corruption, discrimination, favoritism, tribalism, you name it  - all wrapped up in a complete package of bad governance - lead to such problems.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Not enough African opposition to violence against women

When a gruesome video of a Ugandan maid torturing a child was widely circulated on social media outrage was widespread and calls for the maid to be prosecuted were swift and unconditional. A few months later, another gruesome video, this time of a man brutalizing a woman in beastly fashion, sparked mixed comments online, and didn't generate enough outrage in same circles: a worrying indication that violence against women is tolerated and somewhat acceptable by some.

In the video (screenshot below), which is extremely hard to watch due to the graphic violence, a man wearing a blue t-shirt beats a half-naked woman with what looks like a piece of wood, drags her around, pushes her to the ground and pulls at hair. At one point the woman appears to pass out, and is dragged on the ground by the man.

I was unable to establish where the video was taken, but drawing from the fact that the language spoken in the video is Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, it's safe to say the incident took place somewhere in east Africa. The reason for the violence is also unknown. It could be in Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda. However, as far as I'm concerned, the video showcases a problem that is widely prevalent in many parts of Africa, including in Cameroon where I come from.

It's worthy to mention that besides Africa, women are violated in other parts of the world as well, including in Europe and the United States. A report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African medical research council found that violence against women is a global problem. According to the report, some 35% of women will experience violence that impacts their physical and mental health. Intimate partner violence being the most prevalent with 30% of women affected worldwide. The impact of violence, according to the report ranges from broken bones to pregnancy-related complications and mental problems.

In my view, nothing justifies such violence. Absolutely nothing. The video highlights the plight of the African woman. It's an adequate depiction of what many women endure on a daily basis. The numerous bystanders in the video who didn't bother to intervene and stop the violence, the way I see it, represent the high level of impunity for such violence against women in many African countries. There're numerous people who think, erroneously of course, that men are entitled to "discipline" women. This twisted mentality is inculcated in young boys and passed on from generation to generation, hence a cycle of violence hunts generations of women and girls.

I share the view that violence against women is a "global health problem of endemic proportions." I also think it's a social problem that destroys the lives of women and girls by fermenting gender-based violence and gender inequality. I've personally heard gruesome reports of abuse in Africa, Europe and the United States, hence no continent is void of the social ill.

Although violence against women is a global problem, there're differences in the way members of the public and the authorities, including the police respond to violence. It's easier, in my view, for a man who physically abuses a woman to get away with it (with some degree of support from bystanders) in Africa than in Europe for example.

It's my wish that the culprit in the aforementioned video be identified and brought to book like the Ugandan maid. Governments truly need to step up their game to protect women. I believe ordinary members of the public also need to step up their game.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A solution to racism in football -- inspired by Selma

Black football (soccer) players around the world are routinely subjected to racist abuse during football matches from Europe to South America and other parts of the world, and football authorities are either unwilling or unable to stop the prevalence of racism in football. History shows that the greatest victories against racism and discrimination were registered when affected groups, mostly black people, organized themselves and demanded change. From Soweto to Selma, for example, people of African descent rose up en masse against racial discrimination and disenfranchisement. Perhaps it's time for black players and others affected by racism in football to step up to the plate - together - and say "no mas."

A football player in Peru walked off the pitch in protest over racist abuse on March 1,2015. The Panamanian player, Luis Tejada, left the field after 70 minutes of play. According to him, racial abuse was going unpunished by football authorities in Peru. He walked off the field because he couldn't take it anymore. (The question I'm asking myself here is, was he the only black player on the pitch that day? If not, why didn't the others walk off with him?) The incident was reportedly the second involving the same player in five months.

A few days before the abuse in Peru, Feyenoord fans threw a giant inflatable banana at an Ivorian player in a Europa League match in Rotterdam. Although UEFA charged Feyenoord for fan racism, the club's General Manager Eric Gudde claimed the incident was "pure coincidence." Feyenoord coach Fred Rutten also downplayed the incident claiming the club has "various nationalities" so there can be no racisim. (How naive!) In a tweet the following day, FIFA president Sepp Blatter condemned the incident and urged all football bodies to implement the 2013 FIFA Congress Resolution to fight discrimination.

In my view, football authorities and governing bodies, including FIFA and UEFA haven't done enough to combat racism and discrimination in football. They have to do more than passing resolutions and releasing statements condemning racist incidents. The 2013 FIFA Resolution on the Fight against Racism and Discrimination mentioned by Blatter in his tweet is, for instance, a beautifully written 6-paged document stipulating anti-racism measures to be implemented on a global level in football, but such a document is worthless if clubs and football associations don't agree in the first place on what constitutes racist behavior. Take General Manager of Feyenoord Eic Gudde, and the club's coach Fred Rutten for example. They claimed that throwing a banana at a black football player isn't a racist act. Such people shouldn't be entrusted with the task of combating racism and discrimination.

Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter - who now passively condemns racism via social media - said in 2011 that there's no racism in football. It is unclear whether or not he has changed his mind. Michel Platini, another top football official, warned Mario Balotelli in 2012 and suggested that a player who walks off the pitch in protest over racist abuse should be booked. This tells me that rather than genuinely combat racism by taking a zero-tolerance approach, football authorities are more interested in protecting the game and in keeping the money flowing.

In my opinion, it's up to black players affected by racism to force real change and ensure maximum implementation of anti-racism and non-discrimination measures in football.

In Selma, a film which centers around the voting rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. (portrayed by actor David Oyelowo) repeatedly stated in one scene: "We negotiate. We demonstrate. We resist." 

To combat racism in football, affected players should, I believe, negotiate, demonstrate and resist. Black players should, together, negotiate with their clubs and football associations on how to respond to racism; they should demonstrate - together - against any manifestation of racism, even if it means walking off the pitch together when one of them is abused and nothing concrete is done about it; above all, they should resist - again, together - any pressure from the authorities to silence them through bookings or banning. If need be they should be ready collectively to accept banning. Like every major struggle related to racism and discrimination, the price for stopping racism in football will have to be paid by victims of the social ill. The price will be high but it'll also be worth it.

Unfortunately, there's little or no chance of black players collectively taking a zero-tolerance stance against racism by demanding more from the authorities. Many, if not all players, are hooked by lucrative contracts, sponsorship deals and the quest for glory on the big stage of world football. It seems to me that for many, if not all of them, the indignity of racial abuse on the job is a small price to pay -- that's why they put up with racial abuse.

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