Circular n° 001/CAB/PM of 16 August 1991 on the practice of bilingualism in public and semi-public bodies

Title: Circular n° 001/CAB/PM of 16 August 1991 on the practice of bilingualism in public and semi-public bodies

Date : 16 August 1991


To Honourable Ministers,

The Secretary of State and equivalents

Provincial governors.

For more than a decade the government has been committed to giving increasingly more concrete content to the bilingual option in our country.  This commitment has resulted, in particular, in the opening of the School of Translators and Interpreters in Buea, the launch of a new project to teach English to public servants, and a renewed importance accorded to the teaching of our two official languages in schools, etc.

The results achieved due to this policy are commendable, and are reflected in the ever-increasing number of bilingual Cameroonians.  

However, despite these results the fact remains that the public institutions which should serve as examples of bilingualism have not always fulfilled the expectations of the majority of our fellow citizens and our international partners of receiving services in our two official languages.  The reason is that even when the human resources were available, public and semi-public bodies were not always fully aware of the duty of a state to its citizens and partners in a bilingual country like ours.  

In order to further strengthen the national integration advocated by the president of the Republic, promote the effectiveness of our public and semi-public bodies, and enhance the image of a bilingual Cameroon both inside and outside our borders, I specify, by means of the present circular, the steps to be taken to increase the level of bilingualism in our Administration, which already has an adequate number of bilingual managers and well trained translators and interpreters. 

1— All Cameroonian citizens, and specifically all users of a public or semi-public service, have the basic right to speak in English or French with all public and semi-public servants and to obtain an answer in the official language of their choice. 

2— With a few exceptions (air-traffic controllers and language teachers for example), all public servants have the right to work in the official language of their choice without it having a negative impact on their career.  However, it is the responsibility of public servants who work directly with the public to make themselves understood in their dealings with the latter.   Of course the ultimate goal is that all public servants who work directly with the public will be able to make themselves understood when dealing with them. 

 3— The services offered and the official documents published by public and semi-public bodies intended for the general public (speeches, notices, regulatory acts, advertisements, press releases, examinations, circulars and forms, etc.) must be available in the two official languages

4— Posters, billboards, signs and notices pertaining to goods and services of the State and their use must be written in both official languages on the same support or on two separate supports placed side by side so that the text in each language is equally visible and accessible.  

5— All treaties and agreements concluded between Cameroon and foreign states, individuals or organizations must, when signed or as soon as possible thereafter, be written in English and French, with a provision specifying that the two versions are equally binding.

6— Judgments handed down by the courts, particularly Supreme Court judgements, must be made available to the public as soon as possible in both official languages, particularly when the point of law in question is of obvious importance or interest to users. 

7— A particular effort must be made by the local governments of large cities, in particular those in Douala and Yaoundé, which are our showcases to the world and contain our tourist centres as well as our diplomatic missions and consulates, and all the services and institutions which are in direct contact with the outside world, to fully reflect the bilingual character of our nation. 

8— Bilingual services must be provided to all people using public and semi-public means of communication.

9— Public and semi-public bodies must encourage and assist businesses and other organizations under their administration, control or authority to reflect and promote the bilingual image of Cameroon, both inside and outside the country.  

In these times of economic crisis when we must consolidate our gains, become more competitive and make new allies abroad, it goes without saying that we need to fully exploit our image as a bilingual country, which is one of our defining traits and carves out a special place for us  in Africa and the world. 

This is why I want you to know that I am determined to personally ensure the practice of bilingualism in public and semi-public bodies. In this regard, my Service, through the Directorate of Linguistic Service, has sufficient human and technical resources to provide public and semi-public bodies with any assistance they require to promote the practice of bilingualism within their organizations when they request it.

Accordingly, I ask each one of you to take the measures necessary in your sphere of activity to guarantee the pressing and ongoing implementation of the measures contained in the present Circular and to ensure they are applied.  

Yaoundé, the 16 August 1991.

The prime minister


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