Poverty under Biya: Cameroonians embrace Chinese language for brighter futures 0

In a bustling classroom at the University of Buea in southwestern Cameroon, students are immersed in learning the Chinese language. Their teacher, known as Sema, originally studied physics but found a passion for Chinese language and culture at the Confucius Institute.

After obtaining a master’s degree in Chinese language in China, Sema returned to Cameroon, where he now teaches Chinese language and culture at the university.

Sema expressed his deep connection to Chinese culture, saying, “When I was in China, I felt like I was a Chinese person because their culture is very similar to African culture.”

He emphasized the opportunities that speaking Chinese has brought him, including a significant increase in income. “When I returned from China, I started with 500,000 francs CFA (about 814 U.S. dollars) as monthly salary working as an interpreter for some Chinese. That is a lot of money for a Cameroonian,” he said.

Completing a Chinese language course opens up a wealth of opportunities. Graduates can pursue careers as interpreters or explore various fields beyond language, and moreover, they have the option to further their studies in China in any discipline, Sema said.

Sema gives a Chinese language class at the University of Buea in southwestern Cameroon, April 18, 2024. (Xinhua/Muleng Timngum)

Rokis Petou, a business manager for the Chinese firm Sinohydro Corporation Limited in Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon, also highlighted the advantages of learning Chinese.

In 2017, Petou traveled to China for PhD research studies in geophysics and geological engineering. Despite pursuing his research without a language requirement, Petou recognized the value of speaking Chinese in his professional life.

He said his ability to communicate in Chinese has not only provided him with a well-paid job but has also elevated his social standing. “Being able to speak a language that very few people understand in my environment makes one be treated with special attention,” he added.

Similarly, Eric Sama Doh found employment in 2014 working with Chinese engineers on a construction project in Cameroon.

“When some of my Cameroonian colleagues see me, they always say ‘ni hao’ (hello),” said Doh who has been working with China Machinery Engineering Corporation.

“With this job, I am able to feed my family and send my children to school. In fact, I am living a comfortable life thanks to the opportunity that Chinese language has offered me,” he said.

These stories are just a few examples of how learning Chinese has opened doors for Cameroonians in a challenging job market. According to Didier Nama, national pedagogic inspector of Chinese Language in the Ministry of Secondary Education of Cameroon, there are nearly 20,000 Chinese learners in the country, with nearly 200 secondary schools providing Chinese courses.

Nama highlighted the government’s efforts to promote Chinese language learning, with several state universities now offering Chinese courses and hundreds of Cameroonians trained to teach Chinese in schools across the country.

Sema gives a Chinese language class at the University of Buea in southwestern Cameroon, April 18, 2024.(Xinhua/Muleng Timngum)

In 2008, only one state university in the country offered a Chinese language diploma. However, as of now, four other state universities have formally applied to offer Chinese courses, Nama said, adding that nearly 300 Cameroonians, co-trained by the University of Maroua and the Confucius Institute, are currently teaching the Chinese language in schools nationwide.

Sandra Mefou and Viviane Limunga, two students attending Sema’s lecture, expressed their intentions to pursue further studies in Chinese language and linguistics in China after graduation, citing the limitless opportunities that speaking Chinese provides.

“Chinese-owned companies are everywhere in Cameroon and across the African continent. I want to learn the language to work with them,” Mefou said.

“I plan to pursue further studies in Mandarin and linguistics in China after graduation,” Viviane Limunga added.

“These young people represent a growing trend of cultural exchanges and understanding between Cameroon and China,” Sema said.