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Lawyers To Challenge Injustices Against Practice On October 1 

By Joe Dinga Pefok

barrister-abengAnglophone lawyers and some of their Francophone counterparts will meet in Douala on Saturday, October 1 to raise their voices against the non-existence of an English version of four revised parts of the OHADA Law (Uniform Business Law).

Added to this, the lawyers want the Government to stop treating Anglophone lawyers with spite and create a level playing ground where Anglophone lawyers can practise their profession equitably alongside their Francophone counterparts.

The lawyers based in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, Yaounde and Douala, will deliberate on the disregard of an English version of the OHADA Law and the plight of Anglophone legal practitioners in general.

The chief coordinator of the event, Barrister Roland Abeng of Abeng Law Firm, made this disclosure at a press briefing in Douala on September 16.

The Moderator of the Cameroon Advocates Forum, Barrister Abeng said participation at the October 1 manifestation will be optional, hence no lawyer is obliged to be involved.

“It will be a manifestation by the willing. It will be a manifestation by those lawyers who can dare to stand up to fight against injustice.

It will be a manifestation by those Anglophone legal practitioners who have refused to remain docile in the face of persistent injustice; those who have refused to adopt the policy of speech and no action.

It will be a manifestation by our fair-minded Francophone colleagues who believe that injustice is a bad thing, even if they are not the victims,” Abeng told the press.

The barrister said they chose October 1 because it is a symbolic date in Cameroon: Reunification Day.

The OHADA Treaty

The Organisation for the Harmonization of Business Law commonly known by the French acronym, OHADA, was established by the OHADA Treaty which was signed on October 17, 1993 at Port-Louis, Mauritius Island, and revised in Quebec, Canada, on October 17, 2008.

OHADA was created with the aim of harmonizing business law in Africa, in order to guarantee legal and judicial security for investors and companies in its member states. As of today, 17 African countries are members of OHADA.

Initially, Article 42 of the OHADA Treaty made French the only official language of the institution. But following protests by some member countries, the Article was amended in 2008 and English, Portuguese and Spanish were added to French as official languages of OHADA.

But when OHADA authorities failed to respect the text and produced the 2010 revised version of the OHADA Law in French only, Cameroon’s Ministry of Justice did not complain.

Abeng said Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau had since decided against waiting for OHADA, and translated the revised law into the official languages of their countries.

In Cameroon, the Minister of State for Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso, and the President of the National Commission of the OHADA Treaty, Justice George Gwanmesia, who is also the Secretary General in the Ministry of Justice, have both remained silent on two separate correspondences the President of the Cameroon Bar Council, Barrister Jackson Ngnie Kamga, addressed to them since May 13, 2016.

The correspondences, which were received at the ministry on May 17, address the issue of the non-existence of the English version of the revised OHADA Law.

The President of the Bar Council stated in the correspondences that he had received several complaints from many Anglophone lawyers, who said they are facing a lot of difficulties having to work with the French version of the revised OHADA Law.

Ngnie Kamga reminded the authorities that Cameroon is a bilingual country, and that as President of the Bar Council his mission is to facilitate the exercise of the legal profession by all lawyers in the country.

He also called on the authorities to ask the Permanent Secretariat of OHADA why the English version of the revised OHADA Law is not yet available, more than five years after its revision.

Meanwhile, Barrister Abeng said no matter the obligations of the OHADA authorities, culpability for the non-existence in the country of the English version of the revised OHADA Law falls squarely on Cameroonian authorities.

“I am from Cameroon which has English and French as the official languages, and a constitutional obligation for legal enactments to be published in both languages simultaneously before its applicability. It is the duty of the Ministry of Justice, which has an entire Directorate for Legislation and Documentation, to make sure that Roland Abeng, who is an Anglophone, and Jackson Ngnie Kamga, a Francophone, have texts in the languages they understand best, and at the same time. It should be the same scenario for the ‘Faculte de Droit’ of UNIYAO and the Faculty of Law for the University of Buea,” Abeng said.

Irony

Many Anglophone lawyers have observed that it is ironical that Justice George Gwanmesia, the President of the National Commission on the OHADA Treaty, is an Anglophone.

The same irony touches two senior Anglophone lawyers, Eta Besong Jr. and Francis Asanga Sama, predecessors of Ngnie Kamga as Bar Council Presidents, who were silent on the issue of the linguistically biased texts of the OHADA Law.

Anglophone Lawyers Marginalised

“The marginalisation of Anglophones should be rightly considered by all Cameroonians of goodwill as a national problem, and not just a problem for the Anglophones. The issue of the non-existence of the English version of the revised OHADA Law is a national problem.

There are many of my Francophone colleagues who have clients in Britain and other English-speaking countries, who also need this text in English,” said Abeng.

He added, “The Government talks of working hard to woo foreign investors, yet there is no English version of the revised Uniformed Business Law applicable in Cameroon, to give to investors from countries like the US, Nigeria, Britain, South Africa and so on.”

Abeng stressed that the fight he has taken up has nothing to do with politics. He said the fight by some Anglophone and Francophone lawyers for justice for all, is not only about those living today but for posterity as well.

“This is not politics. The question I keep asking myself, is why the authorities (OHADA and Ministry of Justice), would treat Anglophone legal practitioners, scholars, and all involved with the study and practice of law with spite?

Why can we not be allowed to practise our profession on a level playing ground with our Francophone colleagues?

Anglophone lawyers are forced to spend much of their time struggling to translate texts from French to English, before preparing our submissions.”

Anglophone Law students are also seriously affected.

“Our English-speaking law students at the University of Buea and other universities in the country are often obliged to work with French texts and at the end write the same exams as their French speaking colleagues,” Abeng said.

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