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Speaking SDGs in African languages

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Speaking SDGs in African languages

Kingsley Ighobor
From Africa Renewal: 
Ntiokam Divine
Ntiokam Divine
Ntiokam Divine

As Ntiokam Divine from Cameroon sees it, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are high-sounding concepts crafted in the specialized parlance of development experts.  

To make the concepts comprehensible to a wider audience, especially among the grassroots population, 33-year old Divine is on a mission to translate the SDGs into Africa’s many local languages using terminology understandable to all. 

His strategy involves training influential community members, particularly young people, who will in turn educate their communities using translated texts.

On December 29 of last year, Mr. Divine launched training for 30 members of various youth, women’s and civil society groups in the capital, Yaoundé, as part of the African Youth SDGs Training Program. Although the training was in English, he told the trainees that the SDGs need to be taken to the people’s doorsteps.

After the group translates the SDGs into Cameroonian local languages—Ewondo, Shupamum, and Basaa—the training programme will work on establishing SDG clubs in primary, secondary and tertiary schools and get influential community members to be SDG ambassadors in their respective localities.

“By ensuring that youths understand that being part of the global discussion is an opportunity for them to address issues relating to their future, African youths can better appreciate the SDGs,” Mr. Divine told Africa Renewal in an interview. Each of the trainees signs a pledge, committing to intense community mobilisation in support of the SDGs.

So far Mr. Divine, a longtime activist who has participated in the International Youth Council, Earth Charter and Children of the Earth, has translated the SDGs into 20 local languages in his native Cameroon, as well as into local languages of Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

In Nigeria the SDGs were translated into Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, the country’s main ethnic languages. There is also a Swahili version, which will be distributed to communities in Swahili-speaking countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands.

Inspired youth

Mr. Divine’s wanderlust makes him a good fit for his current undertaking. He has travelled over the back roads of Cameroon and to close to 100 countries around the world. “I was inspired by my mother to be a committed community development worker like her,” he says. “She encouraged me to empower youths in rural communities across Africa.”

Mr. Divine’s breakthrough moment was in 2009, when he successfully organized the Stand Up campaign to promote the MDGs in Cameroonian schools. The success of that campaign alerted the various UN agencies to his unique mobilization skills. Later he took part in the Voices of Youth project of UNICEF.

He also supports the work of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, raising awareness of the environment in communities as well as engaging young people in ways to address climate change challenges.

Mr. Divine, who holds a degree in environmental chemistry and grants management from the University of Buea, is co-chair for the Climate Development African Youth Platform, which mobilises young people on climate change issues and with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. In this role he moderates discussions on community climate-smart agricultural activities. He is also a global youth digital advocate for the SDGs.

Translating the SDGs into indigenous African languages appears both enterprising and ambitious. Despite current funding challenges, Mr. Divine maintains that “there is no other way for the majority of Africans to be rallied in support of the SDGs…I have had to use mostly my own little resources to organize trainings and public communication campaigns. The young people who have bought my idea have volunteered to assist in translation in the various countries. But more needs to be done.”

Mr. Divine intends to continue to organize training for young people in various countries and hopes to enlist the support of the UN and other organizations working to raise awareness of the SDGs. While translation has been going apace, ensuring that the translated texts elicit the desired feedback from the target audience is the bigger quest.