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Development goals in local languages

Development goals in local languages

Young leader helps translate SDGs in different African languages
From Africa Renewal: 
Ntiokam Divine (right) at the Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco in November 2016.
Ntiokam Divine (right) at the Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco in November 2016.

As Ntiokam Divine from Cameroon sees it, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were crafted in the specialized parlance of development experts. To make the language understandable to a wider audience, especially among the grassroots population, 34-year old Divine is on a mission to translate the SDGs into Africa’s many local vernaculars 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.

Since the adoption in September 2015 of the SDGs at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Mr. Divine has trained 30 members of various youth, women’s organizations and civil society groups in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, as part of the African Youth for the Sustainable Development Goals Training (AYSDGT) programme. Although the training was in English, he told the trainees that the SDGs need to be taken to the people’s doorsteps.

Following the training of youths under the auspices of the AYSDGT programme in Cameroon and Nigeria last year, Mr. Divine and other volunteers have now reached more than 2,000 young people in 11 countries who are translating SDGs into local dialects. Countries covered so far include Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia.

After the group translated the SDGs into Cameroonian local languages—Ewondo, Shupamum, and Basaa—the training programme has been working on establishing SDG clubs in primary, secondary and tertiary schools and getting influential community members to be SDG ambassadors in their respective localities.

Through these clubs, Mr. Divine said, young people will learn how they can join the global discussion on issues relating to their future. And thus, African youths will better appreciate the SDGs, he told Africa Renewal in an interview.

At the Marrakech Climate Change Conference (COP22) in November 2016, in Morocco, Mr. Divine assured delegates that SDGs, when translated into local languages, can have a lasting positive impact.  David Nabarro, then special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on SDGs, discussed ways of implementing Mr. Divine’s initiative in local communities when the two met at the COP22.  

So far, Mr. Divine has translated the SDGs into 32 local languages of 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 has been distributed to communities in Swahili-speaking countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands.

Inspiring youth

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

In 2009, Mr. Divine successfully organized the Stand Up campaign to promote the Millennium Development Goals in Cameroonian schools. His work in that campaign brought him to the attention of various UN agencies. Later he took part in the Voices of Youth project run by UNICEF.

He also supports the work of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, raising awareness of the Earth Summit among other environmental action bodies as well as engaging young people in ways to address problems caused by climate change.

The Cameroonian activist belongs to many international youth advocacy groups, including Connect4climate, an organization that advocates for SDG 13, which calls for urgent action to combat climate change and mitigate its impact. He is also a member of the policy and strategy group of “The World We Want 2030,” a UN youth forum that raises awareness of the SDGs.

Mr. Divine, who holds a degree in environmental chemistry and grants management from the University of Buea, Cameroon, was a former co-chair for the Climate Development African Youth Platform, which mobilises young people on climate change issues. In this role, he moderated 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 with 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 engagement by the target audience is the bigger quest.