Even though it was meant to be a joyous jubilee, the 2018 National Day celebrations in Cameroon were marked by violence and bloodshed in most parts of the restive Anglophone regions. This contrasted the situation in Yaoundé, the capital where the President presided at the colourful ceremony.
According to eyewitness accounts, the violence was a result of sustained gun battles between Anglophone separatists groups and Cameroon security officers. Even though details are very sketchy because of the sensitive nature of the subject in Cameroon, at least two security officers, including a Senior Officer in the Cameroon Police, were killed in Ekona, a small town near the regional capital Buea. Similar violence was recorded in Nguti and Lebialem, all in the South West region. And in another town in the same region, Bangem, the Mayor and his Deputy were picked up by Anglophone separatists, who blamed them for organizing National Day celebrations. Meanwhile, in Lebialem the Deputy District officer was also picked up by Anglophone separatists for the same reason.
In the North West region, it was another bloody May 20 in Batibo, Santa, and other towns where both military and armed fighters lost their lives. These attacks left many citizens terrified, with some taking shelter in deep forest for fear of reprisal from the military, as has been the case in the past. In most towns in Anglophone Cameroon, there were no celebrations. Where celebrations took place, it was very low key, as some areas saw as few as five military men staging a parade.
Since January 2018, there has been an upsurge of violence in Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions and, in recent days, it has escalated. The violence has ushered in a stalemate, especially in these two regions, where schools have been grounded as well as socio-economic activities. According to the United States government, this is because both the government and the Anglophone separatist groups are not listening to each other and they are actively engaged in hate speech. Calls for dialogue have fallen on deaf ears as the government believes it can impose its might on irate Anglophones, while the latter believes the government understands only the language of violence and force. The argument of force has replaced the force of argument.
On May 20, 1972, the then President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo, organized a referendum, which scrapped the former Federated states of West Cameroon (Anglophone Cameroon) and East Cameroon (Francophone Cameroon) to form a unified state. This ensured that power was concentrated in the hands of the President. Since 1972, May 20 has been celebrated as the National Day of Cameroon. According to Anglophone activists, this referendum was in violation of article 47 of the Federal Constitution, which prohibited any change to the form of state. Moreover, they claimed this was a scheme to assimilate minority Anglophones by majority Francophones. Therefore, Anglophones considered this day as a day they became second-class citizens in Cameroon. As Anglophone separatists fight for statehood, they have eventually shunned any attempt by the government to celebrate May 20 on Anglophone soil, which is why rather than being a joyous celebration, May 20, 2018, became a bloody experience.
Despite all the violent gibberish, it is certain that both the government and Anglophone separatist groups will fall back on the negotiating table. But in order to preserve the loss of more lives and property, it is incumbent on the international community not to wait on the government to call for a truce and negotiation, but impose its might to get the two parties on the talking table.