Cameroon: In The Heat Of A Nation-State Conflict And The Anglophone Problem

Some identify it as a country in the West African half of the continent, whereas, politically, Cameroon is one of the giants of Central Africa. For some time now the nation has been priding itself as a Haven of Peace in the turbulent Central African sub-region. However, Cameroon is facing a serious challenge to its very existence which has touched the foundations of the republic. This is generally known as the Anglophone problem where Cameroonians of the English part of the country are lamenting over what they call marginalization from pro-francophone regimes. In the last month it has gotten so bad to the extent that court activities in the two Anglophone regions of the North West and South West have been seriously thwarted with lawyers staging a sit-down strike. Teachers have also joined, forcing the closure of thousands of schools including both public and private higher education establishments found in these areas. Members of both professions are protesting over what they call the “francophonisation of their judiciary and educational systems.” In the legal profession, judges and magistrates of francophone origins who do not master either English language or the common law system are sent to deliver justice sometimes forcing lawyers to make summons in French. The teachers, among others, do not support the transfer of Francophone teachers to teach Anglophones and the admission (not on merit bases) of francophones into higher educational systems which were strictly created in line with Anglo-Saxon traditions. Both professional syndicates are calling for a federal system where each socio-cultural and linguistic divide would be aptly protected.

Students who have been brutalized and arrested are taken to court

The response has been silence from the government and a ferocious usage of force on peaceful protesters by the government. With the rise in violence, the government of the United States has called on the government of Cameroon to refrain on using violence on citizens. Other calls have come from prominent Cameroonians at home and abroad while the situation has been tabled at the United Nations.

Old story, the same solution

The Anglophone problem in Cameroon is not a thing of today. It dates back to 1961 when both Anglophone and Francophone Cameroons reunited under a federal system. However, since the 1990s, calls for a return to the federalism abolished in 1972 have become very popular.

The government of Cameroon has not put into place a bonafide conflict management strategy. Since the 1990s, violence and force has been the main weapon of the government, forcing thousands of Anglophone Cameroonians to either go into hiding or seek asylum in foreign countries. Some have died in prisons while others have simply gone blind or incapacitated. And as generations come and go the problem persist. It is a problem that the government has never acknowledged the existence of. Many communications have been sent to the government beginning with the resolutions of the All Anglophone Conference of 1993 and 1994 where participants called for the return to the federal system of government. These gatherings were attended among others by Dr. John Ngu Foncha, an Anglophone and the main architect of the 1961 events which brought the two Cameroonians together. Foncha had earlier on resigned from his position as 1st Vice President of the ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM party) because he felt the Anglophones he brought into the union were being maltreated and subjected to a position of second class citizens. In 2015, a meeting of Anglophone lawyers also concluded that federalism will be the best option, yet the government remained muted, up until November this year when both lawyers and teachers staged an industrial strike action. And the only response has been violence. Just like Tagou Celestin posited in one of his writings that violence will only postpone the conflict and not solve it. The more the violence, the more the people feel cheated and want to retaliate.

Violence and Gross Human rights violation

In its characteristic silent mood, the government has persistently used violence to such a scale that it has resulted to gross human rights abuses. In the latest of such cases, security officers descended on lawyers who were staging a peaceful walk and for the first time in history, lawyers were brutalized and their wigs seized. Some were chased right into their hotel rooms and dragged into the mud. From there it went to the University of Buea in the South West region where students who were staging a peaceful protest were beaten and teargased with more than 200 arrested and taking to torture camps. Most of the students were wounded and dragged into mud before being arrested and remained in the same outfits after days without any medical attention. Their hostels were forced open, properties destroyed, phones and money taken and many girls were raped including a 17-year-old student.

Where it all started and the future of Cameroon

After the First World War the British and the French who won over some scattered territories under the umbrella of Cameroon, formerly administered by the Germans, decided to partition these territories among themselves. Four out of five  went to France and one out of five to Britain with the latter administering it via Nigeria for proximity purposes. In February 1961, part of the northern half of the British administered Cameroon voted in a UN referendum to join Nigeria while the southern half, under the name British Southern Cameroons (Anglophones), voted to join La Republique du Cameroun or French Cameroon (which was already independent) in an equal federal system. Anglophones occupy two regions out of 10 today; North West and South West.

While they were under France and Britain these two parties developed cultures, economies, customs, traditions, education, beliefs and even languages that were unique to each side which qualified them to be called separate nations. The coming together of these two nations under a single state in 1961 was done with the belief that these gains would be strictly protected to make Cameroon unique in the world. However, the deal has not been respected.

Some Aspects of Marginalisation

The following points, among others, have made Anglophones to see themselves as the marginalized people in the marriage that was deemed to be a union of equality. Since 1961, no Anglophone has been President of Cameroon. In 1972, the then President, Ahmadou Ahidjo, violated the federal constitution by abolishing the federal state in favour of a centralized unitary state, and to confirm this, his successor, Paul Biya, single-handedly changed the name of Cameroon from “United Republic of Cameroon” to “La Republique du Cameroun” (Republic of Cameroon). This annihilated the Anglophone identity because the new name was the name of French Cameroon when it became independent from France on January 1, 1960. Important ministerial positions like Finance, Defense, Interior, or Chief of the President’s cabinet has never gone to Anglophones. In the government of October 2, 2015, out of about 65 ministers and vice just six are Anglophones and out of 38 Ministers with portfolio, only one is Anglophone. In a related aspect, recruitment into the public service always favours Francophones. Oil wealth which boosts the economy is found in the Anglophone part of the country, but these areas have no single kilometers of tarred roads, and oil royalties are paid to councils in francophone towns.

The Future Cameroon

Among the Anglophones today, there are many who support a return to federalism, while hardliners want complete independence and the birth of a new country because of the humiliation suffered. They fear that if they return to federalism, the laws would one day be violated and a return to a centralized unitary state engaged. The problem of Cameroon is not that of Anglophones against Francophones but a nation-state conflict where successive francophone regimes have grossly disrespected the rights of the minority. No amount of violence would ever silence an aggrieved people but dialogue. The marriage needs to be re-negotiated afresh and registered with the UN as that of 1961 was never registered making many Anglophones to call it an illegal marriage. Federalism may be a better option as over the years a bond of amity has developed between members of the both linguistic divide. In the case of federalism it should be well negotiated and given statutory provisions with no party imposing on the other like Ahidjo did in 1961. The post of the President should be rotated so that it does not become the preservative of one group of persons. All other issues of the union should become law and the use of one language by public officers should be strictly forbidden especially those serving at the national level.

As the government is wasting time in dialoguing as has even been demanded by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, it is fueling extremism with some Anglophones in the diaspora already raising funds to purchase arms. Recently, a group calling itself, Defenders of Ambazonia (DA) has even promised to plant bombs in school compounds that defy the strike action to go operational. The group that is underground claims to have weapons and their target would be security officers and those marginalizing Anglophones. That is how the forces of John Garang engaged those of mainland Sudan in a 22 year war that only ended in 2005. Hope the international community would not allow the birth of another Sudan-styled conflict again.