The Anglophone problem is, without a doubt, very bad news to many Cameroonians, especially government officials, many of whom are losing both sleep and weight. Every blessed day comes with new apprehensions as the government and the protesting Anglophones stick to their positions.The Anglophone problem seems to be an effective weight loss program for government officials and this is being compounded by rumors of an impending cabinet reshuffle that may bring significant changes in the country. The current crop of ministers,according to Anglophones,has failed to deliver the results expected of it, especially as the crisis rocking the country was triggered by their inability to find reliable solutions to the issues raised by the Anglophone minority. It is also believed that the boastful and disrespectful rhetoric of the Minister of Higher Education, Fame Ndongo, and the condescending attitude of the Minister of Justice, Laurent Esso, are to blame for the violent escalation of the crisis.
From every indication, the Anglophone minority has lost confidence in its political elite; an elite that has gotten richer while the people have gotten poorer. Poor economic policies of the past decades have simply melted the middle class and the ordinary Anglophone is perpetually struggling to make ends meet. Anglophones hold that Prime Minister Yang Philemon, Peter Mafany Musonge and others who purport to represent them are simply feathering their own nests and that they clearly belong to the past. They contend that the region needs new leaders, as current leaders have fallen short of their glory. These leaders, they say, have been useful, but only to their families. While their immediate families are living in the lap of luxury, the ordinary Anglophone is stuck in grinding poverty, with many being unable to have access to quality health care and decent housing even when their region accounts for 60% of the country’s wealth. They argue that these services were readily available to all West Cameroonians prior to the region’s reunification with East Cameroon.
As both the government and the protesters remain frozen in their positions, many administrative officers in the Anglophone region are at their wit’s end. The current crisis playing out in the two Anglophone regions has become a permanent nightmare to administrative officers in the Anglophone regions. All efforts to tackle those fostering the strikes and civil disobedience have crumbled like a pack of cards. The strikes that are being run from abroad are hard to nip in the bud. The population is calling for a new political elite and the failure of the current elite to put smiles on the people’s faces has made the population to take its marching orders from the Anglophone Diaspora that is keen to play a key role in Cameroon’s politics. The Diaspora has been playing the government’s role for so many years. It has been providing education to many children. It has been paying the health bills of its loved ones even when the health facilities have declined over the years. It has been providing housing to desperate parents. And today, it is clear that he who has been paying the piperis finally seeking to call the tune. The Diaspora is behind the strikes and civil disobedience and the government’s inability to rein in the protesters is causing the conflict to metastasize like a malignant tumor.
The protesting Anglophones are digging in their legs and in some parts of the region; administrative officers have simply lost their authority. In Manyu Division, ghost town operations have been very effective as the people are upset with the arrest of Barrister Agbor Balla and Justice Paul Ayah, both of whom are prominent sons of Manyu Division. In Akwaya, whence hails Justice Paul Ayah, administrative officers have simply been fired by the people and the rule of law has been replaced by the rule of the people and this is not only giving the government a bad name, it is also sapping the economy of its vitality. The people of Akwaya have hoisted the Nigerian flag in strategic locations, claiming that they are now Nigerians till further notice.This explains how disaffected the people of this region are with the government. They want their son to be released, failure of which there will be no peace and reconciliation. Many hold that the government has neglected them for too long and they point to the lack of roads in their sub-division. They argue that to travel from their region to any other part of the country, they must first of all go to Nigeria before coming back into Cameroon due to the absence of roads. This has been a torn in their side for decades. Years of promises by politicians of the ruling party have not delivered any results and the region is permanently in the throes of an economic crisis as the people cannot even move their agricultural produce to the markets. Poverty seems to have taken up residence in this part of the country and rooting it out will take decades of hard work and determination.
For many Cameroonian administrative officers, this is not a good time to be transferred to the two Anglophone regions of the country, especially in the North West region where the people are reputed for their mercurial and explosive temperament. The governors of the North West and South West regions have lots of stories to tell in this regard. Ever since the Anglophone crisis began, they have been running all over the place like neckless chicken to douse the fire. But all their efforts and tricks have come to naught, as a peaceful demonstration that the government thought had been organized by some low-class, ill-behaved commoners has turned out to be a very hot potato in its hands.
However, after four months, there is enough evidence to prove that this situation will linger for a long time if the government does not make concessions. From every indication, the government has taken a powerful blow to the liver. Its failure to restore its authority in the English-speaking region is testimony to its inability to wrestle this issue to the ground. Anglophones are determined to change the status quo. They have successfully made the English-speaking region ungovernable despite the presence of heavily armed government troops. Schools are not functioning, courts have been closed, calls for ghost towns are being heeded and even the ruling party could not celebrate its thirty-second anniversary in the Anglophone zone. With courts closed,criminals are having one big party, as even policemen are scared to arrest them, especially when it implies going to chaotic and unplanned neighborhoods. Some uniformed officers even work with the criminals to make a quick buck. They rent out their weapons and uniforms to these men of the underworld for them to operate however they want in order to have another income stream. Poverty hardly breeds virtue. With meager salaries, many policemen cannot really make ends meet in an environment where food and healthcare costs are continuously and permanently escalating.
Though reeling from the blow it has taken to the liver, the government still has an opportunity to defuse the stalemate that has been created by its violent reaction to the strike that was started by armless lawyers calling for the practice of the Common Law in West Cameroon and Buea University students protesting against the imposition of a late fee payment charge. Current measures and actions have failed to retire the problem. Anglophones are hard to please and despite the indiscriminate and illegal arrests, the government has not been able to deliver a deadly punch to the strikers. Old tricks have also failed and money has not performed the miracle it usually performs. Skirting around the main issue in the hope that it will go away is not an effective conflict resolution strategy. If anything, it only keeps the parties apart and there is nothing that destroys a relationship like silence.
If this problem has to the solved, the government has to show a lot of goodwill. It must release Anglophone leaders and all those arrested over the last four months as a result of the strikes. It has to listen to the people in order to understand their grievances if this dark period of its history has to be relegated to the ash heap of history. This problem has already dented its reputation. If sustainable solutions are not sought, it will linger for a long time and it will continue to stalk the government and its administrative officers like a stubborn shadow. Lives have been lost, a whole region has been rolled back into the dark ages following the decision to disconnect the Internet and many West Cameroonians are fleeing the country, with Nigeria serving as the first port of call as the government continues to pursue its “pest control” policy. Anglophone lawyers, teachers, business people and even members of parliament who have shown sympathy to the striking Anglophones are all fleeing the country for fear of persecution. The government has turned the heat on them, as special military squads have been dispatched to the English-speaking part of the country to cow the people into submission. But this does not seem to be the ideal strategy. The results are mixed and the population is not yielding to any threats by the government.
With the situation deteriorating on a daily basis, both parties must understand that the negotiating table holds the solutions to this conflict. Since both parties lack confidence in each other, they should therefore call on the international community to mediate. The international community should step in to help Cameroon heal. The country is hurting. If the international community fails to play its role, it will carry a huge scar on its conscience if Cameroon goes the way of the Central African Republic. Cameroon already has a lot on its plate. Boko Haram has literally become a bogey man to the government in the north. Refugee problems in the East of the country are weighing down on the government. It will be preposterous for a fragile country like Cameroon to face another major threat in its Anglophone regions. The government may have the weapons. It may have the military men, but let it not forget that David did actually humiliate Goliath even though Goliath had huge muscles hanging loosely as if meant for destructive purposes. Wisdom should guide all actions and dialogue should be embraced by all the parties to spare Cameroon and Cameroonians the agony of an armed conflict.
By Dr Joachim Arrey
Cameroon Concord News Group
About the Author: The author of this piece is a keen observer of Cameroon’s political and economic landscape. He has published extensively on the country’s political and economic development, especially in the early 90s when the wind of change was blowing across the African continent. He has served as a translator, technical writer, journalist and editor for several international organizations and corporations across the globe. He studied communication at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and technical writing in George Brown College in Toronto, Canada. He is also a trained translator and holds a Ph.D.