When Cameroon’s English-speaking minority decided to challenge the government on several points, including marginalization and injustice, few were those who gave this movement a chance. To many, it was an endeavor in futility. Initially, government officials whose ministries were directly involved hastily took to the airwaves to condemn those who had dared to express the pain and frustration the English-speaking minority has lived for over five decades. They kept on stressing that there was no Anglophone problem and their denial only went a long way in escalating matters, as almost all Anglophones joined the strike that had been triggered by common law lawyers and teachers who were simply calling for better working conditions in the Anglophone zone.
As the crisis deepened and the international community started paying attention, the same ministers – Laurent Esso, Fame Ndongo and Issa Chiroma – reluctantly accepted that there was an Anglophone problem which they simply did not understand and that efforts would be made to address the issues raised by the striking Anglophones. Nowhere else can such abysmal ignorance and dishonesty be tolerated except in Cameroon where simple virtues such as humility, honesty and simplicity have vanished into thin air. In civilized countries, these ministers, including Atanga Njie who wanted to show that he could bring every Anglophone under his control, could have been cut out of the cabinet to prove that the taxpayer matters and that government officials are servants and not masters.
The lawyers’ strike and the others that ensued could have been dealt with through sincere dialogue if the country had been blessed with leaders with the right mindset. The issue snowballed because of the arrogance and condescending attitude of the government ministers involved. Many people have lost their lives and Anglophones are no longer patriotic as they used to be. Cameroon to many of them, represents a past that is full of pain and regrets. The reign of terror that has been unleashed on them has made it hard for reconciliation and dialogue to take place and this is weakening the country’s anemic economy. Jobs have been lost as a result of the disconnection of the Internet and the school year has been interrupted, with many students living a life of uncertainty. Courts have been closed down for more than four months and real criminals are having a field day, with security officers sometimes aiding and abetting these men of the underworld. With security forces arbitrarily arresting and, sometimes, even killing innocent people, many Anglophones are today fleeing to Nigeria for safety.
While Cameroon is repatriating Nigerian refugees who escaped to northern Cameroon due to Boko Haram’s ferocious brutality, Nigeria, for its part, is now receiving thousands of Cameroonians who are fleeing the reign of terror that their own government has unleashed on them. Anglophone Cameroonians are clearly calling on the international community to protect them against their own protector. The tales of agony coming out of the North West and South West regions are horrifying and if the international community does not stop playing possum, a country that was once the pride of the continent will go down the unfortunate path of an armed conflict, as many Anglophone groups operating out of the country are already looking for ways to protect their people and some extremists are carefully making the notion of secession to be very attractive.
As time goes by, both parties have maintained their positions and tempers have continued to flare, especially as the government’s deafening silence is being interpreted by many Anglophones as the government’s contempt for them. Cameroon does not need to be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The government can address many issues raised by the Anglophone minority and once that goodwill is displayed by the government, tempers will be calmed down and discussions on the future of the country can beginin earnest.
However, the government has begun displaying some goodwill, though some people argue that it is doing too much, too late. The minister of justice, Laurent Esso, seems to be handing an olive branch to the Anglophone minority. He announced on Thursday, March 30, 2017, measures the government had taken to address some of the issues raised by Anglophone lawyers. The government’s actionsmay be considered as baby steps that may not totally satisfy frustrated Anglophones who hold that the government cannot be trusted, but they are steps in the right direction. These steps could be the government’s way of expressing its desire to see the country back on track. These steps could constitute an olive branch that should be taken by Anglophones in order to defuse the unfortunate situation that has brought shame and disrespect to Cameroon, a country once touted as an oasis of peace in a sub-region noted for chaos and bloodshed. While Anglophones may point to several promises made by the government that have never been kept and the manipulation which is the government’s stock in trade, Anglophones must understand that in a conflict, each party must make concessions.
In this situation, the government will have to make more concessions. Its ministers are clearly to blame for the escalation of a situation that started as a peaceful demonstration. It must bend over backwards to please the Anglophone minority that has been living in agony for many decades. You never tell a hurting person that he is not hurting. It must understand that for real and meaningful discussions to take place, Anglophone leaders who are currently in jail must be released. There are no individuals out there who have the people’s mandate to enter into any negotiations with the government. The government should make this concession and should also restore Internet connection if it really wants to redeem this academic year which will remain a scar on the government’s conscience.
However, while government efforts to defuse the unfortunate situation playing out in Cameroon may not bring satisfaction to some Anglophones who want nothing short of a federation, it is worth pointing out that some of the ideas expressed by Anglophone leaders who are languishing in jail are being used and implemented by the same government authorities who have branded Anglophone leaders as terrorists. This is indeed stranger than fiction, but that is Cameroon. Today, the government has decided to create a special section in the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM)for Anglophones where Anglophone magistrates will be trained to make up for the shortage of Anglophone magistrates and administrative officers. Similarly, there will be an Anglophone bench at the Supreme Court in Yaounde. These are ideas that had been proposed by Cameroon’s common lawyers who are today being robbed of their right to freedom. It is indeed ironic that ideas from people tagged as terrorists are being implemented while the authors of these ideas are awaiting trial.
In the same vein, a national bilingualism and multiculturalism commission has been created to help address some of the linguistic issues that have constituted a bone of contention between Anglophones and the Francophone political elite. Unfortunately, this commission which is dressed in political garb, will only play an advisory role; something that has left doubts in many critical minds regarding the achievement of the lofty goals assigned to this august body. Though modeled on the Canadian language commission which is a disciplinary body, Cameroon’s bilingualism commission is right from its inception dogged by controversy given that it is led by a ruling party stalwart, Peter Mafany Musonge, who has been indicted by the public for spreading xenophobia. Also, the vice-chairperson of this commission cannot even make a full sentence in English. It is indeed hard for many Cameroonians – both Anglophones and Francophones – to figure out how such a person will promote bilingualism, especially in the current context characterized by conflict and frustrations.
Though government actions may not be convincing, they however go a long way to proving that efforts by Anglophones are not a vain endeavor. The resolution of the current Anglophone crisis may not bring total satisfaction to many West Cameroonians who are calling for an independent Southern Cameroons. However, there is one thing that it has highlighted – Cameroon will never be the same again. Anglophones will never again be taken for granted. Their unity of purpose during this crisis has sent a very strong message to the government – if sincere and honest actions are not taken to deal with these issues that have lingered for more than five decades, the Anglophone minority might go its way, taking with it about 60% of the country’s wealth.
The country’s oil fields are located in the South-West region and this region has been complaining of marginalization regarding the sharing of the country’s oil wealth. Cameroon is among the few countries in the world where the principle of derivation does not exist when it comes to managing natural resources. The country’s lone refinery, SONARA, is located in the Anglophone coastal city of Limbe, but 95% of its employees are Francophones who have been treating the South-Westerner with contempt. No Anglophone has ever been the Managing Director of this company even when many of them are qualified. The government will have to look into this matter if it does not want to have another hot potato on its hands. Putting off the resolution of this matter is like downloading responsibilities onto future generations. This injustice has been there for decades, it needs to be addressed within the context of the Anglophone crisis to ensure that the country does not go through another period of turbulence. He who needs peace must practice justice. The absence of justice creates conflict and compromises a country’s unity. The way forward is clear. The government should not only limit itself to the grievances put forth by lawyers and teachers. It should also take a long and hard look at the injustice Anglophones have suffered over the last five decades so as to find lasting solutions that will inspire peace and unity. Rather than chase the messenger all over the place, the government should take a look at the messages on the wall to preempt another “Anglophone autumn” in Cameroon.
Times have changed and old ways will not always work. The world has become a global village and the advent of new technologies has thrown up brand new opportunities for global citizens, thereby reducing the control governments had over their people. Denying the existence of some of these issues is like setting the stage for the next Anglophone crisis. Prevention has always been and will always be the ideal strategy for the wise. Anglophones have pointed the government in the right direction, albeit in unfortunate circumstances, but if the government follows the arrows, it will spare Cameroonians the pain of political conflict.
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 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, Toronto, Canada. He is also a trained translator and holds a Ph.D.