For some time now, Cameroon has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Over the last five years, Boko Haram militants have been sowing terror with their home-made bombs in the country’s northern region, leaving a trail of death and destruction. Many have been internally displaced and the cost of managing these refugees is spiraling out of control. Redeploying troops to the hotspot is taking a huge bite out of the government’s budget and many patriotic Cameroonian soldiers have unfortunately lost their lives in the process. To be fair to the government, it has been struggling to restore peace in this region, but all its efforts are not yielding the right results as the war is not conventional and the criminal group’s strategies and modus operandi are more of “shifting sands”. This has kept the government on its toes for more than five years and it appears there is no light at the end of the tunnel for a government that is already showing signs of fatigue.
But over the last year, it is the Anglophone crisis that has stolen the show from Boko Haram. A strike by lawyers in October 2016 was unfortunately allowed by the government to spread like a bad rash and this has left it with no choice but to scramble for solutions, most of which are inefficient and do not seem to reflect what English-speaking Cameroonians have been asking for. The Anglophone minority has been dealing with marginalization for more than five decades and it really wants this to stop. Its call for a federal structure to check some of the issues the unitary state was generating was met with ferocious brutality by the government while the region’s political elite looked the other way. The Anglophone region’s political elite is fraud with self-seeking politicians and attempts to draw the elite’s attention to this worrying situation have always met with tricks and intimidation.The elite has been very effective, using all means, including unfulfilled promises and, where necessary, threats of imprisonment or death for those who dare speak out about the pain and suffering marginalization is inflicting on the peace-loving people of West Cameroon.
But after fifty-six years of frustration, West Cameroonians feel it is time to break the chain of silence and face a monster that has been spreading death and destruction in a region that holds more than 60% of the country’s wealth. Cameroon’s oil and gold fields are lodged in the country’s Anglophone region, precisely in Ndian division, where poverty; that which dehumanizes and robs people of their dignity, has taken root. While the country’s refinery may be located in Limbe, Anglophone Cameroon’s coastal city, the oil fields are in the Rio Del Rey estuary in Ndian Division,while localities around Mbonge in the same division are home to large gold deposits. Manyu Division, which is also in the south-west region, is blessed with huge and dense equatorial forests that have been hiding some of the finest timber on the continent, but the people of this region have been reduced to sorry spectators of the destruction that is taking place in their forests, as this ageless timber is cut and shipped to East Cameroon.
Five decades after the UN-staged reunification, the frustration of the English-speaking minority has boiled over and Anglophones are seeking a way out of this relationship. The strikes that started in October 2016 were aimed at drawing the government’s attention to the angst that has been inhabiting the Anglophone mind. But faithful to its intimidation strategy, the government dispatched its armed forces – known today by Anglophones as “Harm Forces” due to their killing and maiming of innocent civilians – to quash the strikes and send home a strong message to all those who thought they could change the status quo. The military actions have succeeded, unfortunately, to radicalize the already frustrated Anglophones who are determined to put an end to the status quo ante. Anglophones hold that their call for federalism has been upgraded to the restoration of statehood and discussing federalism is like solving the wrong problem. Today, the country is divided along linguistic lines and the consequences of this conflict go well beyond what many observers had predicted. Anglophones are no longer in love with the country they called theirs for fifty-six years. Injustice and oppression are making it hard for them to live with their Francophone counterparts whose lack of courage is obliging them to take the mistreatment their leaders are serving to them in stride.
Things actually came to a head when the government arrested the leaders of the Consortium and jailed them for close to eight months when hastily organized discussions came down crashing in January 2017 like a pack of cards. The government’s tricks and threats had not yielded the results it wanted, so it had to resort to the law to break down the leaders so as to kill the demonstrations that had become region-wide, with Anglophones organizing ghost towns and keeping their children away from school. The ghost towns are really hurting the economy while the disruption of the school year is causing the government to lose sleep. Its reputation has been hurt so badly and it will take a long time for it to re-establish peace and stability in the North West and South West regions of the country.
Today the government seems to be at its wit’s end. Even its release of Barrister Felix Nkogho Agbor Balla, Justice Paul Ayah Abine and Dr. Fontem Neba does seem to deliver the outcome it was expecting. Schools have remained closed and many institutions of learning have been burnt by members of cloak-and-dagger organizations who are on the prowl for any institution that is violating their rule. They have decreed that the region will go through another blank year, that is, if the government does not engage Anglophones in frank and fruitful discussions. Anglophones had called for a federal system which the government had promptly turned down, but this request has since been upgraded to restoration and this has made the possibility of a real dialogue to be very remote. Both sides are frozen in their positions and it will take a lot of external pressure and forces to help both camps to narrow their differences if peace has to return to this once-upon-a-time oasis of peace in a desert of chaos.
In recent weeks, a few bombs have been going off in the two Anglophone regions. Many schools have been destroyed and many people now live in fear, as the potential for things to escalate is high. While the government still hopes that time will resolve this issue, it will be preposterous for it to keep on using a strategy that has clearly failed. Its silence over the deteriorating situation is more like paving the way for a full blown terrorism. What might seem like a joke might lead the country down a dangerous path. Silence could be golden, but it is not in this context. The country’s leaders must come out of their silence to reassure peace-loving citizens that they are capable of dealing with thorny issues with tact and efficiency. It should be recalled that the cost of conflict is always high and conflict does not benefit anybody.
The government has to play its part and it must start listening to its citizens. It must stop muzzling up its citizens so that new and innovative ideas can flourish in the country. No nation has ever attained its full development potential without its citizens being able to express their minds. If Cameroon has to check the cost of this conflict, government authorities must embrace new ways. They must acknowledge that old ways have failed.
Dialogue is an idea whose time has come and it is not a weakness to embrace it. The country’s leader must also understand that there cannot be a president without a people. The president must shed his cocoon of self-importance to talk with the people. Quitting his Ivory Tower will be a good thing to do at this moment when the country is at the cross-roads. A full blown conflict will not be in anybody’s interest.
The editorial desk.