Four months ago, it was hard to believe that the Anglophone Diaspora could become a formidable force in the country’s politics. Pushed out of their country due to political, linguistic and economic marginalization, members of the Anglophone Diaspora who are well over one million, with huge concentrations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Nigeria, are today recognized as a force that can engineer both political and economic change in a country that has always considered these useful resources as adventurers with no clear vision and ambition. Only known for their cash remittances to their friends and families, and ignored as a source of investment due to the lack of appropriate financial mechanisms that can facilitate increased participation in the country’s economy from abroad, members of the Anglophone Diaspora have used the current socio-political crisis that is tearing the country apart to mount the political rostrum.
After four months of a devastating stand-off between the Anglophone minority and the Yaoundé-based government, the country’s Anglophone Diaspora is today controlling the situation in West Cameroon remotely where schools have been closed, courts shut down and ghost towns are observed religiously on Mondays and on any other day the Anglophone Diaspora deems it necessary to call the government’s legitimacy and authority into question. Face with this testing challenge, the government that was initially in denial is gradually noticing the Diaspora’s influence and it is taking steps to court some of its members who are unfortunately distrustful of a government that speaks from both sides of its mouth. Initially, when the crisis broke out, many within the government thought it would fizzle out within a few days, especially if the government used the most repressive methods in the books. Their perception of the situation was unfortunately outdated and wrong as what they were seeing was a pure mask and not the faces behind the mask.
But the masks had to fall off once Barrister Agbor Balla and Dr. Fontem, the famous Consortium leaders, were arrested. This act by the government told the Anglophone Diaspora that the government was up again to its old antics and that it had not noticed that time had made its repressive strategy a thing of the past. The advent of new media technology has robbed many governments across the globe of their excessive powers and managing a rebellion remotely is an idea whose time has come. Intimation has been replaced by negotiation in many parts of the world and the country’s government could not continue to play possum in an era wherein information is easily brought to the international community in real time. As shocking videos of the horror movie that was playing out in Southern Cameroon reached all the nooks and crannies of the world, the international community could not be indifferent to the loss of life in a country that was once touted as an oasis of peace in a desert of political and economic chaos. Western embassies have all expressed their disappointment with the management of the crisis, although not in public and the Canadian high commissioner in Yaoundé has even gone a step further by calling on the government of Cameroon to draw on Canada’s experience with its Francophone minority that was only appeased through a federal system that has given Quebec, Canada’s Francophone province, the possibility to run its affairs based on its own culture and language.
The current socio-political crisis in Cameroon seems to be an important moment in the relationship between Cameroon and its Anglophone Diaspora. The Anglophone Diaspora which has been born out of marginalization and frustration is using this situation not only to take its revenge on a government that has robbed many of its members of their youthful joy and opportunity to play a significant role in the country’s political and economic development, but also to display its political and economic muscles. The Anglophone Diaspora is rich and comprise some of the finest professionals the country can ever have. Many of these resources have been trained in famous universities such as Princeton, Yale, Harvard, UCLA in the United States; Toronto and McGill in Canada; Leicester, London School of Economics, Cambridge and Oxford in the United Kingdom. Having left their country because there were few opportunities for them, members of the Anglophone Diaspora hold that their country had intentionally put in place a strategy to permanently hold them in poverty and in the darkness of ignorance. Many of them left the country after high school as they could not study in Cameroon’s only university at the time which was not tailored to meet their educational needs. More than four decades after, these resources that have mostly settled in North America, have become wealthy enough to take their government to task and to seek to right the wrongs of the past. They have been responsible for educating their family members, paying their health bills and making sure that despite the huge economic cloud hovering over their heads, they will be there for them and they will bring smiles to their faces when the hard times show up.
It is normal today to hear government officials talk about how important the country’s Diaspora is. The government is today organizing forums to educate the Diaspora on opportunities that are available at home, especially for those who want to undertake development projects in Cameroon. But this great effort on the government’s part seems to come a little too late. The government seems to be closing the barn when the horse has already bolted. The Anglophone Diaspora is no longer interested in whatever initiative the government has in store for it. The pain of marginalization is still very fresh and the absence of genuine talks on the country’s future makes many members of the Anglophone Diaspora to hold that the government is, at best, doing too much too late and, at worst, skirting around the issues raised by Anglophones; issues that are responsible for the crisis that has put the country in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. If those opportunities really exist, why are Cameroonians back home still caught in throes of unemployment? Many hold that if they have to do business back home, the government has to sanitize the business environment that is replete with many obstacles and corruption.
The government’s recognition, many say, is the right step in the right direction, but many are still skeptical about the sincerity and timing of the schemes. The government will therefore have to work long and hard to convince members of the Anglophone Diaspora that they can be reliable partners in the effort to create opportunities back home and to roll back unemployment and poverty that have reduced many educated Cameroonians back home to professional beggars and sorry spectators of events in their own country.
The role of the Diaspora is no longer in doubt. The savings of its members could easily become great sources of investment capital. The government can tap into the Diaspora’s wealth and savings to turn its economic fortunes around. The country’s Diaspora still maintains emotional ties with their country of origin and a natural inclination to improve its condition more than any traditional foreign investors. Cameroonians abroad also have an advantage given their familiarity with the cultural and business environment which enhances their ability to better estimate and control risk. They are an ideal target group to initiate investment in their country. Attracting the Diaspora’s investment can help the government encourage masses of foreign investors. The government can therefore attract prospective investors by improving the business climate and by making members of its Diaspora its best ambassadors. If it is unable to work with its own Diaspora, then fewer foreign investors will be convinced of the rhetoric that the country is a good business destination.
Though a difficult time for many Cameroonians, especially Southern Cameroonians, the current socio-economic crisis is an opportunity for both the government and the Anglophone Diaspora. It is a moment for the government to take a long and hard look at its actions over the last fifty years so as to grant the country better mechanisms that will help the country grow by leaps and bounds both politically and economically. The government will certainly find out as a result of this crisis, that old methods of governance have not lived up to the people’s expectation and that a continuation of those policies could always put the government on a collision path with its own people. A situation that is resulting in an unnecessary loss of lives.
For the Diaspora, thanks to this unfortunate situation, it has risen from just being a provider of emergency funds to families across the country to a key player in the country’s political scene. Having been paying the tune, the government today recognizes that the Anglophone Diaspora can call the piper. It is a strong force that can make the country ungovernable and the last five months have clearly proven that the government is losing its grip on Southern Cameroons. While the dark years of marginalization are still lingering, the Anglophone Diaspora has finally won the recognition it has always hankered after. This is indeed recognition for its hard work, perseverance and determination not only to survive far from home, but to bring its financial and ideological capital to bear on a system that has been the preserve of a few privileged individuals. While the battle of nerves is still raging, members of the Diaspora have proven that the status quo can be destroyed from a distance and that the political monarchy that has been running the country for fifty-six years will continue to see its influence and power eroded.
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.