The government of Cameroon yesterday restored Internet connection in the Country’s Anglophone region following pressure from the International community that has clearly frowned upon the government’s decision to roll back the English-speaking minority into the dark ages. The Internet disconnection which lasted some one hundred days, has brought untold hardship and pain to companies and citizens of the affected regions. The South-west region’s Silicon Mountain, modelled on the American Silicon Valley, has died a natural death as many of the start-ups have simply relocated to other parts of Cameroon where there was Internet connection during the crisis and nobody is so sure about their return to Buea; a city that offers some of the best facilities and infrastructure for start-ups. Banks, micro-finance institutions and money transfer agencies have been the greatest victims in this battle of wills that is still playing out. It should be recalled that Internet was disconnected in January 2017 when West Cameroonians decided to draw the international community’s attention to the Kafkaesque oppression and marginalization they have suffered for more than five decades.
Things came to a head when videos of the government’s ferocious brutality on innocent and armless striking lawyers and students made their way to the global arena. The world was shocked to see that a government could react to peaceful protests with such brutality in an era wherein social media can capture and broadcast everything in real time. The government’s response simply qualified the country for the global hall of shame and, ever since, the world has been seeing Cameroon and its leaders in a different light. The country’s image has been terribly dented and its leaders have gone down in everybody’s estimation. However, this is not the first time Cameroon has been dragged, screaming and kicking, to the global hall of shame by its own leaders. Under former Prime Minister Peter Mafany Musonge, Cameroon was dragged to this same hall of shame following its election as the most corrupt nation in the world for two years running.
The international community has been very critical of Cameroon because of the atrocities committed in West Cameroon since the commencement of the contention between the government and the English-speaking minority, especially as the region was disconnected from the rest of the world because of the government’s decision to pull off the Internet plug. Speaking recently after a visit to Cameroon, the UN Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative, François Loucény Fall, decried the terrible conditions in which Anglophones had been subjected. “This is a deplorable situation,” he said on April 13, 2017, after a four-day visit, adding that “…I am convinced that this important tool for development, communication and collective development will be gradually re-established throughout Cameroon.” Mr. Fall, who also heads the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), reviewed the state of affairs in the country and assessed the impact of recent measures taken by the Government to address the concerns of English-speaking lawyers and teachers.
“I had fruitful and hopeful exchanges with all the stakeholders,” the Special Representative said at a press conference in Yaoundé on April 12. He met with Government officials, members of civil society, opposition leaders, members of the diplomatic corps and the UN system.He also met with people wrongfully arrested and detained in connection with the situation in the north-west and south-west regions, including Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla and radio broadcaster,Mancho Bibixy. He encouraged the Cameroonian Government to take all the measures it deemed appropriate, as soon as possible, and within the framework of the law, in order to create conditions conducive to building the confidence needed to end the crisis.
The government’s decision to restore the Internet is, for sure, the outcome of the meeting between Mr. Fall and government officials. It should also be recalled that the Vatican has not been indifferent to the plight of West Cameroonians. The Anglophone problem was at the centre of discussions between Mr. Biya and the Pope during Mr. Biya’s visit to the Holy See. The Anglophone problem is a real millstone around the government’s neck and it is doing all it can to rid itself of it. But its bad faith of the last five decades has caught up with it. Anglophones are skeptical of whatever measures the government is taking. They have, on many occasions, been victims of the government’s deceit and this has caused them to throw confidence to the wind.
While the government’s decision to restore the Internet has been hailed by many people around the world, many observers still hold that the government can still do more to appease the marginalized people of West Cameroon. The country’s English-speaking minority has made its mind known and its willingness to resist any further marginalization has been clearly communicated to the government. Restoring the Internet is one move that could imply the government might be willing to dialogue. But there are still many obstacles in the way of genuine dialogue.
Federalism and the imprisonment of Anglophone leaders are still sticking points which need to be addressed before any serious dialogue can take place. Anglophones do not trust the government and despite explanations by some government surrogates that some of these issues could only be addressed over the long term, Anglophones hold that such tales should be told to the marines. They have heard a lot of promises and many, if not all, have been broken by a government they believe does not deserve their respect and attention.
Anglophones hold that the government likes speaking from both sides of its mouth and that if earlier measures taken by the government do not get implemented, they will continue to defy government authority. They point to earlier promises made by the government, arguing that it has reneged on many of its promises before, many of which are always designed to score political points and ensure the status quo does not change. Over the last six months, the government has used a battery of policy options and measures to ensure schools resume in the Anglophone zone, but the English-speaking minority has remained firm in its peaceful civil disobedience and this is a huge challenge to a government that is not used to dialogue. It’s militarization of the Anglophone region and imprisonment of Anglophone leaders after dialogue with them failed to produce the results the government expected are clear testimonies to the allegations Anglophones are leveling against the government.
It should be noted that Cameroonians will be going to the polls in 2018 to elect a new president and parliamentarians. The government is very concerned about its popularity in the Anglophone region. The current conflict has dealt a devastating blow to the ruling party that has been in power for more than five decades with no real development results to show for it. Anglophones have made up their minds and they are seriously calling for a renewal of the Anglophone leadership. Many Anglophone leaders are either too old or ineffective to represent their people. Yang Philemon and Peter Mafany Musonge have run the country as Prime ministers during tough times, but their handling of the Anglophone crisis clearly tells the world that they belong to the past. Anglophones no longer respect them and they are taking their cue from outside and not from people who have done their best to betray their confidence. For officials such as IssaTchiroma, Fame Ndongo and Laurent Esso, they are simply wishing for this problem to be over. They have been having huge nightmares and the fear of being cut out of government has been stalking them like a stubborn shadow. They are those who caused the problem to escalate with their rhetoric that only inflamed Anglophones.
Denying the existence of an Anglophone problem did not cause the issue to go away. Today, they are quick to recognize that Anglophones have problems and they claim they are working hard to address some of them. If they had been a little wiser, they would have understood that since humans are sometimes made to eat their own words, it is always good to keep those words soft and sweet. All of them have been eating giant humble pies ever since they found out that the Anglophone problem will not go away anytime soon.
Anglophones are today enjoying the Internet they have been asking for, but that does not imply they are happy with the government that has killed and maimed their brothers who did not commit any crime. They were simply calling for a federal system that would protect their culture and guarantee their rights in a united, but federal Cameroon. Freedom of speech, they hold, is their inalienable right enshrined in the country’s constitution. While there is room for forgiveness, Anglophones hold that anything short of a federation will be a betrayal of their brothers who have lost their lives just to bring a better life to all Cameroonians. They argue that the pressure on the government must continue until all those arrested are released unconditionally. The Diaspora is still active and the government needs to understand the great role the Diaspora has played in this situation that has left it with a black eye. True dialogue cannot take place without the Diaspora taking its place at the table. If the government fails to recognize this, then it will continue to flog a dead horse as the civil disobedience will continue.
Dr. Joachim Arrey
Cameroon Concord News Group