Over the last weeks, the government has been bending over backwards to address some of the issues the country’s Anglophone minority had complained about with a view to bringing back peace to the country. Initially, the government felt its authority had been challenged by the English-speaking minority and it was time for it to show its teeth. But the English-speaking minority has made up its mind and is very determined to stand its ground. After more than five decades of marginalization, the people of the South West and North West regions strongly hold that bullies can never change and the only things they understand are a strong language and an iron fist. The government has tried to show its teeth,but constituted mostly of octogenarians,its old teeth lack what it takes to threaten anybody and its muscles have been worn out by time and are bereft of the strength that can strike fear in a well-organized and determined Anglophone minority.
Today, the government has figured out that intimation belongs to a distant past and the changing times have transformed dialogue into a more effective silver bullet. It is acknowledging its mistakes and it is trying, albeit with difficulties, to yield to new ways that have fostered peace and unity in other parts of the world. Its surrogates are on all media platforms trying to preach peace and mutual respect that have been lacking in Cameroon for many decades. It has clearly stated its intention to dialogue and bring the country together, though Anglophones hold that genuine unity can only take place in a highly federal structure. Over the past weeks, the government has published several press releases relating to the current crisis that has weakened its authority, sapped Anglophones of their patriotism and robbed the economy of the momentum it has gathered over the last decade.
The government is gradually making some meaningful concessions, although Anglophones are skeptical as the government has fallen short of their glory and has, on many occasions, spoken from both sides of its mouth. Anglophones will finally have a section at the School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), the school that trains civil administrators and magistrates in Cameroon. Common law will be used in English-speaking parts of Cameroon and Francophone judges and magistrates, whose presence in the English-speaking part of the country has been the bone of contention, will be withdrawn. Similarly, Francophone teachers will stop plying their trade in the English-speaking part of the country as their knowledge of English is, at best, rudimentary.
However, no time frames have been set for the implementation of these measures and this explains why Anglophones are skeptical.The government is used to producing press releases and setting up commissions that have never delivered any results. Investigations are never conclusive and could sometimes take decades to complete. Victims of unfortunate situations are rarely compensated or bad situations are hardly addressed as a result of these press releases and commissions. The government will have to work hard and long to convince Anglophones that its intentions are genuine and will produce the desired results.
Similarly, the government, last Thursday, April 20, 2017, reestablished Internet connection in the two English-speaking regions of the country, after close to a hundred days of total Internet blackout; a decision that has been highly contested and criticized both in Cameroon and abroad. In Cameroon, the Internet shut-down has virtually ruined the economies of the two English-speaking regions and the unemployment rate in these regions is astronomically high. The South-west region, which was home to many start-ups, has witnessed significant lay-offs as Silicon Mountain, patterned on America’s Silicon Valley, has disappeared because during the crisis, the start-ups simply relocated to other parts of the country. Though Buea, the South-west region’s capital, has some of the best conditions and facilities for these start-ups, many south-westerners are concerned that those start-ups may never return to Buea, especially if South-west elites and administrators do not adopt a more conciliatory approach to problem-solving.
Abroad, the international community has been very critical of the government’s decision to disconnect the English-speaking part of the country from the rest of the world by pulling off the Internet plug. Embarrassed by the situation in Cameroon, the UN Secretary-General dispatched his Acting Special Representative in the Central African Region, François Loucény Fall, to Cameroon to deliver his message of frustration with the government’s handling of the Anglophone situation. Anglophones across the world have made it a duty to embarrass the government and draw attention to their plight regardless of the forum or context. Last week’s drama in a World Bank forum where attention was drawn to the Anglophone plight was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The international community could no longer sit and watch the government of Cameroon embarrass it. A clear message was delivered to the government and the Internet was restored forthwith.
International pressure has been brought to bear on the government. It is helping the Cameroonian government to work towards addressing a situation it created. Today, it is seeking to foster dialogue, but many Anglophones are still skeptical about the government’s intentions. Many Anglophones have been asking lots of questions ever since the government expressed its intention to dialogue with Anglophones. With whom does it want to discuss when their leaders are still languishing in jail for drawing its attention to the plight of Anglophones? Besides, what form will that dialogue take? The current government, which has been in power for almost 35 years, has not got the habit of listening to views that are contrary to its ideas. Will it be able to listen in order to gain a better understanding of the issues that have been hurting Anglophones for fifty-six years? Who will participate in such a dialogue? Will federalism and secession make it to the agenda of the dialogue? While government actions have attracted some admiration from some observers, others argue that for real peace to return to Cameroon, the government will have to take a holistic approach to addressing the Anglophone problem. This implies that federalism and secession will have to be on the table and other unsettling issues like natural resources management and the principle of derivation will take centre stage.
It should be recalled that what caused the problem to escalate was the killing of many innocent Anglophones during the strikes and demonstrations. Many Anglophones were brought down by government bullets and many more Anglophones have died in detention either due to poor detention conditions or torture by some overzealous elements in the regime and police. This is even one of the issues that is making genuine dialogue almost impossible. Will the government be able to deal with this bitter pill when the time comes? Will it confidently account for all those who have been killed? Information from government sources which have elected to be anonymous alleges that some of those arrested have been tortured to death and they claim to know where these victims have been buried in mass graves. Will the regime accept that those mass graves be visited? Anglophones hold that these issues and more will be brought to the negotiating table at the right time. The government has many bitter pills to swallow. It is already feasting on a giant humble pie, but the pills that will be served by Anglophones are made from coloquintida and they are very bitter. Anglophones will want these issues to be addressed once and for all and for this to happen, the government must accept that the excessive powers it has wielded over the last fifty-six years will be significantly eroded. Cameroon will never be the same again as Anglophones have successfully weaponized civil disobedience. Political and civil disobedience has become their weapon of choice when it comes to dealing with a government that has inflicted untold hardship on them.
Similarly, petroleum management will also be one of the issues that will put the government in a very bad situation. For more than forty-five years, the management of the country’s petroleum has been shrouded in mystery.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 without the principle of derivation 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, unfortunately, been treating the locals with contempt. No Anglophone has ever headed SONARA 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 issue 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. The holistic approach advocated by Anglophones requires that this issue be tabled.
Over the last six months, the country has been heading to the abyss of despair as the government stood its ground that the form of the state was not up for discussion while Anglophones across the globe have been calling for federalism, and in some cases, they have been urging the United Nations to intervene and even participate in any dialogue the government might propose. They say they need a neutral third party to sit at the table as the government has lost its credibility. This brings to mind the following questions? Who will participate in the dialogue? Will the Diaspora be properly represented? The government has the nasty habit of manufacturing leaders for the people, but the current Anglophone crisis has proven that those “leaders” have only been representing themselves and their families and most of them have been feeding the government with wrong information about their popularity. They have been using their positions to feather their nests, an issue that will surface during such discussions. For Anglophones, the current Anglophone political elite needs to be renewed. Peter Mafany Musonge, Yang Philemon, Atanga Nji, Elvis Ngole Ngole, Benjamin Itoe, and Dorothy Njeuma all lack the credibility and popularity to represent Anglophones in a forum wherein an important issue as the country’s future will be discussed. If the government wants real dialogue to take place, then it must look beyond this group of people who have used the government as their personal ATM (Automated Teller Machine) for years.
It should also be noted that the current crisis has brought in new political actors into the political arena. The Anglophone Diaspora has proven that it has the political capital to play a key role in the country’s political future. It has become a formidable political force that cannot be overlooked. Over the last six months, it has helped to make the Anglophone region ungovernable and it is looking forward to participating in any dialogue that will deliver a better future to a country that has been beset by man-made problems. The Anglophone Diaspora deserves a comfortable place at the table where it will make significant contributions that will help put Cameroon on a new path that will lead to political stability, economic prosperity and social peace. Leaving the Anglophone Diaspora out of the talks on the country’s future will be the right recipe for political instability in Cameroon. The Anglophone Diaspora is rich, educated and intellectual. It has been responsible for the education of many people in Cameroon and it has been paying the piper. It surely wants to call the tune and it is more than prepared and willing to share its experience with Cameroonians in all spheres of life, including politics.
The upcoming dialogue proposed by the government is an opportunity to help the country heal. It will be a platform for Cameroonians to redesign their country and future. Fifty-six years of a hastily negotiated marriage between Anglophones and Francophones have not produced the desired happiness. Anglophones may be angry, but they will be happy to have a federal republic that will enable them run their own affairs. While this is a key demand, it must be borne in mind that the solution to the Anglophone problem must be holistic in nature. Focusing on certain sectors of the society will surely not produce the peace and harmony all Cameroonians are hankering after. This is the moment to evaluate the past. It is not the time to tinker and give positions to friends and others who are loyal to party ideology. The renewal of Cameroon’s political elite is long overdue. The dialogue called for by the government is an opportunity for Anglophones to tell the government a few home truths. However, all the parties must understand that they have to make concessions if Cameroon has to be strong and united within a highly federal system.
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 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.