The Anglophone crisis that has rocked Cameroon over the last twelve months seems to be heralding the end of an era that has brought pain and suffering to citizens of this country. The government’s reaction to demonstrations on October 1, 2017, has left the world, especially the international community, in great shock. It is alleged that more than one hundred people have been killed across the Anglophone region, with over three hundred missing and some two hundred injured. Today, the entire region has been militarized and the citizens are not allowed to move from one location to the other. Anglophones seem to have been rolled back into the dark ages against their wish. It also seems the government is helping to enforce the ghost towns that have been going on in the Anglophone region for one year.
In Manyu Division, in particular, it is extremely hard for the population to venture out. Many young men have been arrested and taken to unknown destinations and thousands have fled their homes and are now sharing space with dangerous snakes and tigers in the Manyu jungle. Some have headed to Nigeria where they are seeking refuge and waiting for the day they will run into arms to come back to liberate their fatherland from the control of those they consider as an army of occupation. Traveling to Nigeria has become very challenging. Residents of Manyu Division are being compelled to buy a pass just to get to the border with Nigeria and they are being obliged by government troops to pay all types of fees, with the most ridiculous being a development fee that goes into the pockets of the army soldiers who since October 1 have been running amok in that part of the country. It is like Cameroon has gone back to the dark days of apartheid when black South Africans had to obtain passes in order to move from one city to the next.
In border villages and towns like Ekok, Otu, Agborkem German and Nsanarakati, army soldiers are abusing the people, especially women. Many young girls are being abused and raped on a daily bases and the population does not know who to turn to for protection and services that are supposed to be provided by a responsible government. For those who have escaped, the unfortunate thing is that many of them may never return home, especially those who are hiding in the jungle as the conditions out there are not the best, especially with the heavy rains that are making the jungle inhabitable.
Today, Nigeria is home to about half a million Anglophones who are seeking refugee status. With the anger and frustration of having been marginalized and chased out of the country, these young men will surely constitute a strong pool of angry fighters if they lay their hands on weapons. Instead of fighting secession which is an idea with appeasement, the government has decided to kill an idea with bullets and guns and this is unfortunately not producing the desired results. The government has failed to understand that sometimes it is better to catch flies with honey. Using vinegar all the time may not be the best way to approach something that only exists in the mind.
In an environment of tension, it is always advisable to use the right words in order not to cause the situation to further deteriorate. But government actions over the last months leave much to be desired. Even declarations from the Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma, are not helping, as his language and choice of words are designed to further upset and alienate Anglophones.
Many Anglophones have been calling for his dismissal for months now. Mr. Tchiroma himself is an ex-convict, as he was among the coup plotters who almost took down Mr. Biya in 1984 in a coup that resulted in the deaths of more than one thousand northerners. Many Cameroonians hold that if the president could pardon Mr. Tchiroma and other coup plotter who almost killed him, why would he not come down his ivory tower to dialogue with Anglophones who are simply expressing their anger and frustration with a system that has robbed them of their dignity? They point out that Mr. Tchiroma has no moral standing to call on soldiers to kill other Cameroonians. They argue that a coup d’etat is more dangerous than a peaceful protest, adding that if the president could give Mr. Tchiroma a second chance to the extent of appointing him a minister, why does he think he has to rejoice when Cameroonians of English expression are being mowed down by soldiers who get paid with taxpayers’ money?
Anglophones have clearly stated their problems. A strike that started with lawyers and teachers was allowed to quickly degenerate into calls for federalism that waspromptly rejected by the government, with the country’s president, Paul Biya, stating that the form of the state could not be discussed. This has put him in a tight spot and, today, he does not know how to eat the giant humble pie he had made for himself. Anglophones are not backing down. The deployment of troops across the region is not synonymous with a return to the old days. While the country has been caught up in unprecedented turbulence, Mr. Biya is in Switzerland battling with cancer that is more dangerous than Anglophones who have robbed him of a good night’s sleep over the last year.
But all hopes are not lost. Mr. Biya’s era is gradually petering out and this is the time for those in leadership positions to start thinking of a new republic; a republic that will be predicated on justice and human rights. Many people have lost their lives in this struggle that will surely continue once the numerous troops in the Anglophone region get withdrawn. The school year has been ruined by the government’s action, but things can be dealt with in a different manner. Brute force will never cause the Anglophone problem to vanish. Anglophones have proven that they can stay the course.
Anglophone lawyers have gone without a salary for one year and the population has suffered a lot of abuse, but their determination to bring about change is still intact. The government has a few more opportunities to spare Cameroon the agony and death that other countries have gone through. The solution to the Anglophone problem is at the negotiating table. The government has to swallow its pride and accept that there is no return to the status quo ante. Cameroon will never be the same again and instead of killing and maiming ordinary citizens, it is time to meet Anglophones halfway so that the new republic’s future can be discussed.
Mr. Biya clearly belongs to the past. If he will be returning home, it will only be to bid farewell to his friends and family. Time and health issues have cut him down to normal human proportions. No matter how hard he tries, he will never reinstate the attractive aura he once had. He has wasted the goodwill Cameroonians had granted him when he came to power in 1982. He has succeeded to transform Cameroon into a vast open air landfill. Cameroon ranks among the most underdeveloped countries on the face of the earth despite its natural and human resources.
Cameroon is bereft of infrastructure. Its hospitals have been reduced to consultation clinics. Its roads have consumed more lives than HIV and malaria put together. Cameroonians have lost faith in the government. Years of unemployment have reduced them to sorry spectators of events in their own country. Many have died of preventable illnesses and for many, the shadow of uncertainty is permanently looming large on the horizon. With Boko Haram ruining lives in the North, Central African rebels staging sporadic attacks in the East and Anglophones determined to pick up arms against the Yaounde regime, the government cannot afford to be blind to the importance of dialogue. Dialogue holds a lot of hope. It will prevent bloodshed and it will keep the country together. It will be wrong to miss an historic moment again. This crisis has gone on for one year. One year is too long. Mr. Biya’s men must be courageous enough to kiss him goodbye. His days are over. Like every mortal, he belongs to the ash heap of history. It will be wrong for those around him to spend time trying to save him. It is better to save Cameroon, as each and every Cameroonian will pass away, but Cameroon will be there forever.
The editorial Desk
Cameroon Concord News/ Cameroon Intelligence Report Inc