Prime Minister Yang Philemon’s declaration that Cameroon is united and indivisible is, of course, no music to many Anglophone ears. The situation pitting the government against striking Anglophones has even been made worse by government ministers who have taken to the air waves to misinform Francophones, with many declaring that there is no Anglophone problem. Such rhetoric is not calming down flaring tempers and no reasonable Anglophone will buy into such noise that is only inflaming the marginalized people of Southern Cameroons. Their rhetoric is only causing the two camps to drift apart. If the street demonstrations cannot convince the government that there is something wrong, then nothing will make it go to the negotiating table. Cameroon government officials should take a look at their own statistics to gain a better understanding of what is poisoning the relationship between them and Anglophones. The Internet is awash with this information and turning a blind eye or withdrawing into a cocoon of indifference will not make the problem go away.
Silence has a way of making issues more complicated and the government’s indifference and silence about those issues Anglophones have been complaining about for decades are pushing the country to the brink. This country has only had two presidents, both of whom have been Francophones and have occupied the seat for long periods of time, making it impossible for any Anglophone to step into that seat. This does not look very serious, but other statistics could be very sobering and revolting. Over the last 55 years, no Anglophone has held the post of Secretary-General at the Presidency. The post of director of the civil cabinet at the Presidency has been a preserve of Francophones and the country’s ministers of defense, finance, territorial administration, communication, external relations and national education have all been French-speaking Cameroonians with many of them holding that it is their birthright. Government ministers who are misinforming Cameroonians just need to take a look at these statistics for them to understand why Anglophones have taken to the streets. But if you think this is revolting enough, take a look at the police force and Gendarmerie. These two bodies have never been headed by any Anglophone regardless of their training. This is a no-go area for Anglophones regardless of how loyal they may be to the regime. Of course, a full stomach hardly sees injustice and this could explain why some Anglophone ministers such as Atanga Njie can openly declare that there is no Anglophone problem.
The current configuration of the country’s military is food-for-thought for any objective Cameroonian. The Army is pregnant with many generals, but Anglophones account for less than 10% of these generals. They have been totally cut out of the country’s intelligence services as they are considered as the enemy within. If this does not look like a problem, then somebody should be blind here or they are simply trying to sustain the status quo to ensure their own political survival. Take a look at postings to the country’s embassies across the world and you will see clear marginalization of a people who have a lot to contribute to the development efforts of their country. Cameroon’s ambassadors to most English-speaking countries around the world have been Francophones although they have to serve Anglophone Cameroonians who have fled the injustice in their country.
Anglophone Cameroon accounts for about 20% of the country’s population, but its contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stands at about 60%. The South West region alone accounts for a huge percentage of the GDP given that the country’s oil deposits are located in this region and the country’s lone oil refinery known by its French acronym as SONARA is in the heart of the South West region. Unfortunately this wealth-generating institution has, since its inception, been run by Francophones many of whom have cared less about the local population. The refinery’s workforce is predominantly Francophone and the benefits of the oil sector are yet to trickle down to the region’s local population. Could this be explained by a lack of competent manpower in this region that is clearly begging for development?
The statistics about Anglophone marginalization over the last 55 years are really staggering. According to Ekinneh Agbaw-ebai, a seasoned Cameroon political analyst and a graduate of the prestigious Harvard University, “ Of the 700 ministers appointed since Biya took office in 1982, only 76 (10.8%) have been Anglophones. In the current 63-member cabinet, there are only six Anglophones (9%) and only, Philip Ngole Ngwese (2%) out of the 38 Ministers has a cabinet portfolio. There are four Anglophone Secretaries-General (10%) and three Anglophone DAGs (7%) in the central administration. In state corporations, there are less than 15 Anglophones (11%) out of over 130 general managers. Of the over 130 Board chairmen of state corporations, there are only 10 Anglophones (7%). Of the 58 SDOs in the country, there are six Anglophones (10%) and only three of the nation’s 33 generals in the Armed Forces are Anglophones.”
He adds that the situation in the Northwest region is even worse. “Of the 128 magistrates in the Northwest, there are 67 Francophones (52 %). Of the 97 magistrates of the legal departments, 64 of them are Francophones, (65.9%); 22 (48.9%) of the 45 magistrates in Bamenda are Francophones. There are 27 magistrates in the legal department in Bamenda of which 21, (77.8%) are Francophones. All the 21 new bailiffs (100%) appointed in January 2014 to the Northwest are Francophones. Comparatively, of the 119 magistrates in Douala, only two (1.7%) are Anglophones. Likewise, only two (1.9%) of the 107 magistrates in Yaoundé are Anglophones.” These are very disturbing statistics in a country considered to be bilingual and bi-jural.
These statistics speak to Anglophone marginalization, and taking to the air waves to say the contrary is a clear denial of the facts. Cameroonians are however aware of these facts. The government has to look for a way to right some of these wrongs. It must seek way to calm the flaring tempers. Dialogue is, without a doubt, the way forward. Cameroonians love their country, but they also need the system to be more decentralized so that the people can have a huge say in the way they are governed. Telling Anglophone teachers and lawyers to resume work without meeting with their leaders will not restore the peace the country needs. Seeking to manipulate national opinion on this by saying there is no Anglophone problem is like addressing the wrong audience. The facts are there. They are staring everybody in the face. Acknowledging them will be like solving the problem by 50%. Denial will certainly not cut it. It’s time for government officials to walk away from their old ways.
Cameroon belongs to everybody. It will be wrong to continue giving the impression that a fraction of the population is not important. The fight in this country should be against poverty and underdevelopment. Winning this war will require everybody, regardless of their language of communication, to pull their fair share of the weight. It will also require that all Cameroonians be made to feel at home. It will be hard to win such a tough fight when 20% of the population is being marginalized. It is like going to play a tough football match but going to the match with only 80% of the squad. Silence and indifference are the triggers of violent conflicts. Cameroon can be spared this scourge if its leaders acknowledge the issues and work towards addressing them. They need to talk to their people and they must stop addressing the wrong audience. Coming down from their Ivory tower will certainly give peace a chance.
Dr. Joachim Arrey
Cameroon Concord News Group