Over the last weeks, the government has been talking about dialogue and how the grievances of the Anglophone minority are being addressed in order to restore the country’s shaky peace. Current efforts by Anglophone Cameroonians to ensure an end to the marginalization it has suffered for fifty-six years have really hit the target and are serving as a bitter pill for the government to swallow. Though the government has been bending over backwards to address some of the issues the country’s English-speaking minority has complained about, it sometimes still resorts to its old tricks to find out if some of those outdated pranks can actually produce the desired results. Instead of doing the right thing, it has been urging its surrogates to engage in operations which the population considers as provocative and meaningless.
Over the last months,it has organized several sporting events in Buea and Bamenda, as well as ferrying criminals and unemployed Francophones to the English-speaking region for them to march during national events such as the Youth Day which took place on February 11 and Labor Day on May 1, believing that such activities will help dissolve the will and determination of a people whose resolve is unbreakable. West Cameroonians know that there is something in the offing regarding the upcoming National Day on May 20, which is highly contested by the English-speaking minority. By engaging in such disgraceful activities, it is clear that the government is still finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill the English-speaking minority has administered to it. Its underhand operations aimed at stifling the civil disobedience are simply giving the country a bad name and eroding Cameroon’s image as an oasis of peace in a sea of turbulence. The world is watching Cameroon in bewilderment and disgust as the country slides down the slippery slope of chaos. The inability of the government to find appropriate solutions to this issue has brought it down in everybody’s estimation.
Wont to imposing its will on the peace-loving people of Cameroon, the Cameroonian government initially felt its authority had been called into question by the English-speaking minority and it was time for it to display its muscles. The government of Cameroon, that has always thrown dust into the eyes of the international community by brandishing its pseudo-democratic credentials, lost control of itself and unleashed a reign of terror on students and lawyers who were simply demonstrating their frustration with a political system that has never really taken their plight into consideration when it comes to planning the country’s development. The government’s iron-fist approach has caused peaceful demonstrations to become a months-long civil disobedience, with courts and schools in the English-speaking part of the country remaining closed for over seven months.
However, despite the ferocious brutality, the English-speaking minority has made up its mind and is very determined to stand its ground. With their leaders languishing in jail and after more than five decades of marginalization, with thousands of lives destroyed and about 30% of the region’s population living in exile, it will be hard to placate West Cameroonians into being part of this union that has brought more pain than pleasure to them.
Today, the government has figured out that intimation will not cut it. It is seeking ways to engage the English-speaking minority in a dialogue that will appease them and rebuild confidence in a country that has neglected 20% of its population for more than five decades. In a bid to convince the rebelling West Cameroonians, the government is acknowledging some of its mistakes and it is trying to yield some grounds vis-à-vis the demands of the English-speaking minority. Its surrogates are currently speaking a different language and all those who tried to argue that there was no Anglophone problem, have all eaten their words. Issa Tchiroma, Fame Ndongo, Atanga Nji and Laurent Esso are all keeping a very low profile to ensure that they do not make a bad situation worse. Their arrogance and lack of sound understanding of the current breed of Anglophones is responsible for the escalation of the conflict in Cameroon. They simply did not understand that after five decades of marginalization, West Cameroonians had left the country in droves and after many years abroad, they have become a formidable political force that cannot be overlooked. They even failed to understand that a monkey does not provoke a lion where there are no trees. Home-based Cameroonians know the source of their strength, especially their financial power. The government has taken a blow to the liver and West Cameroonians are simply not scared of it. It must look for new and innovative ways to engage with an intellectually-sound and financially rich Anglophone Diaspora if it really wants to lay this issue to rest. But it must first of all release all those kidnapped and taken to Yaounde.
The government is calling for peace, but West Cameroonians are not buying into whatever peace it is selling. The government seems to be talking to a wall and the proof of its failing efforts is the boycott by West Cameroonians of all the events it has been organizing in the English-speaking part of the country ever since its stand-off with the English-speaking minority started. It will be preposterous for the government to think that it can deceive West Cameroonian into forgetting the Kafkaesque brutality that was unleashed on them by their own government. If there has to be any dialogue, then there must be some confidence building measures. The government has to swallow its pride and accept that things have changed and that Cameroon will never be the same again. The Anglophone minority has changed Cameroon for good. No dialogue can take place when Agbor Balla, Paul Ayah, FontemNeba and Mancho Bibixy are still in jail, with many others still on the run. It is hard to talk about peace when many have been killed and hundreds are still fleeing for their lives. If the government is serious about restoring peace, it must start by releasing all those who have been jailed and granting amnesty to all those who have fled the country. It should also be prepared to account for all those who have been killed. A lot of things can be forgiven, but they will never be forgotten. West Cameroonians will be happy to bury their heroes on their own land and they will want to make sure that they have not lost their lives in vain.
The government has gradually been displaying its “olive branch” though West Cameroonians hold that its intentions may not be genuine. It has, on several occasions, spoken from both sides of its mouth and this is not inspiring confidence. It has promised that West Cameroonians will 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 will no longer be posted to West Cameroon, except they have a good understanding of Common Law. In the same vein, Francophone teachers will stop plying their trade in the English-speaking part of the country given that their rudimentary knowledge of English is hurting many West Cameroonian kids.
Its restoration of the Internet in West Cameroon is a step in the right direction, but the disconnection of the Internet for almost a hundred days is one thing that has hurt many Anglophones. It did not only roll them into the dark ages, it also hurt the sources of their livelihood. The Internet blackout has brought untold hardship and pain to firms and citizens of the affected regions. The South-west region’s Silicon Mountain is today struggling. While some of the start-ups are returning, West Cameroonians are still not sure that all of them will return to the Southwest regional capital of Buea. Banks, micro-finance institutions and money transfer agencies are gradually picking up. The Internet blackout has been a disaster to the English-speaking region’s economy and the ghost towns designed to draw the government’s attention to the people’s plight is sapping the economy of its vitality. But West Cameroonians understand that to eat an omelet, you must break eggs. If the ghost towns can help West Cameroonians have a better destiny at the end of the process, then they are prepared to follow the instructions of their leaders. They hold that fifty-five years of sheepish subservience to the Yaoundé government have ruined the destinies of their children, with many living in exile.
Also, the creation of the bilingualism commission is one of the measures the government has taken to address some of the issues raised by Anglophones. Its creation did not generate any excitement among West Cameroonians. Members of the commission have recently been appointed by the country’s president and while it is too early to judge the commission’s work, it is clear from the appointments that the government is not ready to walk away from its old ways. The commission is being chaired by Peter Mafany Musonge, a former prime minister, who drew a lot of flak following a hate speech delivered in Buea, the south west regional capital, against North westerners. The commission’s decision to tour West Cameroon has come in for castigation as many see the tour as a waste of taxpayers’ money. The commission’s work has been clearly cut out and touring the English-speaking region of the country will not change a lot as many on the commission belong to the ruling party which is wont to doing things for political expediency. Mr. Musonge, himself an Anglophone, has been a magnet for controversy. His knowledge of bilingualism and multiculturalism leaves much to be desired. He is being castigated for using his political office to feather his nest. Many West Cameroonians, especially those in the Diaspora, question the rationale behind the appointment of a man who is struggling with age and health issues to lead a commission that is supposed to foster mutual co-existence in the country. Many, especially among the Anglophone Diaspora, argue that such an important commission should have been the subject of wide consultations with opposition parties and the Diaspora that has become a formidable political and economic force in Cameroon. The Diaspora contends that the government is still ignoring Anglophones and their problems though there are four West Cameroonians on the twelve-member commission.
If the government of Cameroon needs genuine peace, then it must start practicing justice. Instead of considering the West Cameroonian as an enemy, it should see him as a resource,a fellow citizen in his own right, who if well utilized, could make significant contributions to efforts at lifting the country out of poverty. It must also consider West Cameroon, not just in terms of its resources, but also as a region that is in dire need of development. It should be pointed out that West Cameroon accounts for about 60% of the country’s wealth. It is blessed with many resources, including oil, gas, diamond and timber. Its rich sub-soil has brought lots of economic benefits to the country. For four decades, the Rio Del Rey estuary,located in the southwest region, has been the source of more than 90% and at times 100% of all the country’s hydrocarbons, specifically oil.In 2014, Cameroon exported US$5.88 billion worth of products, of which US$2.65 billion, about CFAF 1,650 billion, was from crude oil. This is a significant amount of money and some of this money should be reinvested in the region, especially in Ndian Division where the oil fields are located.
The government’s failure to equitably share the country’s oil wealth is one of the issues that is hurting many West Cameroonians. Instead of viewing demands by West Cameroonians as a display of arrogance and a bitter bill, the government should see the current situation as a wake-up call. After fifty-six years of marginalization, West Cameroonians feel it is time to try other things. The unity they had sought with East Cameroon has only brought them untold hardship and pain. They want a real evaluation of the situation and they are brandishing federalism and secession as possible options. The government has to listen to them if it really wants to come up with a lasting solution. Injustice has caused West Cameroonians to see rebellion as a means of liberation. The government must now come to the table with good policies that will ensure that Cameroon remains one and indivisible. It must shun manipulation and it must embrace political transparency, social justice and genuine unity through a system the people will choose. Cameroon can still be indivisible within a federal structure. The United States, Canada and Germany are all united countries within a federal structure. It is time for the government to take the right measures for Cameroon to be spared the scourge of conflict that has affected many of its neighbors. Cameroon stands to gain if its leaders listen to those who feel marginalized. The Anglophone problem may be a bitter pill, but it should also be seen as the pill that sometimes cures many diseases. If the government can swallow its pride, then it will stop seeing the Anglophone problem as a bitter pill. It will instead view it as an opportunity to redesign the country’s fate and future.
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.