The Anglophone crisis that has put Cameroon in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons is still playing out across the entire Anglophone region. Despite current efforts by the government to placate the rebelling Anglophones, most Anglophones hold that the current political dispensation neither protects them and their culture nor does it guarantee their rights. They have been victims of government marginalization for five decades and they hold that the current unitary state has only concentrated powers in a few hands, leaving many Anglophones out of the country’s corridors of power. To buttress their assertion, the citizens of former Southern Cameroons point to so many appointments. They assert that Francophones run the political show and have no regard for the English-speaking minority. An Anglophone has never headed the country and all the top positions in the country are always occupied by Francophones. No Anglophone has ever occupied the post of finance minister. The post of defense minister is a no-go area for Anglophones, while the foreign affairs ministry is a preserve of Francophones even when there are very qualified Anglophones. They hold that each time an Anglophone is appointed as the country’s Prime Minister, he is always surrounded by Francophones whose objective is to neutralize his powers. Sometimes, the government even appoints several deputy prime ministers and places a powerful secretary-general at the Prime Minister’ Office to ensure the Anglophone Prime Minister does not wield the power and authority he deserves.
The injustice against Anglophones does not start and end with ministerial appointments. The appointment of senior police and military officers speaks to the marginalization that has become the Anglophone’s daily fate. Anglophones also point to the running of state-owned corporations and they contend that the appointment of managing directors to head those state-owned corporations calls for a total overhaul of the country. An Anglophone has never been the managing director of the country’s oil refinery, SONARA, even when the refinery and oil fields are located in Anglophone Cameroon. 95% of SONARA employees are Francophones and the employees of this state-owned corporation have been treating the locals with disdain and contempt. Anglophones have some of the finest petroleum engineers Cameroon can boast of, but because of government marginalization and injustice, many of these world-class engineers are plying their trade in distant lands such as Canada and the United States. Canada’s Alberta oil sands bear the hallmarks of Anglophone Cameroonian petroleum engineers. Houston, the United States petroleum headquarters, is home to some of the finest Anglophone Cameroonian petroleum experts, many of whom are occupying senior positions. Unfortunately, they cannot go back home to serve their country because of flagrant injustice against a minority that has a lot to offer.
Similarly, the Société Camerounaise des Dépôts Pétroliers (SCDP) known in English as the Cameroonian Oil Depots Company and the Société Nationale des Hydrocarbures(SNH) known in English as the National Oil and Gas Company of Cameroon are totally being run by Francophones as if there are no qualified Anglophones in the country and this is hurting Anglophones so badly. While SCDP builds oil depots around the country, SNH, established in March 1980, operates in partnership with international oil companies and it is responsible for selling the government’s share of oil output. It holds stakes in projects operated by international partners and all of these operations occur without the knowledge of the Anglophone population which survives thanks to remittances from the Anglophone Diaspora that has made it a duty to support the English-speaking minority back in Cameroon.
While the country’s oil wealth comes from the South West region, the south-westerner has been reduced to a sorry spectator of events in his own region. The closest he gets to the oil is when he is buying fuel at the pump or when he sees oil tankers carrying away his natural wealth into East Cameroon. Cameroon’s oil fields are located in Ndian Division in the South West region, but the people of this region are the least educated. The region is begging for good roads, hospitals and schools for its people and children whereas, it is thanks to Ndian Division that the country has been receiving huge amounts of petro-dollars from the sales of its oil.
It was based on these frustrations that Anglophones called for a federal system that will help address some of the issues created by the corrupt unitary system that has only succeeded to spread death and poverty in the country. Though in recent months, there have been calls for the total independence of Southern Cameroons, many Anglophones will still settle for a federal system that will put in place reliable checks and balances and give the different regions the opportunity to grow at their own pace. The south-westerner is surely waiting for that moment when all the issues will be on the table for him to call for the establishment of a derivation principle that will automatically give him a right to a percentage of the oil that is being taken away from his region.
Currently, things are at a standstill in the country. Ghost town operations are still taking place and courts are still closed in the Anglophone region. The government has been struggling to give the impression that all is well, but Anglophones are working hard to cast the government in very bad light. As a means to prove its willingness to address some of the grievances presented by Anglophones, the government has recently transferred many Anglophone judges and magistrates to the Anglophone region. A special entrance examination into the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), the school that trains administrators and magistrates in the country, has been announced and registrations are currently under way. Some 80 Anglophones will be admitted into the school this year as a major step towards to the withdrawal of Francophone administrators from the English-speaking region of Cameroon. This has been one of the many bones of contention and the government is bending over backwards just to ensure peace returns to the country.
However, many young Anglophones have been wondering if they should sit the exam because of the prevailing political atmosphere in the country. Some think that taking the exam will be like betraying the Anglophone cause which is designed to compel the government to right the wrongs that have led to massive frustrations among Anglophones who, justifiably, think that they have been victims of marginalization over the last five decades. This type of thinking on the part of young Anglophones speaks to the level of unity within the English-speaking minority.
The government is today faced with a huge crisis. It must reestablish its authority in the Anglophone region. However, if that has to happen, the government must make the most of the carrot and not the stick. The stick has failed it, as Anglophones have clearly proven that a minority can bring about significant change in a country. Government authority has been called into questions in the Anglophone region and chaos is gradually replacing the pseudo-peace that has prevailed for more than fifty years. In many parts of the Anglophone region, the government is totally absent. Government authority is on the decline. Police officers are too scared for their lives and many are not working as they would, in normal circumstances. They have been erring on the side of caution in order not to incur the wrath of a frustrated Anglophone population.
The potential for the crowd to explode at the slightest provocation is very high, especially in the North West region, where the people are known for their mercurial temperament. The government holds that this is time to appease instead of causing the situation to escalate. But Anglophones are not interested in the government’s appeasement policy. They want the form of the state to be discussed. They hold that if the government keeps on dilly-dallying on this issue, then it has opted for chaos. They also argue that the government must release all Anglophones arrested and taken to Yaounde. Both the secessionists and federalists argue that Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mr. Mancho Bibixy must be released as they did not commit any crime. Sentencing them even to the shortest jail term will be considered by Anglophones as a declaration of war and groups such as SCNC are simply looking for such opportunities to put their well-oiled machines of destruction and violence into action.
Anglophones point out that the country would not be where it is today, if the government had placed dialogue above violence. They claim that the government’s handling of the situation when it all started playing out was, at best, dismal. The nauseating arrogance displayed by government surrogates served as highly inflammable fuel that had been poured into a burning house. The ferocious brutality that was unleashed on students, lawyers and the population spoke to the government’s determination to bring a violent past into the future. These unfortunate circumstances are making it hard for the government to really please Anglophones, especially those whose relatives have been killed or arrested and taken to Francophone Cameroon for trial in courts regarded by Anglophones as Kangaroo courts.
The government’s initial denial and the arrogance of government ministers such as Fame Ndongo, Atanga Nji and Issa Tchiroma make it hard for Anglophones to trust their government. Seven months after University of Buea students were made to drink raw sewage and many young Cameroonians killed, the government of Cameroon is yet to publicly apologize for these brutal actions committed by the country’s police and military. Many Anglophones hold that the government is still not repentant about the loss of human life and without the recognition of police excesses, it will be hard for any real and genuine dialogue to take place. Anglophones want Fame Ndongo, Atanga Nji and Issa Tchiroma to be dismissed from the government as their attitude and arrogance have put the country in the tight spot in which it is today. Leaving them in government is a clear indication that the government does not intend to apologize for the loss of lives. It also implies that it will continue to count on people who have displayed gross disrespect and contempt towards Anglophones to run a country that clearly needs profound and extensive political renewal.
With these men still in office, the government will continue to lose face and its authority in the Anglophone region will continue to take a nosedive. The government’s waning authority is unfortunately giving criminals the courage to carry out their operations in broad day light. Many schools are being burnt down and students who are attempting to write the General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams are being threatened by members of some cloak-and-dagger organizations who hold that until the form of the state is brought up for discussion, Anglophones will not collaborate with the government, especially as they accuse the government of having the bad habit of speaking from both sides of the mouth.
If the government of Cameroon wants peace to return to the country, it must listen to Anglophones. It must seek to right the wrongs of the past as the Anglophone minority is determined to put an end to the patronizing system that has hurt many Cameroonians. Anglophones have legitimate grievances. These are grievances that the old, corrupt unitary state cannot address. After fifty-five years of marginalization, Anglophones hold that the form of the state must change. The reunification John Ngu Foncha and Solomon Tandeng Muna had worked for has brought happiness only to a few. Anglophones are tired of burying their loved ones due to the inefficiencies of the Unitary State. They want federalism and in the absence of federalism, they are prepared to walk away from this hastily stitched marriage that has caused them a lot of pain and suffering. They hold that the ball is in the government’s court, and the longer it delays to find peaceful solutions to the issues, the more chances it creates for secessionists who have taken their gospel of total liberation of Southern Cameroons to the international arena. The government should, at this juncture, understand that those who make peaceful change impossible, only make violent change inevitable. It is time to walk away from the unitary state that has robbed Cameroon and Cameroonians blind. It is time to right the wrongs of the past.
By Joachim Arrey, Ph.D.
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 African 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 in Toronto, Canada. He is also a trained translator and holds a Ph.D.