Southern Cameroon Problem: Skating on thin ice
The lull in the Anglophone problem that has rocked Cameroon for more than eight months seems to give onlookers the impression that things are gradually returning to normal in Cameroon. This is not the true picture of things. The truth can only be found out if you scratch beyond the surface. The reality is that tempers are still flaring up among Anglophones as the government dilly dallies over the issue of federalism and the pseudo-trial of Anglophone leaders and others in courts considered by the English-speaking minority as Kangaroo courts. The struggle that has been driven by the Anglophone Diaspora is considered by many back home as the only opportunity for them to emerge from the second-class citizenship that the government has imposed on them for a very long time. This feeling of failure is striking fear in many minds in West Cameroon, as a total collapse of the struggle will spell doom for those arrested and jailed for daring a government that lacks the will and ability to pull its people out of the jaws of poverty.
For many Anglophones, the arrest of Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba, Retired Chief Justice Paul Ayah Abine and Mr. Mancho Bibixy will continue to generate tensions between Anglophones and the government which has never really proven the charges it has brought against these Anglophone leaders who are determined to change the status quo and even lay down their lives just to bring federalism to a country wherein disguised dictatorship has prevailed for more than fifty years. The continuous postponement of the sentencing of these Anglophone leaders has created a lot of tension in the country. Last week’s postponement of the sentencing has angered Anglophones, with SCNC extremists declaring that the government is skating on thin ice. They say they are running out of patience with the government regarding the continuous detention of innocent Anglophones. The government’s delaying tactics are poisoning its relationship with its English-speaking minority that has displayed a developed sense of purpose and unity over the last eight months.
From every indication, the government is yet to measure the impact of the impasse on the country. Its refusal to discuss the governance structure of the state is unfortunately radicalizing even the moderates and federalists. The current situation is giving secessionists a huge opportunity for them to take their gospel of Balkanizing the country to all the nooks and crannies of the world, especially where there are high concentrations of Anglophones. And they are quietly winning hearts and minds. This situation is generating new radicals, most of whom are swearing that the next academic year will not take off, if the government does not bring the various factions to the negotiating table. It should be recalled that the last academic year had been disrupted and while the government might have hastily organized GCE Advance and Ordinary Levels exams, the issue of class sizes will surely be a challenge, as students across the Anglophone region did not write any promotion examinations. It will be more challenging in the junior classes, as new pupils look forward to moving into the primary level from nursery schools.
The issue of security is also on many minds. Over the last month, the issue of security has been a nightmare that will not go away anytime soon. The demonstrations have pushed security officers from many cities in Anglophone Cameroon. This was responsible for many parents deciding that their children should stay at home. With the government unable to provide security across the country, many cloak-and-dagger organizations have emerged, and they are acting under the cover of darkness to destroy state property and assets owned by individuals who are not complying with calls for ghost towns in West Cameroon. Though the government has announced the recruitment of more army soldiers and police officers, Anglophone groups battling the government are not bothered about the government’s plans to expand its military force. They argue that the soldiers are not well trained and are not very patriotic, as they accuse those in power of corruption and nepotism.
In remote places like Eyumojock and Akwaya, the government is conspicuously absent. The rule of the people has replaced the semblance of law and order that had existed prior to the commencement of the Anglophone problem. In Akwaya, the people have simply taken the law into their own hands. While Anglophones have been victims of marginalization, the people of Akwaya have seen the worst form of marginalization. Lack of roads, hospitals, schools and other facilities have left the people with bitter feelings, but the unlawful arrest and detention of retired Chief Justice Paul Ayah Abine, a prominent son of Akwaya, is one bitter pill the people of Akwaya cannot swallow and this is radicalizing the entire sub-division.
The detention of Anglophones in Francophone Cameroon is generating lots of tension and it has created a stalemate that is taking a toll on the government and the country’s economy that has been on life support for a very long time. The recent International Monetary Fund loan of CFAF 366 billion to Cameroon is testimony to the fact that the country’s economy has taken a turn for the worse. While declining oil prices are mainly to blame for the economic catastrophe, the Anglophone problem that has been marked by a series of long ghost town operations and a disruption of government activities has also played a significant role in bringing the economy to its knees. The government is still reeling from the blow it took to the liver as a result of the Anglophone problem. It is faced with a Hobson’s choice, as the only other option is secession. It stands to gain if it goes to the negotiating table to find long-lasting and peaceful solutions.
The IMF loan is, for sure, a shot in the economy’s arm, but its effectiveness will be tested when the government starts investing the money. Many opponents of the government hold that the government’s financial performance has been,at best, dismal. Corruption and inefficiency have become the government’s hallmarks. Under Prime Minister Peter Mafany Musonge, Cameroon topped the global corruption chart for two years running, stealing the show from Nigeria. Prudent management, many Anglophones say, is a foreign concept to the government of Cameroon and the country’s authorities are not repentant about the economic mess they have created for their fellow compatriots. Unemployment and inflation are blighting the lives of ordinary Cameroonians and many young graduates, especially graduates of West Cameroon descent, do not see any hope in the future.
Over the last two months, the government has been dangling the carrot as a means to display its determination to make Anglophones feel at home in Cameroon.This, in the hope that tempers will calm down for it to return to its old ways. It has decided to grant more Anglophones access to ENAM, Francophone judges and administrators are being withdrawn from West Cameroon and there will soon be a common law bench at the Supreme Court. But Anglophones are not buying into this, as they consider government efforts as a hoax. Secessionists argue that the government is closing the barn after the horse has bolted. They say all these efforts are not really reducing tensions in the country. Anglophones are hell-bent on changing the country’s governance structure. They hold that the unitary system has been an ill wind to them, robbing them of their dignity and delight. They stress that a federal system will inspire hope, as the different regions will have to manage their own resources and undertake development projects that meet the people’s need.
But the government is still forging ahead with its plan, hoping that its strategy will buy it some time. Despite advice from the Holy See that the issues be addressed amicably and very fast, the government is still trying to play the old game that has embarrassed it across the globe. The stalemate seems to be serving its purpose as it leaves it with the impression that Anglophones are running out of steam. The unsettling stalemate appears to be good news to the government whose strategy all through has been to let time do some of its heavy lifting. It is true that time is always useful in certain circumstances, but the Anglophone problem is, for sure,a more challenging issue which will not go away anytime soon, more so because five million Anglophones are on the same page and their determination to destabilize the regime is unrelenting. They have suffered marginalization for more than five decades and the current unemployment and poverty that have reduced many Cameroonians into paupers is making things worse. Anglophones have decided to close ranks to face up to a government that has portrayed itself as a Frankenstein monster.
But despite this bitterness, the government is still pursuing its agenda. Last week, it organized its own version of the Diaspora forum with many Anglophones boycotting it, especially Anglophones in North America who have a huge war chest and the wherewithal to set up huge corporations that can help reduce the country’s unemployment significantly. The meaningful Anglophone Diaspora holds that it does not need government money. Unlike those who attended the government’s version of the Diaspora forum, the Anglophone Diaspora holds that it only needs good policies and a business-friendly environment. Many members of the Anglophone Diaspora say they want to come into the country to develop the country’s real estate sector which is clearly begging for investments. Cameroon needs millions of modern homes, but the government’s poor policies and mismanagement have gone a long way in transforming the country into an open air landfill. They hold that poor town planning has reduced the country’s cities to slums, adding that huge financial injections from the Diaspora could help turn things around. Members of the Anglophone Diaspora want to bring the North American mortgage system to the country; a system that has generated a lot of wealth for Anglophone Cameroonians living in the United States and Canada. They hold that they are capable of establishing strategic alliances with banks and developers, if the current system gets changed. They argue that the unitary system cannot spin a lot of opportunities and wealth for many people, stressing that the richest countries in the world are indeed federal systems.
In many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, the Diaspora has been recognized as a key factor in efforts at attaining sustainable levels of development. In countries such as Tunisia, Zambia, Morocco and Cape Verde, the Diaspora is helping to turn things around in these countries. In today’s global economy, marked by reducing development aid, many developing countries like Cameroon have very few options to spur growth and sustain long-term socioeconomic development. Poor policies, declining foreign aid, and decreasing opportunities in the global economy have sharply reduced Cameroon’s options for growth and competitiveness. Its best option will be harnessing the Diaspora as a viable option to spur growth. But the country’s current government has been considering the Diaspora, especially the Anglophone Diaspora, as a destabilizing force. Unlike many other African governments, the government of Cameroon is still playing hard ball when it comes to dealing with the Diaspora. It is yet to approve dual nationality and the idea of letting the Diaspora vote in future elections is still a distant tomorrow affair. This is creating a lot of frustration among members of the country’s Diaspora and these hard working Cameroonians living out of their country are determined to rob the country of the peace it needs if their pleas are not heeded.
The government of Cameroon needs peace, but it hardly practices justice and this explains why the country is gradually falling apart. The government needs to understand that Cameroon’s Diaspora has come of age. The Anglophone Diaspora, in particular, has many men and women of significant financial power and they want to play a key role in their country’s political and economic space. The Anglophone Diaspora has, over the last eight months, proven that it is a force to reckon with when it comes to determining the course of politics in Cameroon. The Anglophone problem has clearly demonstrated that working with the Diaspora is an idea whose time has come, especially the Anglophone Diaspora which has shown a clear sense of purpose and unity. The Diaspora has run the struggle and it has been very effective. Its punches to the government have hit their targets, with many of them landing where it hurts the most. The government stands to gain if it starts negotiating with the Diaspora to ensure that last year’s chaos that brought about the closure of schools and courts does not rear its ugly head. While the stalemate could be sending out false signals of demonstration fatigue, the government must make sure that all the stakeholders in this dispute that has given the country a bad name are brought to the negotiating table. Without such an action, the government should be rest assured that it is skating on thin ice and with September fast approaching; Cameroon will be back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons if the issue of federalism is not laid to rest.
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.