The Anglophone problem that started in October 2016 is still playing out in earnest and the consequences are mounting on a daily basis. Students have already lost a whole year and courts have been out of service for months. While the government has been flexing its atrophied muscles to strike fear into the minds of determined West Cameroonians, many from the marginalized regions have opted to take the bull by the horn. They hold that the aging government is gradually falling apart and with a little determination, they can attain their objectives. Many groups have emerged and they are sowing terror in the region. West Cameroon, a region noted for peace and tranquility, is gradually metamorphosing into a land of violence as the government watches helplessly and sinks further into the indifference that gave birth to this unfortunate situation. It should be recalled that this situation began with a peaceful demonstration by West Cameroonian lawyers and teachers who were simply calling for better working conditions and an end to the marginalization English-speaking Cameroonians have faced for more than five decades.
The chaos in West Cameroon is reminiscent of what has been playing out in other African countries that are today dealing many extremist groups that are making life hard for ordinary citizens. While the international community may think that the Anglophone problem is confined to the country’s English-speaking region, what it does understand is that the situation has the potential to spread across the entire country as Cameroonians – both Anglophones and Francophones – are sick and tired of a system that has brought untold hardship onto its own people. While Anglophones have problems that are specific to them, Cameroonians in general have unemployment, bad governance and corruption to deal with. These phenomena have become nightmares that will not go away anytime soon if the current crop of politicians remains in power.
The government is really at its wit’s end and over the last thirty years, Cameroonians seem to have been put on a diet by their own government. Cameroonians are losing weight at a very fast pace and many more are losing sleep as they watch their lives go down the drain. The lack of jobs has robbed many young Cameroonians of their dreams and confidence and they blame all of this on policy failure. The government, they say, has simply not lived up to their expectations and they simply do not know how to rid themselves of this system that is unrepentant and determined to push the country to the brink.
But Anglophones have stated very clearly that they are no longer going to be on that diet that is pushing them to their graves. Their initial call for federalism has been upgraded to the restoration of statehood and recent incidents in many parts of the Anglophone region serve as testament to the people’s determination to stand up to the Yaounde government. Anglophones no longer respect national days and events, and this is causing the frustrated government to lose sleep. The Youth Day, a political creation of the government, was a catastrophe, although the government brought in some prisoners and unemployed Francophones to march in Buea and Bamenda just to prove to the international community that things were returning to normal. But the international community is aware of those old tricks and they are simply not producing the desired results. For now, the focus is on 20 May, which in the minds of Francophones, is the national day. But Anglophones are clearly indicating that they are not part of it and are calling for a total boycott of the event.
Government surrogates are in the Anglophone region trying to see how they can out-maneuver the striking West Cameroonians. These surrogates are seeking ways to bring in non-Anglophones to march on that day, but threats proffered by unknown Anglophones groups against anybody caught marching on that day are deterring so many Francophones who just want to receive the little money the government is promising. Life is hard in Cameroon and many Francophones are contemplating putting their lives on the line just to earn the stipend the government will reward them with after the event. They must, however, understand that what they are hearing is not necessarily what they will get. The government is wont to speaking from both sides of its mouth. It hardly fulfills its promises. Those who have doubts should check with the young recruits of the Mutengene Police School. It had been reported that those young men had been promised FCFA 25,000 each if they marched on 11 February, but after the event, they only had FCFA 2,500. That was a huge risk for a small reward.
Also, some of the prisoners who had been used on that day, used the occasion to skip town, with many holding that the real prisoners are the politicians who are robbing the country blind. They argue that they are just victims of a system whose corruption has baffled all economic policies and analyses. The prisoners who are still at large contend that the government is obsessed with the idea of proving that it is winning this fight against Anglophones and this bee in its bonnet is tearing its reputation apart. You never win a war against your own people. You listen to your people and come up with solutions that will restore peace and make the country one and indivisible in the true sense of the expression. The country’s leaders are stuck in an old mentality and this mentality is destroying a country that was once touted across the world as Africa in miniature.
The old thinking that brute force and intimidation will tranquilize a people clearly belongs to the past. The Anglophone issue has clearly proven that. Attempts to intimidate Anglophones in 2016 have only radicalized an entire people. Anglophones are willing to go to jail. They are no longer scared. To them, the wall of fear has come down and the government needs to understand this. It needs to see the negotiating table as that place where long-term solutions to the issues can be found. Deploying troops in two cities will not bring back the lost peace to West Cameroon. The government has deployed troops in West Cameroon’s major cities of Bamenda and Buea, but the other cities are still being used by the striking West Cameroonians and even criminals as their playground. The remoteness of these areas implies that the government cannot really deploy many troops there, and even those deployed there, do not know the region very well. This has been compounded by the fact that the entire population is against anything Francophone and it is doing all it can to make life hard for those they consider as an “army of occupation.”
One would think that after almost seven months of unrest, the government would be all over the place trying to restore its authority and peace in the English-speaking part of the country. From the look of things, the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis with radicals and loose cannons burning schools and police stations in many parts of West Cameroon. Despite all these unfortunate situations, the Yaounde government seems to be frozen in its position. Things are spiraling out of control. Schools have not yet resumed and end-of-year exams, scheduled for May, are gradually hitting roadblocks, as irate West Cameroonians are working day and night to maintain the pressure on a government that is apparently suffering from senile decay and amnesia. Its indifference is legendary and this is costing the country its peace and reputation. The Anglophone educational system has been called into question, and today, the United Nations is investigating to see if certificates that will be hastily issued to students will be good enough for UNESCO to recognize. Even the economy is hemorrhaging jobs and business opportunities, as investors seek safe havens where they can hastily relocate their businesses.
While things are currently looking south in Cameroon, there are still avenues and opportunities for the government to work for lasting peace in Cameroon. Cameroon needs peace. It is a fractured country and the government’s legendary indifference is not helping things. Instead of locking itself up in an old mentality, the government should come down its ivory tower and engage Anglophones in genuine and meaningful discussions. The country is going down the drain and if care is not taken, chaos, that which is tearing apart many countries, could take hold and this will be more challenging to address. Times have changed and intimidation and dictates belong to the past.
Cameroonians are not very dependent on the government economically and financially as they used to some thirty years ago. The crisis that led to the devaluation of the CFA Franc and the reduction of civil service salaries that followed informed Anglophones that if they had to survive, then they had to come up with new and innovative ways of living. Due to marginalization, many families have sent their children abroad and those children are those who are calling the shots today. After more than thirty years in exile, those children do believe they too must have a say in the running of the country. They are those helping their parents, as the government has simply abdicated its social responsibilities. The social contract between the people and their government has simply been shredded by the government. Today, the guiding principle in Cameroon is “everybody for himself and God for us all”, and this has caused public servants to engage in the looting of state funds. The poor and weak have no place in a country that is gradually becoming a jungle.
Cameroon does not have universal health coverage and this health sector failure is rushing many Cameroonians to their graves. Education,just like health,is still expensive for many Cameroonians. It is the Diaspora that is helping to play the role the government has abandoned due to corruption and mismanagement. If the Anglophone Diaspora has been paying the piper, it also sincerely thinks it should be calling the tune. The government must understand this and it should consider making the Anglophone Diaspora a key partner in its development effort and political decisions. If it fails to incorporate the Anglophone Diaspora into its future plans, then it has planned to fail, as the Diaspora will continue to destabilize the country as it has done over the last seven months. It is time to sit up and accept that times have changed. Sinking into indifference will not take the country out of its predicament. Indifference comes with a huge price tag and Cameroonians are already paying the price for such appalling indifference.
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 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.