The Anglophone crisis that has rattled the government to its core seems to be a nightmare that will not go away anytime soon. The desperate government that has been accused by the country’s English-speaking minority of marginalization and total neglect of the English-speaking region has been scrambling for solutions to douse the fire that many believe could bring down the house of cards that has resisted for well over five decades. Different strategies and policy options have been employed to wean the determined people of Southern Cameroons from their decision to question the government’s commitment to the notion of national integration. The crisis was triggered by Anglophone lawyers who, prior to their demonstration in November 2016, had in several memoranda to the minister of justice, called for the creation of a Common Law Bar, a law school for Anglophones, a common law bench at the country’s Supreme Court and the translation of key legal documents into English. Faithful to its colonial oppression strategy, the government instead dispatched heavily armed policemen to read the riot act to these legal minds whose cardinal objective was to draw the attention of the public and international community to their sorry plight.
Far from producing the desired effect, the brutality that the lawyers suffered in the hands of the forces of law (lessness) and (dis)order instead emboldened the lawyers. They were later joined by Anglophone teachers who, themselves, had a long list of grievances that had not been addressed by the government for years. But the matter came to a head when students of the University of Buea, an Anglo-Saxon university, boycotted lectures and called on their authorities to repeal a CFAF 10,000 charge for any late payment of fees. The students had designed their strike to be peaceful, and instead of meeting the students to discuss their grievances, the university vice-chancellor, Prof. NalovaLyonga, instead ordered troops into the university to brutalize unarmed students who simply wanted to address their issues in a peaceful manner. The police did not only brutalize the students, they also obliged some of them to roll in raw sewage. Girls were raped and many students, some of whom did not even participate in the strike, were arrested and taken to unknown destinations. It is rumored that some of the students have died as a result of the torture and deplorable detention conditions. The government’s Kafkaesque intimidation tactics have unfortunately been counter-productive, as the strike has spread to all Anglophone cities and the entire region has been radicalized. Farmers, bricklayer, mechanics, traders, students and other socio-professional groups have all happily joined the strike and their participation in ghost town operations called by the outlawed Consortium, an umbrella organization for all Anglophone organizations fighting against the English-speaking region’s marginalization, has been amazing.
As the crisis continued to play out and spread throughout the region, the government felt it was time to change strategy. Ferocious brutality had failed to dissuade the people and their leaders. Money had to come in. The carrot and stick approach had to be used to nip the revolution in the bud. The country’s government has always used money to buy over its opponents, especially in the early nineties when there were calls for multiparty democracy in Cameroon and, in this case, it thought money could cause the ringleaders of the revolution to flip. But the government, made up of old and tired personalities who have been in the political scene for more than 50 years, simply failed to have a good read of the situation. There were lots of players in the game. The old political dispensation had hurt many people, sending thousands of Anglophones into exile. These people have been very bitter and will stop at nothing to upset the current political arrangement that has favored a few to the detriment of the majority.
Whatever the outcome of this unfortunate situation, the Anglophone Diaspora has become a formidable political force in Cameroon, albeit from a distance. The Anglophone Diaspora, born out of marginalization, has driven the revolution and has the resources to cause the government to lose sleep for many more months. It jumped into the fray to take over the leadership of the revolution, especially when the government made the grave error of arresting Consortium leaders and Paul Ayah, a prominent Supreme Court judge of Anglophone extraction. The Anglophone Diaspora, numbering about one million, with huge concentrations in the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Canada and United Kingdom, has been instrumental in reducing government authority in the English-speaking region and cutting down government ministers to normal human proportions. The Diaspora is rich and it includes some of the finest professionals the country can boast of. Engineers, translators, interpreters, economists, journalists, medical doctors, nurses, computer scientists and finance experts, many of whom are responsible for the wellbeing of their families back home. They are the ones paying the piper, so they are clearly calling the tune. They are therefore capable of making the region ungovernable. The events of the last three months stand to testify to this assertion.
The challenge is enormous and new to the government. Its strategies have not produced the desired effect. Despite missions by the prime minister and the Anglophone elite to the English-speaking region to talk parents into letting their children go to school, schools in West Cameroon are currently not in session. The heavy deployment of troops in West Cameroon has not helped matters. Things have taken a turn for the worse as even children now understand that the government has never been there for them. Anglophones are clearly sick and tired of a system that has reduced them to second-class citizens. Their way of life has been trampled upon and the arrogance of Francophone administrators in the Anglophone zone has embittered many English-speaking Cameroonians who are now calling for a restoration of statehood. Of more annoyance is the fact that even corporations in Anglophone Cameroon are being headed by Francophones and many arrogantly refuse to speak English, a language understood by the local population. Many Anglophones point to the national oil refinery known by its French acronym as SONARA located in Limbe, the Southwest region’s port city, and whose staff is predominantly Francophone. While the locals are living in grinding poverty, Francophones are earning astronomical salaries from the refinery and treating the locals with disdain. The government has a hot potatoes on its hands. Addressing these grievances is key to the restoration of confidence and the people have lost trust in a government that hardly keeps its own promises.
However, all hopes are not lost. Though Anglophones have upgraded their demand for a federal system to a restoration of statehood, there is still room for dialogue if the government stops playing possum. The government knows why Anglophones are threatening to walk away from the union that was put together in 1972. The predominantly Francophone government in Yaoundé has not complied with the terms of the Fumban Agreement that was signed in 1972. It has not even lived up to the glorious expectations of the English-speaking minority which voluntarily opted to join French-speaking Cameroon in a free and fair referendum. The people’s grievances are many and challenging, but they could be easily addressed if both parties go to the negotiating table with a high dose of honesty and seriousness.
However, for any talks to take place, the government must show a lot of goodwill. Consortium leaders as well as all those arrested as a result of the revolution must be released as demanded by Anglophones. The current situation is unhealthy and government must understand it can no longer reinstate the status quo ante. The government must recognize that Consortium leaders are the only people mandated by the English-speaking minority to negotiate on its behalf, although these leaders have been charged with terrorism and chaos, charges trumped up to intimidate the English-speaking population of Cameroon. This demand is not hard to meet as many of those detained were not arrested according to the law. Many were simply kidnapped and others have been held in odious detention conditions. It should be recalled that the law was made for man and not man for the law. Sticking to the law in this context simply implies that the government wants the current situation to last for a long time and this is not healthy for a country whose economy has been caught in the throes of a devastating economic crisis. Like Anglophone leaders, the government has to walk away from its position that is rooted in intimidation and violence. The Anglophone region should also be demilitarized and Internet connection restored. Many Anglophones hold that it is preposterous for their children to return to schools that have been militarized and do not have Internet connection. For those demands that can only be addressed over the long term, the government and Anglophone leaders must agree on clear timelines. The dialogue should be moderated by a third neutral party such as the United Nations and/or the African Union. Anglophone leaders must also show a high degree of flexibility. They must understand that all their demands cannot be met in the short term. The country’s government can start using the clergy to set the stage for such dialogue and the Diaspora should be included in the discussions. It is impossible to circumvent the Anglophone Diaspora as it has played a key role in the conflict that has left the government helpless and powerless. If these steps are taken, the stalemate could be defused and Cameroonians will once more work together and look to the future as a strong and united people living happily in a one, indivisible country.
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.