In a bid to defuse tension in the country and ensure that schools effectively resume on Monday, September 4, 2017, in the country’s Anglophone region, Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, on Wednesday, August 30, 2017, ordered that legal proceedings against those arrested within the context of the Anglophone crisis be discontinued, thereby paving the way for their release. In a typical Biya approach, the decision was crafted to make the 85-year old ruler to appear as a magnanimous leader who has his country’s best interest at heart.
As Anglophone leaders and activists continue to analyze the release decree signed by the secretary-general of the country’s presidency, many regime surrogates and praise-singers are working very hard to portray the senile leader as an astute politician whose love for his fatherland is second to none. Many of these surrogates and spin doctors argue that with the release of those wrongfully arrested in the country’s English-speaking region, students in the region will therefore have an opportunity to return to school. The issue of school resumption has been a millstone around the government’s neck for a very long time and it is expected to enable the country’s leaders, especially the ministers in charge of education (Cameroon has several ministers of education), to have a good night’s sleep after more than nine months of political chaos. The decision comes after several futile attempts by the government to find probable cause to deliver long jail sentences to Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba, Lord Justice Paul Ayah Abine and Mr. Mancho Bibixy whose release is still pending due to the court’s outdated processes that were never designed to serve the country’s citizens.
Despite the government’s heavy deployment of troops across the Anglophone region to provide much-needed security to students, parents who had also joined the strike last year, have not been courageous enough to let their children to return to school, as members of cloak-and-dagger organisations have been threatening to burn down schools that dare to open their doors during this moment considered as the appropriate time to right the wrongs of the past. And they have actually delivered on their promise on many occasions. Many schools have had to face their wrath and their hit-and-run tactics have remained a puzzle to the ill-equipped and poorly paid Cameroon Defense Forces.
It should be recalled that schools and courts in Anglophone Cameroon have not been operating for ten months following a strike by Anglophone lawyers and teachers, calling for better working conditions, quality education for children of English expression, withdrawal of Francophone judges and magistrates from jurisdictions wherein common law is practised, among others. But it was the government’s ferocious and Kafkaesque brutality that ensued that made a bad situation worse. Students and members of other socio-professional groups promptly joined the strike as a protest against what they considered to be an oppressive move against the Anglophone minority and this unfortunate situation has put the country and its government in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
But can the release of these wrongfully imprisoned Anglophones douse the fire? While Anglophones across the globe hail the release of their leaders and fellow compatriots, many have been quick at giving the government the rough edge of their tongue. Social media has been awash with disparaging remarks indicating that the government is once more up to its old antics. The regime, many critics argue, is noted for having a reputation for distracting the population with decrees and activities that are not related to the main issues facing the country.
Anglophones hold that the release of their fellow compatriots has brought some relief, but it has not addressed the issues that had triggered the crisis pitting them against the country’s government. More than 95% of Anglophones hold that they have been victims of government marginalization and they want this to be addressed forthwith. While some see extensive federalism as the ideal solution that will grant the regions greater power to address their development issues, others feel that it is time to walk away from the pseudo-union that Foncha and his team entered into with “La Republique”. Proponents of restoration think that it will be hard to bring Francophones and their leaders to reason, as they erroneously think that the English-speaking minority does not deserve to hold any strategic positions in the country’s government. It should be recalled that Anglophones have never held portfolios such as defense, communication, internal security, territorial administration and finance since Southern Cameroons and East Cameroon agreed to merge to constitute a single political entity in 1972. To many Anglophones, this implies that Francophones do not consider them as citizens in their own right.
But the Biya regime is not buying into any of the governance ideas being sold by the various Anglophone groups. Despite his declining health and the impact of age, the country’s president is not backing down and is prepared to take the heat that Anglophones are turning on him. He is hell-bent on pursuing his unpopular decentralisation program that has stalled for twenty-one years. For Anglophones, they are no longer interested in the decentralisation program that is enshrined in the country’s 1996 constitution. They hold that the program is an ill-wind and it will not address any of the issues they have put forth to the government.
While the moderates are still calling for a federal system, the independentists are gradually winning hearts and minds, as many moderates are gradually thinking that it is hard to live in the same country with Francophones whose vision of life compels them to take their hardship and suffering in stride. They hold that their philosophies of life are, unfortunately, at variance and fifty-six years of a tumultuous cohabitation have not helped them to narrow their differences. The separatists point to the militarization of the Anglophone zone that has been characterized by the raping of women and molestation of innocent citizens by the country’s defense forces as testimony to the fact that the government is not repentant and regretful of its errors of the past.
With the government and Anglophones still locked in their different positions, it is clear that finding a common ground will be a distant tomorrow affair. The government’s intransigence is not helping matters and the refusal of many Anglophones to meet the government half-way is unfortunately complicating things for the students whose future looks very bleak. Schools will surely not resume on September 4 and this is bad news for many students who have been looking forward to going back to school after ten months at home. While Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho Balla and Dr. Fontem have been released, their refusal to hold a press conference in Yaounde on Thursday, August 31, 2017 to announce that schools will resume on Monday, September 4, 2017 is robbing government officials of the victory they thought they would score following the president’s decree to release Anglophones arrested within the context of the Anglophone crisis.
Barrister Agbor Balla holds that it is not incumbent upon him and his fellow leaders to announce the end of the school boycott, especially as the government has not yet implemented any of the measures it had taken to appease Anglophones. In his view, some of those measures are too cosmetic and Anglophones will not settle for such a ruse which has brought untold hardship to them. Messrs. Balla and Fontem hold that the wishes and aspirations of the people must be met and it is up to Anglophones to determine if the government has met its obligations vis-à-vis them. This explains why their trip to Buea was delayed, though they finally left Yaounde at 11 pm on Thursday. But the failure to release Mancho Bibixy and others will be a bitter pill for many Anglophones, especially North Westerners, who are noted for their mercurial temperament. This is surely going to further diminish confidence in a government whose credibility has been called into question on many occasions.
If the government wants to defuse the current tension, it must be prepared to bend over backwards to appease Anglophones. It must understand that its job is not to oppress its people or win arguments, but to serve and protect the people by listening to them and implementing mutually agreed decisions. It must understand that there cannot be a government if there are no people. As the government keeps on dilly-dallying, it should understand that the gospel of restoration is quietly gaining grounds and before long, all Anglophones will be looking forward to living in a country that will only be a neighbour to “La Republique”.
By the editorial desk
A Cameroon Intelligence Report Production