Since the government of Cameroon brought death and destruction to its people in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon on October 1, 2017, an uneasy calm has enveloped the English-speaking regions of the country. The government’s raid is reported to have killed more than fifty people, with the international community calling for an investigation to shed more light on this troubling situation. Meanwhile, other organizations such as the Commonwealth, Francophonie and the African Union have called for restraint, while the United States has come out to decry the recklessness displayed by the government in its efforts to take the wind out of the struggle’s sail; a struggle that has played out in the country for almost one year.
Today, the country is going through its toughest moments, with its unity and indivisibility being put to the test. Anglophones are determined to walk away from the union and this is meeting stiff opposition from the government. Manyu division, which is considered by the Biya government as the Southern Cameroons Governing Council’s stronghold, is in total lockdown and residents have been advised to stay home. Even the sick do not have the right to go to the hospital, with many young men living in the dense equatorial forests where they are seeking refuge after government troops went on a killing spree on October 1.
Many young men have been shot in the foot and their homes have been destroyed in a raid many hold they are being punished for coming from the same region as Mr. Ayuk Julius Tabe, the Southern Cameroons Governing Council’s interim chairperson. Many West Cameroonians will remember this for a long time and it will strengthen their belief that they do not have a place in a united Cameroon that still considers them as second-class citizens, though in recent times, government officials, such as Mr. IssaTchiroma, the country’s communication minister, have been singing that Cameroon is one and indivisible.
As late as Sunday, October 8, 2017, the government was still arresting youths in places like Mamfe, Mile 16, Buea, Muyuka and Kumba in the South-west region in the false belief that the Anglophone crisis would disappear. The government is still stuck in the past as it thinks that brute force and manipulation can put an end to this crisis that has proven that the country’s unity is predicated on false and unreliable pillars. It is surprising to see that a government is treating its citizens with such disdain and it still believes that those citizens will accept its version of unity. The government’s response is not only making life hard to the residents of the Anglophone region, it is also radicalizing even the moderates who have been calling for dialogue with a view to seeking a long-lasting solution to the crisis that has put the country in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The government erroneously holds that its military actionsin the English-speaking region which have attracted a lot of condemnation across the world were designed to serve as a strong message to secessionists. It holds that those actionswill break the back of the Anglophone struggle that has been going on for almost one year. But the use of weapons against unarmed citizens does not look like an action that will restore peace and unity in the restive Anglophone regions. While there is some calm, it cannot be said with certainty that the grievances put forth by the English-speaking minority have been definitively dealt with in a military way. The calm is unsettling and it speaks to the tough times awaiting a country that is in the throes of a severe economic and social crisis.
From every indication, it is clear that militarizing the Anglophone region and preventing Anglophones from moving around freely will not restore the peace many people have said can only come through genuine and honest dialogue. On the contrary, the raids have left Anglophones with a deep feeling of bitterness and revenge which many people fear may come in a way nobody might be suspecting and this will surely complicate things and diminish the chances for any meaningful dialogue. Prior to last Sunday’s decision by the government to implement its plan, considered by many Anglophones as a genocidal plan, a few bombs had gone off in Bamenda and Douala and this does not augur well for a country that is in the throes of a terrorist menace in the northern region. Anglophones hold that the complete lockdown of the region and the shutting down of the Internet are ploys by the government to hide its atrocities and the true figures of the casualties.
Many question the rationale behind such extreme measures and clearly point out that if the government had yielded to calls for dialogue, things would have been easily sorted out and the country would have stopped being in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. They argue that the government’s action has simply put an end to the academic year as parents and students are scared of possible reprisals from those whose relatives have been killed or hurt by government troops. They point out that the ghost towns will intensify and this will further destroy the economy that is already on its knees.
The statement by the Southern Cameroons Governing Council’s chairperson on Sunday, October 8, 2017, speaks to the determination of Anglophones to stand up to a government that has been ineffective and arrogant throughout this crisis. It is obvious that Cameroon will be going through a rough patch as many Anglophones are prepared to hit the government where it hurts the most. The Governing Council’s Chairperson has called for his compatriots back home to remain firm and hopeful, adding that their freedom will not be given to them on a platter of gold. He urged them to avoid the blame game and embrace the struggle that will bring a different life to Anglophones who have been victims of marginalization for more than five decades. His speech, which was broadcast live on the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation, speaks to the determination of Anglophones to address, once and for all, those issues that have hurt them for a long time.
If the government thinks its raids and massacres will address the Anglophone crisis, then it has not understood the scope of the problem. Its management of this unfortunate situation has been, at best, mediocre. The inability of government officials to use the right language during this crisis speaks to their belief in brute force as the magic wand that can kiss goodbye to this problem that still has many more scenes which will surely be playing out in the days ahead. By militarizing and locking down the Anglophone region, the government is clearly helping to implement the ghost towns that have been going on in that region for one year.
The government might have been ineffective in dealing with this crisis, but it has the possibility of working with other stakeholders as well as the international community to lay to rest this crisis that is giving it a bad name. If the country’s president thinks that silence is golden in this context, then he has no clue of what is playing out in his country. Cameroon is imploding and it needs sound and effective leadership. His long and unexplained absence from the country clearly point to his inability to hold the country together. It is time for Mr. Biya to understand that a country belongs to the people and not to one person. Nobody, no matter how important, can be a president without a people. If he is sick, as it is rumored, then it is up to him to do the honorable thing. It will be wrong for him to bequeath chaos to the people of Cameroon once he leaves the political scene. The situation is serious and time is of the essence. He should not wait for a response from proponents of restoration before he wakes up from his long slumber. This response may not be the best and it may come in the form of a mushroom cloud and this will only make matters worse. There is still time for dialogue and it is up to the government to take the first step.
The Editorial Desk
Cameroon Intelligence Report