The Anglophone crisis that has been playing out for four months in Cameroon will surely not be petering out anytime soon. What started like a lawyers’ demonstration has unfortunately spiraled out of control with the government scrambling for solutions, most of which are inefficient and do not seem to reflect what English-speaking Cameroonians have been asking for. The country’s ruling party has always prided itself on its democratic credentials, though many analysts and the country’s opposition hold that such a claim is questionable. The Anglophone crisis has clearly put those credentials to the test and the government appears to be struggling in that regard. Its violent reaction to Anglophone demonstrations and strikes speaks to its inability to use modern conflict prevention and management concepts to stabilize a country that is sliding down a dangerous slope. Critics of the government argue that the government has the nasty habit of skirting around the issues and its creation of a bilingualism commission is more of a distraction than a solution.
The bilingualism commission is one of the measures the government had floated as a means to address some of the issues raised by Anglophones. Its creation did not generate any excitement among Cameroonians. Members of the commission were appointed yesterday, March 15, 2017 by the country’s president and while it is too early to judge the commission’s work, it is clear from the appointments that the government is not ready to walk away from its old ways. The commission will be chaired by Peter Mafany Musonge, a former prime minister, who drew a lot of flak last month for his hate speech delivered in Buea, the south west regional capital, against North westerners. Mr. Musonge, himself an Anglophone, has strong faith in the system that his follow Anglophones are decrying. The system is being criticized for being generous to a few to the detriment of the vast majority. Mr. Musonge could be an experienced politician, but critics hold that his knowledge of bilingualism and multiculturalism leaves much to be desired. They claim he has benefited from the cronyism that is the government’s hallmark. They point to the three key positions he holds in the country – senator, grand chancellor of national orders and chairperson of the newly minted bilingualism commission – as evidence of the moral decadence that is undermining the country’s development efforts. With his busy schedule and age – 75 years – many critics argue that he may not be able to deliver on his mandate as the commission chairperson. Many Cameroonians question the rationale behind giving one person three demanding jobs when there are thousands of effective and efficient Cameroonians begging to serve their country selflessly.
Though the commission will also have objective minds like David Abouem A Tchoyi, a seasoned administrator with exceptional mastery of English and French, many Anglophones hold that his presence on that commission is basically cosmetic as he is the only appointee who does not truly belong to the ruling party. Many, especially among the Anglophone Diaspora, argue that such an important commission should have been the subject of wide consultations with opposition parties and the Diaspora that has become a formidable political and economic force in Cameroon. They contend that the government is still ignoring Anglophones and their problems though there are four West Cameroonians on the twelve-member commission. The Anglophone Diaspora that has been the force behind the current revolution, clearly believes that it has a political and an economic role to play in that country. Its members contend that the government has to change its ways, if Cameroon has to make giant strides towards economic development and political stability. Most Anglophones are for a federal system which they believe can foster stability and unity. But the government is still not buying into their rhetoric. It has been accusing them of fostering disunity and fomenting trouble. The two camps are frozen in their positions and this has created a messy stalemate that is hurting the country and there is no end in sight.
The Anglophone problem is a true nightmare to this once-upon-a-time oasis of peace. It is a millstone around the neck of the government which is gradually collapsing under its weight. The ordinary Francophone is worried and many are scared that Anglophones might walk away from the union that was stitched together in 1961 between West and East Cameroon. Anglophones hold that the union has been predicated upon lies right from the beginning and that a review of the system is long overdue. They argue that without an extensive review, the English-speaking minority will only be left with the option of quitting their French-speaking brothers. Walking away from that ‘political marriage’ implies taking with them about 60% of the country’s wealth. The Anglophone region is blessed with many resources, including oil, gas, diamond and timber. Its rich sub-soil has brought lots of economic benefits to the country. For almost 50 years, the Rio Del Rey estuary has been the source of more than 90% and at times 100% of all the country’s hydrocarbons, specifically oil.
In 2014, Cameroon exported US$5.88 billion worth of products, of which US$2.65 billion, about CFAF 1,650 billion, was from crude oil. This is a significant amount of money and no government can afford to stay on the sidelines and watch manna vanish into thin air. The Cameroon government’s indifference to the Anglophone crisis is giving secessionists a field day. Many of them are working hard to win hearts and minds among Anglophones moderates who, right from the beginning, stood for a federal system that will give the regions greater autonomy and authority over their lives. But the delay to talk to Anglophone leaders, many of whom are in jail or exile, is compounding instead of helping matters. The radicals have taken their gospel of secession to the international community and there is a significant crowd that is listening to their gospel with rapt attention. If a secession were to happen, it would be a very costly mistake on the part of the government that is being accused around the world of being indifferent to the country’s declining political and economic climate. Every nation’s economic progress and development depends on its political stability. Instability spells doom for a country’s prosperity and prolong periods of instability could be a death sentence on many investments and investors do not like uncertainty. Allowing the Anglophone problem to fester is tantamount to committing economic and political suicide.
The stalemate is hanging over people’s heads like the Sword of Damocles. Every blessed day, Cameroonians believe that a silver lining might appear on this cloud that has been hanging over the nation for four good months. Anglophones have clear demands. They have been victims of marginalization for over five decades. They want this to stop and if it has to stop, then the government cannot continue to deal with issues in a cavalierly manner. They want a federal system that will guarantee their rights and protect their culture. While many of them could be bilingual, they still see French as the oppressor’s language and would like to reduce contact with a language that reminds them of their economic and political sorrows. Unfortunately, the government is not listening and the president has stated clearly that the structure of the state is not up for any discussion. All those who have openly called for that have felt the government’s wrath. Anglophone leaders are currently languishing in jail just for dreaming of federalism. Barrister Agbor Balla, Judge Paul Ayah and Dr. Fontem Neba are paying the price for calling for a more effective system of government. A system that has been tested and proven to be effective and reliable in countries such as Canada and the United States. The Canadian High Commissioner in Cameroon, René Cremonese, recently underscored the effectiveness of federalism, advising that the Cameroon government could borrow from the Canadian experience to end the ongoing Anglophone crisis in the country.
Speaking recently during a media exchange organized by “Le Club des Journalistes Politiques du Cameroun” in Yaoundé, the Canadian diplomat said through frank political dialogue and debates, his country was able to address grievances raised by minority French-speaking Canadians many years ago. He added that “I think like I said, the most important thing is to be able to share the experiences we had in Canada and to see whether or not these experiences can be used by Cameroon to address the current situation.”
The Anglophone problem has made its way to the international community. Many people around the world believe and strongly that federalism holds out a lot of hope for a country that is struggling to hold together a bunch of people that are culturally different. This problem needs to be addressed and the government holds the key. If Cameroonians have to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the government must engage Anglophone leaders in frank and sincere negotiations. Anglophones feel marginalized. They want to be Cameroonians, but they want their country to be federal so that they can run most of their own affairs. The old political dispensation has fallen short of their glory. It has brought them untold hardship and pain. They are calling on the government to listen instead of dictating to them. After all, a true government is that which listens and provides the people with what they need. True leaders don’t impose, they dialogue and seek solutions. Cameroonian leaders therefore have to listen, if they don’t, then the current situation will persist and the country’s future will surely be murky. The conflict is already taking its toll on the country’s economy and unity. The way forward is simple. The government has to come down its ivory tower to dialogue so as to put an end to this messy situation.
By Joachim Arrey
Cameroon Concord News Group