Nothing is as challenging as living in uncertainty. For some time now, Cameroon has been the land of uncertainty and this may not change anytime soon. September is just a few days away and the whole world is watching to see if schools will actually resume in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. For almost a year, Cameroon has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Anglophones who have been victims of a French-backed and government-orchestrated marginalisation plan, last year decided that they were sick and tired of the second-class citizenship imposed on them by calling for political change in a country that has functioned over the last four decades like an absolute monarchy. A strike triggered by teachers and lawyers was swiftly joined by students and other Anglophone socio-professional groups which have been waiting in the wings to make their voices heard. The government’s 15th Century, tough and inefficient response caused things to escalate. Lawyers were beaten and treated like common criminals for calling for a peaceful resolution of issues that were hindering them from effectively performing their job.
In a related event, University of Buea students who were seeking to meet university authorities following an imposition of extra charges on them were made to drink raw sewage though they had clearly indicated that they wanted the matter to be addressed in a peaceful manner. The images of those students being asked to sleep in raw, dangerous sewage hit social media platforms and the entire world was shocked at the government’s ill-advised decision to send troops to an environment wherein there was no trouble. These images and those of armless young men being mowed down by government troops in the North West Region gave Anglophones the evidence to present to the world that they were no longer welcome in a country they had thought was theirs too. Initial calls for federalism were therefore transformed into calls for immediate and total independence from a country Anglophones now refer to as “La Republique”. It should be recalled that the government has never arrested any soldiers for such inhuman acts and has never publicly apologized for the loss of human life.
Matters came to a head when negotiations between government officials and Anglophone leaders collapsed and Anglophone leaders were arrested and dumped in jails in Yaounde, far from where they had been arrested as if there were no jails wherever they had been arrested. This was immediately followed by the shutting down of Internet in the country’s two English-speaking regions. This Internet discrimination lasted for close to a hundred days and it drew condemnation from the entire world. This hit Anglophones like a ton of bricks. They immediately interpreted that decision as the government’s ploy to unleash a reign of terror on them and this was confirmed by the government’s unjustified and “manu militari” arrests of Anglophones. Even innocent girls and women who just wanted to cross over to the French-speaking part of the country for business or personal reasons were arrested. Speaking English was immediately made a crime in Cameroon and this resulted in many Anglophones running away from the country as the government pursued its unannounced decision to purge the country of “trouble-making Anglophones”.
The government’s 56-year marginalization plan and the purge that followed the Anglophone uprising have resulted in more than two million Anglophones leaving the country and this Diaspora that comprises of some of the finest professionals the country can boast of, is clearly behind all attempts at frustrating a government they hold is responsible for all the problems they have faced from birth. It is even normal these days for Anglophones to blame the government for any attacks by mosquitoes. These days, an Anglophone who fails to effect an erection will not hesitate to hold the government responsible for his failure to perform his marital obligations. Poor government!
To be fair to the government, it has made some efforts at instilling a sense of citizenship and patriotism in Anglophones who are more intent on quitting a flawed and lopsided union that Foncha and Muna had signed to promote their personal interests. Recently, the government created a special section for Anglophones at the National School of Administration Magistracy (ENAM), the school that trains administrators and judges. It has also withdrawn judges and magistrates of French expression who do not have an inkling of the common law that is practiced in the English-speaking part of Cameroon. It has also created a common law section at the Supreme Court and English is today a language that is easily used in French Cameroon albeit in a strange and unrecognizable accent.
But the government is still living in its legendary contradiction. While it is withdrawing judges, it is also sending other Francophone officials to the Anglophone region. Many Francophone Senior Divisional Officers (SDOs) are still calling the shots in English-speaking regions, with many of them still treating the locals with arrogance and disdain. All senior military and police officials are still Francophones who have not yet understood that there are cultural differences between Francophones and Anglophones. The old issues are still there and many will linger for a very long time as the government has the nasty habit of thinking that pressing issues can only be addressed by time. For Anglophones, time is of the essence. Their pain is deep and failure to address those issues simply implies that the government is ignoring them, especially as the head of state has recoiled into his palace and is simply not paying attention to them. To make matters worse, those who had caused the crisis to escalate like Issa Tchiroma, Fame Ndongo, Laurent Esso and Atanga Nji have all disappeared from the stage. Anglophones hold that they deserve an apology from the government for the marginalization and insults heaped on them following their demands for a federal system, although today the majority of Anglophones are looking forward to the day they will be living in an independent Southern Cameroons. They want Issa Tchiroma, Fame Ndongo, Laurent Esso and Atanga Nji to be fired from government as testimony to the fact that the government really regrets all what has happened to them. This is very unlikely as Mr. Biya, the country’s president, never acts based on any pressure or advice. Having ruled the country as a monarch for thirty-five years and with a heavy hand, it is unlikely that he will be mending his ways. Old habits die hard.
Regarding the resumption of schools in the English-speaking regions, while there was a lull during the holiday period, many observers thought the government would use that time to address a few issues, including the trial of Consortium leaders like Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho Balla, Dr. Fontem and Mr. Mancho Bibixy. But true to its philosophy, this time was used to deal with trivial issues that have not helped to defuse tensions in the English-speaking parts of the country. On the contrary, the government has sent its surrogates to all the nooks and crannies of the two Anglophone regions for them to convince parents to send their kids to schools they do not trust. These surrogates are all over the region like a bad rash, hoping that students will go to school. But the lack of confidence in the government has led to a lack of security in the region and it is likely that schools will not resume as scheduled, as Anglophones insist that their leaders and brothers wrongfully arrested and detained in Yaounde must be released as a precondition for any meaningful dialogue. That is, if the country’s monarch is even thinking of dialogue.
To keep the government permanently under pressure, Anglophones have formed many cloak-and-dagger organizations and these organizations are spreading across the region like ragweed. They are today acting like boogey men, scaring children from going to school. The kids are scared and rightly so, as many schools have been burnt down and no real actions have been taken by the government. It should also be recalled that many of the issues that triggered the teachers’ strike have not been addressed, especially the teaching of kids by Francophones who neither understand English nor the Anglophone culture.
Regarding school resumption in universities, the story is no different. Buea University students are still scared to death. Their mates who had been arrested during the strike are still languishing in jail and hopes of them being released anytime soon are gradually fading. The former vice chancellor of the University of Buea may have been fired, but there are lots of issues to be dealt with. Students are still very concerned about the use of brute force in the resolution of issues with university authorities. The new vice chancellor has been very “frugal” when it comes to outlining confidence-building measuresthat may lead to the appeasement of students, maybe for fear of upsetting his Yaounde masters. However, he must understand that silence is not always golden.
Getting children back to school in the Anglophone regions is not a tough job. This can be achieved if the government shows a lot of flexibility and good faith when it comes to dealing with Anglophones. Anglophones have shown a lot of resilience and courage over the last five decades. They have resisted the government and its manipulation for more than ten months. This is a clear testimony that Anglophones are very united and have a developed sense of purpose. They are also demonstrating that the government may bring the country’s entire military to the two regions, but that will not get the kids back to school. Anglophones are aware of the importance of education and many of them have, over the last forty years, spent huge amounts of money to finance their children’s university education abroad and in private colleges in Cameroon. They also understand that they are dealing with a government that speaks from both sides of its mouth. If schools resume without Anglophone leaders being released, then these leaders, considered by many as political prisoners, might never know freedom again.
If the government wants schools to resume, it must release all Anglophones arrested following the outbreak of the current crisis. The resumption of school has nothing to do with the deployment of the country’s army in the Anglophone region. Confidence-building measures can perform miracles where brute force and manipulation have failed. A cabinet reshuffle is long overdue. The government must think of bringing moderates and some Anglophone leaders into the government to appease the Anglophone population. Sending the old and tired faces Anglophones have seen for more than two decades will not address the situation. Those faces do not have any respect. They have lost credibility and no Anglophone in his right mind will pay attention to them. Anglophones want new leaders and they know who they want. They are against those the government erroneously markets as elites. These so-called elites have betrayed their people and the people have made up their minds. They must be cut out of government if peace has to return to that country. It is time to change tactics. The old strategy has collapsed. Only new and fresh faces in government and other senior positions can help calm flaring tempers in Anglophone Cameroon. There is no point using a strategy that has overstayed its welcome. It’s time to bring Anglophones back to the fold by using appeasement and not military action.
By the editorial desk