With the third term of the school year scheduled to start on Monday, April 17, 2017, government officials have stepped up their actions to ensure schools effectively open in the Anglophone zone where students and teachers have spent almost the entire school year at home. A strike started by Anglophone lawyers and joined by almost all Anglophones in 2016, has left schools closed and exposed the marginalization orchestrated against Cameroon’s English-speaking minority. The strike has also exposed the government’s inability to deal with socio-professional and political issues, a situation that has eroded the government’s authority and credibility.
Over the last two weeks, government officials have had some relief, as schools closed for the much celebrated Easter break. However, with schools scheduled to start this week, the government is once more scrabbling for solutions to the Anglophone problem that has become a nightmare that will not go away anytime soon. Cameroon’s three ministers of education are once more losing sleep as Anglophones students and teachers stick to their guns. The core issues have not yet been properly addressed to ensure things return to normal. The strikes that have paralyzed the English-speaking part of Cameroon are gradually spreading to the Francophone region and this is striking fear in the minds of many government officials.
Federalism and the imprisonment of Anglophone leaders are still standing in the way of genuine dialogue. Anglophones do not trust the government and despite explanations by some government surrogates that some of these issues could only be addressed over the long term, Anglophone teachers and parents are not buying into the government’s rhetoric which, in their view,is not worth its weight in gold. The government is being accused of speaking from both sides of its mouth and despite the numerous presidential decrees and ministerial orders, Anglophone teachers, parents and students have remained frozen in their positions. They hold that the decrees and orders are not even worth the paper on which they are written. The government, according to Anglophones, has reneged on many of its promises, many of which are always designed to score political points. Anglophones point to the 1996 constitution that has been in the drawer for twenty-one years. Many hold that if key provisions of this constitution had been implemented, Cameroon would have avoided this unfortunate situation in which it finds itself and life would have been worth living in this resource-rich country.
Over the last six months, the government has used a slew of measures to ensure schools resume in the Anglophone zone, but the English-speaking minority has, through peaceful civil disobedience, made mincemeat of all government efforts to send teachers and students back to school. Government policy has so far been focused on getting schools in major Anglophone cities to resume. In rural areas, grass and rodents have taken over schools. While its efforts to have schools reopened could be commendable, the government must understand that most schools in Cameroon are in the rural areas and its inability to generate employment opportunities and create wealth for many Anglophones is pushing many parents to question the rationale behind sending their kids to school when many of them end up struggling to put food on the table after many years in school.
The government’s message seems to be falling on deaf ears. As far as Anglophones are concerned, the government is flogging a dead horse. Its efforts to please the international community are making it look ridiculous. Its numerous actions to restore its authority have always collapsed like a pack of cards and many analysts hold that the government has been shooting itself in the foot by sending out the wrong signals. It has been carrying a bloodshot eye ever since Anglophones decided to break rank and challenge it on many fronts. According to Anglophones, the government is guilty as charged and only a genuine appeasement policy will restore confidence. The government is replete with hard-liners who clearly belong to a different epoch and their heads seem to be stuck in a thick cloud. Its appeasement strategy has, at best, been shoddy. Its basket of measures has not been convincing. It is bereft of sincerity and humility, and this has given Anglophone teachers and students an opportunity to enjoy the longest holiday in the country’s educational history. Its mix of policies smacks of incompetence and bad faith, and this has made the conflict to stick around for a very long time.
Its carrot and stick approach is only helping to dent its image as the people have turned down even its most luscious carrots. Anglophones understand that what could be as luscious as locust today, could one day be as bitter as “coloquintida”. For the stick, Anglophones are simply not paying attention to it. The wall of fear has collapsed and Anglophones are determined to wear down the government until it understands that old ways and strategies can no longer work in an era where many Cameroonians are self-reliant and less dependent on a government whose corruption and ineffectiveness are spreading death, pain and suffering across the country.
The country’s English-speaking minority wants its young students to go to school, but not in the context where they will be taught by Francophone teachers whose knowledge of English is, at best, embryonic. The government’s harmonization and integration policy has hurt many Anglophones. It has unfortunately resulted in Anglophones being “Francophonized” and this is leading to the creation of “intellectual hybrids” among Anglophones who, in many cases, end up being unemployed because their knowledge and skills are inadequate. Without the proper skills, language level and knowledge, these “half-baked” Anglophone graduates cannot ply their trade in a global village that is very demanding when it comes to intellectual refinement. While many countries are embracing the new mantra that calls for citizens across the globe to think globally and act nationally, the Cameroon educational system seems to be fostering the opposite and this is robbing many Anglophone Cameroonians of great opportunities abroad. The world has become a global village and a sound education is the master key to a better life even beyond a citizen’s territorial borders. Anglophones think they do not have that master key and the government is investing little or nothing to put them on the same pedestal with their Francophone colleagues.
While educational authorities are trying to put their best foot forward to clean up the mess they created six months ago, their colleagues of the justice ministry are still caught up in their cobweb of confusion. Like Anglophone schools, Anglophone courts have also been closed for more than six months. This has given criminals the liberty to ply their trade without fear, especially in places like Akwaya and Eyumojock. In these places, many administrative officers have been rendered helpless and some have even been fired by the local population. In Akwaya, in particular, the locals have been replacing the Cameroon flag with the Nigerian flag. They are currently considering themselves as Nigerians until such a time that an appropriate solution to the Anglophone problem is found. They hold that the Yaounde government has marginalized them for decades, pointing to the absence of roads and modern hospitals in their region.
They view the arrest of Ayah Paul, an illustrious son of Akwaya, as an insult to honest citizens who have been victims of a well-orchestrated marginalization scheme. They insist that until Paul Ayah is released, the government will never have its administrative officers in that part of the country. They contend that the government will never send troops to that part of Manyu Division as there are no roads and Nigeria will never allow large numbers of troops to transit through its territory in order to get to Akwaya. In such a context, it will be hard for courts to operate and deliver the justice that is supposed to ensure peace. The country’s administrative and legal systems, they say, are ineffective and dysfunctional. The judges, they contend, are corrupt and many have only rudimentary knowledge of English. This explains why Anglophone lawyers have called for the practicing of Common Law and the withdrawal of Francophone judges and magistrates from courts in the English-speaking part of Cameroon.
In a bid to get the legal system running once again in Anglophone Cameroon, last week, the President of the Cameroon Bar Association, Barrister Ngnie Kamga Jackson, announced that striking Common Law Lawyers would next month call off their strike. This implies that the courts will be open for business on May 2, 2017. But many Common Law lawyers are already characterizing his statement as part of the Laurent Esso staged “comedy of helplessness”. They contend that the strike was never called by the Cameroon Bar Association president, adding that Mr. Ngnie Kamga had no right to call off the strike. Many of the Common Law lawyers hold that they are no longer part of the Cameroon Bar Association as they have formed their own bar association which has, unfortunately, been proscribed by the government.
While the government has yielded to some of the demands of Anglophone lawyers, the lawyers, for their part, are looking forward to the implementation of those measures the government has announced. The government, they hold, cannot be trusted as it has, on many occasions,reneged on its own promises. They argue that the government is noted for creating many commissions on many important national issues, but no concrete actions are ever taken after many years of investigations. Many presidential decrees, they argue, have remained dead letters, as their implementation leaves much to be desired.
If the government has to stop flogging a dead horse, it must change its strategies. Old strategies have failed and have gone a long way in causing the Anglophone problem to take root and snowball. If schools and courts have to resume, the government must release Anglophone leaders who, the population contends, were kidnapped by the government and shipped to Yaounde. The government must establish a comprehensive appeasement programme and put in place implementation mechanisms that will inspire hope and confidence in the people.Many observers hold that Cameroon is gradually sliding into chaos. The presence of the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, Mr. François Louncény Fall, in Yaounde last week speaks to the fear the international community has regarding the country’s Anglophone crisis. Mr. Fall used the occasion to urge Cameroonian authorities to examine with diligence the difficulties of the populations and entrepreneurs of the English-speaking regions of North West and South West, which have been deprived of Internet since mid-January 2017. “This is a deplorable situation. But I am convinced that this important development and communication tool will be gradually re-established throughout Cameroon”, he said before leaving Cameroon on 13 April after a four-day official visit.
Cameroon has to avoid chaos because in the event of chaos, the impact could be far-reaching. The government has the responsibility of ensuring that Cameroon remains stable. If Cameroon fails as a nation, the entire Central African sub-region will be thrown into a pretty mess that will destabilize the entire sub-region for decades. If it wants to spare the country such a tragedy, it must release all those arrested following the outbreak of the Anglophone problem. It must also understand that the law was made for man and not man for law. If it continues to stick to the law, then it really wants to see Cameroon go down the dangerous path of political chaos that has weakened its neighbours.
Dr. Joachim Arrey
Cameroon Concord News Group