The Anglophone problem that has played out for more than seven months in Cameroon seems to be fizzling out, especially as the government is quietly yielding to demands made by Anglophones. Last week, the government finally yielded that the country’s Diaspora is a key element in the country’s efforts to overcome unemployment and poverty. After many years of pressure from Cameroonians living abroad, the government has finally yielded by creating a Department of Diaspora Affairs in the Ministry of External Relations. The department will seek to address issues facing Cameroonians living abroad and will enable them invest back home if they so wish. In the same vein, the Minister of External Relations will host a Diaspora forum in Yaounde from 28-30 June 2017 and prominent on the agenda will be possibilities of acquiring property back home while living abroad and how to invest in Cameroon.This is an acknowledgement of the role the country’s Diaspora can play in its development efforts.
From every indication, Cameroon’s Anglophone minority is gradually changing things in the country. What started as a street demonstration organized by lawyers and teachers is transforming the country in a way nobody could have imagined. Today, the country is slowly being reformed and bilingualism that has existed on paper for many decades is gradually becoming a reality. Francophone ministers who saw English as a foreign language are gradually learning and expressing themselves in English. It was a pleasure to see the Minister of External Relations, Lejeune MbellaMbella, deliver an entire speech in English during a press briefing on Friday, June 23, on the upcoming Diaspora forum. It was indeed amazing to see him deliver that in perfect English. This may not be music to the ears of Anglophone extremists, but they must also understand that it is also a mark of humility and objectivity to acknowledge efforts the government is making to defuse the tension. If any meaningful dialogue has to take place, Anglophones must learn to acknowledge that some steps have been taken to make life better for them, although real issues still linger.
The issue of dual nationality that many members of the Cameroon Diaspora are looking forward to, might not feature on the agenda of the upcoming Diaspora forum and this is pushing many members of the country’s Diaspora to question the rationale behind such a forum when a key issue is being intentionally left out of the agenda. It should be mentioned that the creation of the Diaspora Affairs Department is the latest in a series of measures the Yaounde government has taken to appease Anglophones who are threatening to walk away from their Francophone counterparts if the government does not address the issues they have put on the table for discussion, and in the event of such an unfortunate situation, they will be walking away with more than 40% of the country’s wealth, especially oil and gold as the South West Region of the country is endowed with many mineral resources.
The government has been seeking to placate Anglophones since its intimidation strategy flopped. It has created a special section at the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), the school that trains magistrates and administrators, and some eighty Anglophones will soon be admitted and trained in this school to be transferred to different locations in the Anglophone region. Similarly, only Magistrates and judges with sound common law knowledge will be transferred to Anglophone Cameroon as a confidence building measure.
In the same vein, a common law bench has been established at the country’s Supreme Court and it will be headed by an Anglophone. There are also plans to withdraw Francophone teachers from schools in Anglophone Cameroon, especially in technical colleges where many Francophones teachers have been plying their trade to the dismay of Anglophone students who hold that their Francophone teachers have only rudimentary knowledge of English.
While many moderates and government supporters are hailing these confidence building measures, many Anglophones are still skeptical about the government’s intentions, claiming that the Francophone dominated government cannot be trusted as its dishonesty is legendary. They argue that the government is used to speaking from both sides of its mouth and its promises are not worth the paper on which they are written. They claim that the confidence-building measures may be designed to win hearts and minds in the Anglophone region given that there are elections in the offing. It should be recalled that due to the Anglophone problem, the ruling party has died a natural death in the Anglophone region as most Anglophones do not want to have anything to do with a political party that has helped to enslave them for decades.
The Anglophone Diaspora, for its part, is still calling on Anglophones to keep an eye on the ball. They argue that what appears to be the light at the end of the tunnel may not necessarily be the natural light desired by Anglophones, but the light of an on-coming train that may crush them. They warn that it is too early to celebrate or embrace the government as their leaders and some one hundred Anglophones are still languishing in jails in Francophone Cameroon where they are being held and tried in courts considered by the Anglophone minority as Kangaroo courts.
The Anglophone Diaspora also argues that the main issues remain unaddressed. Federalism which was among the grievances remains a sticking point as government surrogates and the country’s president had earlier declared that the form of the state was non-negotiable and was not up for discussion. Anglophones hold that the unitary system has been an ill-wind to them. It has robbed them of their dignity and made life unbearable for many who could neither speak nor write French. Members of the Anglophone Diaspora argue that with the backing of the French government, the government of Cameroon has marginalized Anglophones for more than five decades. They hold that the government’s marginalization policy is responsible for them leaving their country for distant lands where destructive loneliness and biting cold are blighting their lives.
In their view, this is their opportunity to get all their grievances addressed. For federalists, they are looking forward to the day they will be able to manage their own affairs without the Francophone government in Yaounde imposing a lot of things on them. They hold that a federal system that grants the regions greater autonomy and the right to elect their own governors and mayors will be ideal for them. They say they are sick and tired of government appointees who disrespect and impoverish the population just because they owe their positions to the head of state. They argue that anything short of that will only go a long way in prolonging the stalemate that is crippling the country’s economy and giving the government a black eye.
For the secessionists, they think that the government is guilty as charged and its efforts to appease Anglophones constitute an admission of guilt. They argue that having a clean break with Francophone Cameroon will be the ultimate solution as the past decades have clearly pointed out that no Francophone government in Cameroon can be trusted. The secessionists, led by SCNC, have taken their gospel to all the nooks and crannies of the world and they are winning many hearts and minds, as the government delays to make a decision on the form of the state. They assert that Anglophones and Francophones have ways of life that are clearly at variance. Anglophones are participatory in their approach while Francophones are very centralizing and they consider the president as a demi-god. They claim that a divorce from Francophone Cameroon will be the ideal solution, an idea many Francophones are really averse to.
To bridge the gap in thinking, the government has recently established a bilingualism commission chaired by Mr. Peter MafanyMusonge, a former prime minister who is being criticized by Anglophones forspreading hate speech against people from the North West region of a Cameroon as a strategy to split the Anglophone minority and kill the Anglophone struggle. Mr. Musonge who had not measured the anger of the Anglophone minority, had thought old ways would help bring about peace in the marginalized Anglophone region. But he later learned that Anglophones had learned the lessons of the past and would not yield to the government’s divide-and-rule tactics.
However Anglophones are more focused on the big picture. They argue that addressing the injustice that has been theirs over the last five decades does not start and end with setting up an emasculated commission on bilingualism. Theyargue that the system is an Augean stable and it is time to cleanse it. They point to the appointment of senior police officers and the military brass. Cameroon has more than thirty army generals, but Anglophones do not have more than three generals even though they account for 20% of the population. They also point to the running of state-owned corporations as testimony to the marginalization that has become normal in a country that is supposed to theirs too. It should be pointed out that an Anglophone has never been the managing director of the country’s oil refinery, SONARA, even when the refinery and oil fields are located in Anglophone Cameroon. 95% of SONARA staff are Francophones and these employees have been treating Anglophones with contempt.
It should be recalled that Anglophones have some of the finest petroleum engineers Cameroon can boast of. Many of them have been trained in some of the best American, Canadian and British universities, but because of government marginalization and injustice, many of these world-class engineers are plying their trade in distant lands such as Canada and the United States. Canada’s Alberta oil sands bear the hallmarks of Anglophone Cameroonian petroleum engineers. Houston, the United States petroleum headquarters, is home to some of the finest Anglophone Cameroonian petroleum experts, many of whom are occupying senior positions, but cannot go back home to serve their country because of flagrant injustice against Anglophones.
While the government is working hard to appease Anglophones, many political experts are advising the country’s minority to keep its eye on the ball. The end goal is not yet attained. Anglophones are sick and tired of a unitary system that has caused a lot of pain and suffering in the country. It is a system that is predicated on cronyism; a system wherein a party stalwart can hold more than three top positions while the poor keep on dying in heart-breaking circumstances. While federalism is not a panacea, federalists hold that it will surely go a long way in reducing the corruption that has become the current system’s hallmark. They hold that it will give Cameroonians the ability and opportunity to determine their own fate and destiny.
But fans of the unitary state, many of whom are Francophones, hold that it is an ideal system. For decades, a few who have had the opportunity to be part of the cabal have played God and they have been working very hard to sustain the status quo. The Anglophone minority has succeeded to sell its story of federalism to many Francophones and many are also looking forward to the creation of that federal structure that will reduce their pain and suffering. If anybody had doubts that a few can change a system, Anglophones in Cameroon have the answer. But while rejoicing, they must still keep their eye on the ball. The light at the end of the tunnel may not be genuine. Though the cloud is still dark, it is possible to see the first signs of the silver lining on that thick, dark cloud. Cameroon is changing and will surely be changing for the better. The government may be dragging its feet on the issue of federalism, but the only other option is secession. The government of Cameroon has never given anything to Anglophones on a platter of gold. For those who have a good memory, they can attest to the fact that the GCE Board was established after many Anglophones had been arrested and brutalized. The University of Buea, an Anglo-Saxon university, was established in the early nineties after the frustration of Anglophone students had boiled over. A few lives were lost, but the university was granted. It is therefore normal for the government to drag its feet on the issue of federalism, but it will finally yield, especially as Anglophone activists have demonstrated that they have the capacity to make the Anglophone region ungovernable.
By Joachim Arrey, Ph.D
Cameroon Concord News Group
About the Author: The author of this piece is a keen observer of Cameroon’s political and economic landscape. He has published extensively on the country’s political and economic development, especially in the early 90s when the wind of change was blowing across the African continent. He has served as a translator, technical writer, journalist and editor for several international organizations and corporations across the globe. He studied communication at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and technical writing in George Brown College in Toronto, Canada. He is also a trained translator and holds a Ph.D.