After more than seven months, the unfortunate political situation playing out in Cameroon has not known any significant changes, despite many promises by the government aimed at appeasing the rebelling Anglophone minority. Over the last months, other events capable of overshadowing the Anglophone crisis have occurred, but through careful planning and effective communication, Anglophones have ensured that their problem stays on the front burner. They have continued to use all means available to them to ensure the world does not forget that a linguistic minority is being marginalized and mistreated in Cameroon. With the Anglophone Diaspora’s help, Cameroon has been put in the global spotlight, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. The Anglophone problem remains a pain in the government’s side. It has given it a bad name, placing it among the most dangerous human rights abusers. The United Nations, the Vatican and other partners of the country have all called on the country’s leaders to find long-lasting solutions to this problem that might throw the entire sub-region into an unprecedented turmoil, if not well-managed.
To brush up its image, the government has already made many concessions. Its to-do list is incredibly long. The promises have come from all sectors and today, every Francophone official in Cameroon is doing his best to speak English in a bid to placate Anglophones who feel cheated and abused by both the government and ordinary Francophones. However, for many Anglophones, government promises are not worth their weight in gold. They are more cosmetic than real. The government is used to speaking from both sides of its mouth and going to it for solutions is like looking for love in all the wrong places. Anglophones are still very mad at the government and they hold that it must release their leaders and display a lot of good faith for any meaningful discussions to take place. They argue that, having suffered for fifty-six years due to the government’s policy to marginalize them, the aging government must take concrete actions to convince Anglophones that it is serious with the whole notion of national unity.
Anglophones are also pointing to the continuous arrest of their fellow brothers and the detention of their leaders as evidence that the government is not repentant about the destruction and pain it has caused the people of the North West and South West regions. They argue that as long as Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mr. Mancho Bibixy remain in detention, there will never be peace in Cameroon. It should be pointed out that more than 100 Anglophones are still being held in jails across the country and many had been killed at the height of the crisis, while some have died due to harsh detention conditions. The pain and suffering this situation has caused Anglophones and the gimmicks the government is playing are simply causing the crisis to linger.
Over the last couple of months, the trial of Anglophone leaders has been going on, with no end in sight. Anglophones expect the government to release their leaders so that real and genuine discussions can take place. The pain of marginalization and the killing of fellow Anglophones have left the North West and South West regions in pain. Schools have remained closed since October 2016, though the government gives the impression that things are well on track. Courts have remained closed across the entire Anglophone region for more than seven months following the beating of striking lawyers and the arrest of Barrister Agbor-Balla who is now a symbol of the struggle.
The government has been up to its old antics, believing that time will be its ally in this fight. It strongly believes that by continuously adjourning the case against Anglophone leaders, it will win the war of nerves it is waging against Anglophones. It erroneously holds that with time, Anglophones will simply forget about their leaders who are in jail and life will return to the ‘old normal’.
From every indication, the government appears not to have a full understanding of the issues and the current economic and political contexts. It holds that poverty will bring striking Anglophones to their knees. The current crisis has changed Cameroon forever. Anglophones are no longer scared of a regime that has brought untold hardship to its own people. Time and technology are on their side. Communication has become cheaper and easier, thanks to ICTs. Information can easily be shared and mobilization has become a lot easier. Over the last thirty years, the government has done a lot to impoverish Anglophones, but this has now changed following the advent of ICTs. ICTs are enabling many Anglophones to seek online opportunities. They understand that ridding themselves of a patronizing government is the best path to tread. With globalization, driven by ICTs, Anglophones are seeking opportunities abroad while still living in their country. Many Anglophones are working online and earning incomes while still fighting for better living conditions at home. The Anglophone Diaspora is shoring up their efforts and this is helping the population to stay the course. The people are determined to change Cameroon in a big and positive way and no government gimmicks will diminish their hunger for a better country.
The government appears to be testing the waters, but these waters are the wrong ones, as they are full of violent and merciless crocodiles. Anglophones are carefully watching the government and a false step on its part will surely put the country on the path to self-ruination. Five decades of hardship have hardened Anglophones and the appetite for secession is growing by the day as the government fails to start discussions on the country’s political future. Anglophones are impatiently waiting for their leaders to be released. The wait is too long and it is giving way to disappointment as the military tribunal in Yaounde keeps on delaying the sentencing of Anglophone leaders who, from every indication, are in good spirit.
Anglophones are really running out of patience. The more the wait protracts, the more radicalized they become. In many parts of the North West and South West Regions, Anglophones are challenging government authorities. Recently in Bamenda, some students who dared to go to examination centres to write the General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams,met with an unfortunate fate. They were amputated by some masked men. With government authority waning in many parts of the Anglophone region, many cloak-and-dagger organizations have sprung up and anybody caught violating the people’s laws gets dealt with in a manner that is far from being pleasant.
Anglophones have made up their minds. They are walking away from the status quo ante and they seriously think the future of their country must be different, not just in terms of opportunities, but also in terms of leaders. Current leaders are old and sick and have lost the will to bring prosperity and dignity to their people.
The Anglophone Diaspora, for its part, is still at work. This time around, it is out of the government’s radar. With many groups emerging as a result of the crisis, the situation is becoming more complicated. The Anglophone Diaspora has a huge war chest and it is ready to participate in the country’s future development. It should be recalled that due to a well-orchestrated government marginalization policy, more than two million Anglophones are, today, living out of Cameroon, with many of them residing in Nigeria, South Africa, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The Diaspora has the wherewithal and with its encyclopedic mind, it is capable of lending a helping and useful hand to development efforts in the country. Most Anglophone engineers, translators, interpreters, lawyers, medical doctors and nurses are living out of their native land. These men and women are happy to serve their country, but bad politics and poor governance have seen them off to distant lands where cold and loneliness are blighting their lives. The Diaspora is behind efforts by Anglophones to change the political equation in Cameroon. It is determined to bring about a new country that will be based on justice, fairness, human rights and the rule of law.
While the government dilly-dallies in starting discussions on the form of the state, the Anglophone Diaspora is, for its part, forming many groups to ensure that the government fights a war on many fronts. While diplomacy is considered the option of choice, there are also efforts at using other methods to mount incredible pressure on a crumbling government that has no emotional attachment to its own people. Many of these groups are calling for the total independence of Southern Cameroons, while a few still hold that federalism could make Cameroon a better place than the one in which they grew up. But there are a few groups that are still spitting fire, arguing that if Anglophone leaders get convicted for crimes they have not committed, then the government has opted for total chaos. Fund-raising efforts in many USA cities are now focused on organizing a liberation struggle, with SCNC championing the cause. SCNC argues that the government of Cameroon cannot be trusted and that only a total liberation struggle in Cameroon will give Anglophones the independence they need.
However, many moderates still want to give the government a second chance. They hold that federalism could address many issues raised by Anglophones. They point to Canada which has the same linguistic problem, adding that while federalism may not be a panacea, it will however go a long way in creating harmony and peace in the country. The moderates, however,posit that if Cameroon has to avert the specter of war, then it should be looking at Canadian-style democracy which has made Canada one of the best countries in the world. Canada is not only a bilingual country, it is a country that has become the envy of the entire world with many people from across the globe heading there to give their children the opportunity to grow up in peace. They want their children to enjoy the economic and financial prosperity that has become Canada’s hallmark.
While the world is expecting Cameroonians to work out their differences around a negotiating table, the government is quietly pursuing its own agenda. Though it disagreed with the demands initially made by Anglophone teachers and lawyers, it is now implementing some of the changes called for by those in jail in a bid to defuse the unfortunate situation that has lasted for more than seven months. It has begun implementing some of those measures, though its efforts are still not dousing the fire in many Anglophone minds. The National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM) will soon be welcoming some 80 Anglophones– an Anglophone is a descendant of somebody born in Former Southern Cameroons – who will be trained and sent to the Anglophone region to attend to their people so as to put an end to the arrogance Anglophones have been accusing Francophone Cameroonians of.
A few days ago, the government posted Anglophone judges and magistrates to the entire Anglophone region and this has been hailed by many moderates who think such measures could help reduce tensions. However, the road ahead is still very long. The Common Law section at the Supreme Court is still a promise just like the appointment of Anglophones to key government positions. Anglophones are sick and tired of being considered as second-class citizens. They want the injustice to be addressed and this should be done within a broad-based forum on the country’s future where oil and other resources must feature on the agenda.
The world is watching Cameroon. The once-upon-a-time oasis of peace has become a land of chaos. The Anglophone minority is hell-bent on changing the country. It wants a federal structure that will preserve the Anglophone culture and guarantee the rights of the people. Its determination has put the Francophone majority to shame. Anglophones are prepared to walk away from Cameroon if the government does not change its views on the form of the state. After fifty-six years of marginalization, the country’s English-speaking minority thinks it is time to right the wrongs of the past. They want this to be achieved through dialogue, but the government is not yet prepared to yield a lot of ground. Having played God for five decades, the Yaounde government is yet to come to terms with the political changes Anglophones are calling for. But time is of the essence. The government has to realize that times have changed and the authority it used to wield over its people is gone for good. The Anglophone Diaspora has successfully injected itself into the political equation and it is time to recognize it or it will spend a huge amount of time plotting schemes that will destabilize the country for a long time. There is no point testing the wrong waters. Anglophone leaders should be released for Cameroon to know some peace. Cameroon will be a united and indivisible country if dialogue is given a chance. Sticking to old ways will not help anybody. Everybody needs peace and only dialogue can bring peace to a country.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey
Contributing Editor, 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.