Over the last seven months, the world has been watching Cameroon as it sinks into the abyss of despair as the country’s leaders dilly-dally over the issue of federalism which was among the grievances tabled by Anglophone lawyers. As the rebellion started spreading from the epicenters – Buea and Bamenda –to the other cities, government ministers argued that there was no Anglophone problem and the country’s president hastily declared that the form of the state was unalterable and could not be discussed.Such statements did not help matters. They only made it possible for the issue to escalate, as Anglophones poured into the streets of Cameroon. The Diaspora, for its part, thought it was time for it to cut the country’s authorities to normal human proportions. Fame Ndongo, Issa Tchiroma, Paul Atanga Nji and Peter Mafany Musonge became targets because of their unflinching support for a system that has enslaved its own people for more than half a century.
Today, the country’s president has to deal with a huge humble pie as Anglophones threaten to walk away from the country with huge oil and gold deposits. Currently, the government is bending over backwards to address some of the issues raised by Cameroon’s English-speaking minority. Anglophone Senior Divisional Officials have recently been posted to West Cameroon as a confidence building measure. A special entrance examination to the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM) has just been launched for the admission of Cameroonians of English expression. These are some baby steps in the right direction. But the sticking point is the discussion of the form of the state; an idea the government is staunchly against and this is causing the conflict to drag on and even escalate in certain circumstances. Schools, police stations and government offices are being burnt down by unknown groups in West Cameroon which are calling for the total liberation of Southern Cameroons. This does not augur well for Cameroon; a country that has always been touted as an oasis of peace in a tough neighborhood. The government’s indifference to some of this violence has created the type of calm that looks like the calm before the storm. Many people across the globe are worried about such unsettling calm as it could spell danger for a country that is surrounded by many fragile states.
However, Anglophones are not worried by the government’s calm. They understand it is wont to sinking into such inexplicable indifference. The government, in their view, lacks the killer punches that can derail the English-speaking minority off its course. This was experienced during the initial phase of the revolution. Despite the government’s intimidation during the initial phase of the conflict, Anglophones haveproven that they are a political force to reckon with. Their will and determination to get what they want remains intact despite the government’s attempts and tricks at puncturing their strategy so as to upset their apple cart. Not even the government’s ferocious brutality in the early days of the revolution was strong enough to strike fear in this people who have put up with marginalization and injustice for more than five decades. They have clearly told the government that they will not be deterred by state terror even as their fellow citizens get kidnapped and ferried to Yaounde where they are being tortured and abused by Francophone torture squads that are inimical to the idea of a federation that will erode the central government’s power and reduce the financial power that government officials wield.
The Anglophone problem has bred a new political philosophy in Anglophones. They have understood that unity is strength. With the experience of the past seven months, they have developed a new political creed – one for all and all for one – and this, in their view, is going to be the new way of doing things in a country that has always considered them as second class citizens. They have understood that the government, through its system of so-called elites, has been using divide-and-rule tactics to keep the majority in abject poverty and ignorance, while an incompetent and visionless minority implements its policy of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement with impunity. Anglophones are determined to put an end to such outdated thinking and they are not going to yield to any form of pressure or fake promises. They hold that if the government wants to talk to them, it must do so through their own chosen leaders and, in the current context, those leaders are Justice Paul Ayah Abine, Dr. Agbor Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and many others currently living in exile. Anybody who dares to represent them,without their permission, will be doing so at his own risk.
Cameroon has changed and it will be impossible to return to the status quo ante. The country’s authorities have to be aware of these changes and they should take steps that will help the country heal. Resisting change only gives the country a bad name and reduces the country’s potential to attract foreign investments. The Anglophone minority has proven that the ability of a few to change a system should never be underestimated. With the unwavering support of the Anglophone Diaspora, home-based Anglophones are silently redesigning the political map of a country that was once thought to be unchangeable. The Anglophone Diaspora has transformed itself into a formidable political force that cannot be ignored.Its ability to destabilize Cameroon has been proven. If the government needs peace, it must reach out to this Diaspora that has a huge war chest and an encyclopedic mind that can help development efforts in the country. The Anglophone Diaspora still has a huge stomach for a fight and with a lot of gasoline in its tank; it can help home-based Anglophones to stay the course of this revolution that is threatening to spread to East Cameroon. If the government is counting on time as a partner who can wear out the determination of the Anglophone minority, then it has to think again. Anglophones are a resilient people. They have borne five decades of political and economic marginalization with philosophical calm and they have taken the government’s injustice in stride for half a century. But today, they are sick and tired and are taking on the government with Herculean determination.
Anglophones know that they have to make common cause in order to achieve their goals and driven by their new political creed, they are fully behind those who are in jail. The Anglophones currently languishing in jail are aware that the people of West Cameroon are with them and their morale is up. Justice Paul Ayah Abine, Dr. Agbor Nkongho Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mr. Mancho Bibixy are confident that the odds are in their favour. No military in the world has ever defeated its people when they are united. The government of Cameroon should look into the mirror of history to understand this. The cases of Poland, Tunisia and Egypt are recent situations that should be ringing a bell and should enable the government and the country’s president to revisit their stance on the issue of federalism.
Anglophones are aware of this and those in jail clearly understand that all government actions will come to nought as West Cameroonians are determined to break the chains of bondage and marginalization. Ghost town operations are still in effect as decreed by the now outlawed consortium and the entire academic year has been disrupted. These two actions speak to the Anglophone minority’s ability to throw deadly punches at a government that is trying to flex muscles it does not have. This is causing the government to lose sleep, although the leaders are trying to put up a brave face. Anglophones will never return to the status quo ante, no matter what. They are sick and tired of vain promises. They need concrete actions and, more importantly, they do not trust the government’s so-called elites. They want all of them to be cut out of the cabinet, as they do not represent them. They have done a great job at feathering their own nests and helping their children and family members at the expense of those they are supposed to be representing. Anglophones argue that political change must take place for real peace to return to Cameroon. The old guard has been wasteful and ineffective at holding the country together. Since the president had declared federalism anathema, Anglophones have upgraded their demand to statehood and this is gradually pushing many moderate Anglophones into the hands of hardcore secessionists who are traveling the world to sell their gospel of secession and they are gradually winning lots of hearts and minds; something that will surely complicate things when time comes for a broad-based national debate on the country’s future.
Breaking the stalemate will require tough negotiations. The economic and political situation in the two Anglophone regions is deteriorating on a daily basis. The situation is compounded by the continuous postponement of the sentencing of Anglophone leaders who have been in jail in Yaounde for more than four months just for complaining about a political dispensation that has been spreading pain and suffering in the country. Anglophones, especially those whose relatives have been killed or arrested are hell-bent on sowing chaos until their loved ones are released or accounted for. They need closure. The chaos in West Cameroon is reminiscent of what has played out in other African countries that are, today, dealing with many extremist groups that are making life hard for ordinary citizens. While the world may think that the Anglophone problem is confined to the country’s English-speaking region, what it does not understand is that the situation has the potential to spread across the entire country, as Cameroonians across the political spectrum are sick and tired of a system that has brought untold hardship to its own people. While Anglophones have problems that are specific to them, Cameroonians in general have unemployment, poor governance and corruption to deal with. These phenomena have become nightmares that will not go away anytime soon if the current crop of politicians remains in power. These problems constitute a deadly mix which, if not well addressed,might cause the country to implode, especially as the current government is suffering from senile decay and acute indifference to the plight of the suffering masses.
Cameroon needs help. For seven months, the country has been caught in a downward political spiral and this unfortunate situation is gradually tearing the country apart. Cameroonians have to go to the negotiating table to redesign their political system. The old one has been fraught with weaknesses which are hurting the country’s English-speaking minority. These issues can be addressed easily through dialogue. Dialogue is an idea whose time has come. Ignoring it will continue to hurt the country. Anglophones have real issues. The unitary state has not served their interest. The form of the state should be discussed for all to agree on the way forward. Refusing to revisit the form of the state will only inflame and radicalize Anglophones. Cameroon is Central Africa’s engine. If the engine is facing issues, then the entire sub-region is very likely to go through a rough patch. Cameroonians have to talk. Silence is not the answer. On the contrary, silence could be easily misconstrued as indifference and disrespect. This could cause both factions to engage in actions that will stand in the way of negotiations. Silence is not always golden. It could be seen as the calm before the storm that has the potential to shatter any chances for peaceful negotiations. The ball is in the government’s court. It must be proactive. It should reach out to the various stakeholders so that the peace process can begin. Cameroon has all what it takes to emerge from its own ashes as the proverbial phoenix, but it needs a selfless government with a modern mind and great conflict management skills. If these elements are missing, then the country will be stuck in the quagmire of conflict for a very long time. And this is very unsettling to the international community and investors who look forward to participating in the country’s development efforts.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey
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.