The Anglophone problem that burst into the global arena in October 2016 remains a major concern for many people around the world, especially as the government is more reactive than proactive. Cameroonians as well as the international community have been caught in a web of thoughts that is gradually eroding their confidence in the Yaounde government that is more intent on papering over cracks than taking concrete measures that will appease the English-speaking minority that really feels marginalized. The crisis that has been playing out for close to eight months will surely not come to an end anytime soon as both parties continue to stick to their guns. The government wants to restore its authority in West Cameroon by hook or by crook, while West Cameroonians who had initially called for a federal system are now stressing that anything short of statehood will not be welcome.
They point to government abuses and the mishandling of the civil disobedience, arguing that the Francophone dominated government in Yaounde will never agree to a system of government that will guarantee civil liberties, good governance and transparent management of state affairs. They are buttressing their argument with the nasty experiences they have lived over the last fifty years, contending that old habits die hard. The government, they argue, is wont to crooked ways and it will be hard to get the same members of government to start thinking in a way that will bring prosperity to the entire nation and not just to a few who have embraced the ruling party’s devilish philosophy of self-destruction. It should be recalled that what started like a lawyers’ demonstration towards the end of last year has unfortunately spiraled out of control and instead of seeking genuine ways to address the issues, the government has opted to play a cat and mouse game with striking West Cameroonians. West Cameroonians contend that government solutions are, at best, ineffective as the government sometimes resorts to its old ways which are characterized by intimidation and trickery.
In a move to prove that it is really ready for dialogue, the government has created a common law section in the School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), the school that trains civil administrators and magistrates in Cameroon. In the same vein, common law will be applied in West Cameroon and Francophone judges and magistrates will no longer be posted to West Cameroon, except they have a good understanding of common law. Similarly, Francophone teachers will stop plying their trade in the English-speaking part of the country. These promises could address some of the grievances that the striking common law lawyers and teachers had submitted to the government in 2016 if properly implemented. Unfortunately, their strike action was considered by the government as a bluff that needed to be called off to prove that nobody could dictate to a government that has ruled the country for almost 35 years by gossip and intimidation.
Also, the creation of the bilingualism commission is one of the measures the government has taken to address some of the issues raised by the striking and uncompromising West Cameroonians. Its creation did not generate much excitement among West Cameroonians. Members of the commission have recently been appointed by the country’s president and the commission is expected to tour West Cameroon in order to gain a better understanding of the people’s grievances. However, it must be pointed out that the commission’s work has been clearly cut out. It is in charge of bilingualism and multiculturalism in Cameroon. The people’s grievances have nothing to do with the commission’s work. West Cameroonians understand the importance of bilingualism, but they hold that Cameroon, and not the Cameroonian, should be bilingual. West Cameroonians had initially called for a federal system, but they have recently upgraded their demand to the restoration of statehood. This is a political demand that cannot be met by the emasculated Musonge bilingualism commission that is naturally doomed to failure, as it must stick to party ideology and not what West Cameroonians want.
In line with its appeasement strategy, the government recently restored Internet in West Cameroon, a move hailed abroad as a right step in the right direction. However, West Cameroonians are not throwing any flowers at the government, as they consider the Internet as a right and not a favor the government is doing to them. It must be recalled that the disconnection of the Internet for almost a hundred days did hurt the West Cameroonian economy. It did not only roll the region into dark ages, it also hurt the people’s sources of livelihood. The Internet blackout in West Cameroon will go down as the longest in modern history and it was followed by unprecedented brutality on the government’s part with a view to muzzling up the West Cameroonian. Unfortunately, it turned out to be counter-productive as it has gone a long way in radicalizing the entire region and emboldening the “free radicals”, most of whom are loose cannons and can hardly be identified with any structured group.
The internet blackout pushed West Cameroonians to be very creative. They moved their communication systems abroad and the Diaspora took up the fight and placed it at the centre of the world. Demonstrations by West Cameroonians became normal occurrences in many major cities across the world with Washington DC, New York, Toronto, Ottawa, London, Paris, Stockholm and Johannesburg having a feel of the angst inhabiting West Cameroonians who have become the “roving Jews” of Africa. Years of marginalization have pushed almost one and half million West Cameroonians out of their homeland and the majority of this Diaspora that has been hurt by the Yaounde regime will not settle for anything less than statehood. Today, the Diaspora has set up a TV channel, the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation (SCBC), which is beaming images into many homes in West Cameroon where the gospel of statehood is gradually replacing the initial call for federalism. Modern technology has eroded the government’s ability to stop a people from spreading their political gospel across the world. This is indeed hurting the government which is seeing its influence in West Cameroon being washed away through effective communication and politics of persuasion.
After having proposed a few reforms aimed at hoodwinking the people into turning their backs on their leaders and returning to the status quo ante, the government has quietly sunk into silence that many observers consider to be pregnant. Many observers are asking many questions. What could be the reason behind the deafening silence? Could the government be concocting something that will break the back of the revolution? Some analysts hold that while the president has said the form of the state is not up for discussion, the government might be quietly designing mechanisms that will lead to a ten-state federation that some West Cameroonians want. West Cameroonians may be united in their recognition that the Yaounde government has marginalized them, but they also differ with regard to the form the state should take. While others call for statehood, others are still clamoring for a federal system. Even among those calling for federalism, there are heated arguments as to the form the federal structure should take. Admirers of the sixties and early seventies are calling for a two-state federation, while others are calling for a rapid conversion of the ten-region arrangement into a ten-state federal dispensation that will give each region the right to run its own affairs, with the federal government focusing on foreign affairs, defense and natural resources. But there is a common denominator in this struggle. All West Cameroonians are sick and tired of the decentralized structure proposed in 1996, but has never been implemented. The unitary system has shown its limits too. It has spread death and pain across the entire nation. It has not worked for Cameroonians. It has worked for the ruling party as it enables it to hang on to power while the ordinary Cameroonian continues to scrape by and watch politicians loot the national treasury.
The government is still dragging its feet on this issue. It has not yet realized that West Cameroonians will never return to the status quo ante. The burning of schools and intimidation by some cloak-and-dagger organizations should tell the government that something must be done and very fast too. Government authority has simply vanished in many parts of West Cameroon. Police officers, divisional officers and other state authorities are simply at the mercy of the population. In Akwaya, for example, the locals are hoisting the Nigerian flag in defiance of the Yaounde government that has neglected them for more than five decades. The arrest of Paul Ayah has made things more challenging for all government representatives in Akwaya. Paul Ayah is a prominent son of the sub-division and his arrest is highly contested by the people of Akwaya who have always seen him as their hero. Keeping Judge Paul Ayah, Barrister Agbor Balla and Dr. Fontem Neba in jail is not helping matters. The people are angry and the government which is supposed to serve the people’s interest should seek to appease them. Modern governance dictates that leaders listen to their people. If the government of Cameroon is still not seeing the writing on the wall, then it must be blind. West Cameroonians are moving on and they have crossed the Rubicon. They are simply not worried about the government’s intimidation and trickery. They are focused on getting their demands met and the international community is helping by breathing down the government’s throat. Instead of sinking into a pregnant silence, the government should go to the negotiating table to have a genuine and sincere discussion with the different stakeholders. The issue is more complicated than it seems. The Diaspora is involved and members of the Anglophone Diaspora are wealthy and intellectually sound. Excluding this influential group from any negotiations will be like declaring a war. The Anglophone Diaspora has the wherewithal to influence the course of events in Cameroon. The wisest thing will be to identify those influential West Cameroonians in the Diaspora and include them in the negotiations. If not, the country will continue to go through a rough patch. Political turbulence is not good for a country that is still struggling to gain economic momentum. Sinking into silence will also not cut it.
The government’s silence is hanging over the country like the Sword of Damocles. Every blessed day, Cameroonians believe that a silver lining might appear on this thick dark cloud that has been hanging over the nation for months. West Cameroonians have clear demands. They have been victims of marginalization for over five decades. They want the government to stop dealing with issues in a cavalierly manner. They want a system of governance that will guarantee their rights and protect their culture. While many of them could be bilingual, they still see French as the oppressor’s language and would like to reduce contact with a language that reminds them of their economic and political woes. The Anglophone problem has made its way to the international community. Many people around the world believe that federalism holds out a lot of hope for a country that is struggling to hold together a diverse group of people who are culturally different. If Cameroonians have to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the government must engage West Cameroonians in a frank and sincere dialogue. The old political dispensation has failed West Cameroonians. It has brought them untold pain and suffering. They want the government to act immediately. The government should adopt new ways and it should see dialogue as the way forward. True leaders dialogue and seek solutions to issues. Silence cannot be the answer. If the government fails to embrace dialogue as the way forward, then Cameroon will, forever, be stuck in political turbulence.
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.