The Anglophone problem that started with just simple socio-professional demands by lawyers and teachers in October 2016 has today developed into a full blown crisis due to the politicization of the issues and the radicalization of the English-speaking minority by the government via its response. This response has been marked by denial, disregard, intimidation and repression, and it has gone a long way in diminishing trust between both parties. It has also diminished the chances for any meaningful dialogue and Friday’s demonstrations across the entire Anglophone region speak to the severity of the crisis.
The Anglophone problem has never been this serious and those who thought it would lose its steam over time are gradually coming to terms with the fact that they now have a complicated crisis on their hands. Anglophones want out of the unification their forefathers had signed, arguing that it has left them with a sense that their territory is in economic decline following the centralization and dismantling of West Cameroon’s economic structures such as the West Cameroon Marketing Board, the Cameroon Bank and Powercam, as well as the abandonment of several projects, including the port of Limbe, and airports in Bamenda and Tiko, with investments in the Francophone part of the country winning out. The complete take-over of the country’s lone oil refinery by Francophones and the exclusion of Anglophones from key ministerial positions over the last five decades have complicated relations between the country’s English-speaking minority and the government.
This bitterness also stems from the feeling that unification had resulted in a democratic setback, cultural assimilation and a downgrading of their political status. Many Anglophones are clearly convinced that the Francophone-dominated government had followed a strategy to marginalize them and this has run down relations between the government and Anglophones who are today locked in in a battle of wills; a battle that has resulted in the death of many Anglophones and mass arrests, making it hard for any meaningful dialogue to take place. The government’s approach towards this problem over the last twelve months has been characterized by violence and this has only made matters worse and last Friday’s demonstrations clearly tell the international community that the fragile relationship between the two parties has broken down irretrievably. The calls for federalism have now given way to incessant demands for an independent Southern Cameroons, and this is causing many people around the world to be jittery as Anglophones have already scheduled Sunday, October 1, 2017, as that day wherein they will be taking their destiny into their own hands.
If the government still had any doubts about the people’s determination to steer their own lives, those doubts were indeed dispelled last Friday as those demonstrations did provide it with a clear picture of things and a proper response – Anglophones are walking away from the false union that had been hastily stitched together with the connivance of Foncha and Muna. They have also clearly indicated that Mr. Biya, the country’s president, lacks what it takes to run a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural political entity like Cameroon. His management style over the last 35 years has been predicated on corruption and manipulation, enabling him to employ so-called elites to sedate their people with lies and tricks.
While Francophones may still be under the effects of the political sedation, Anglophones, for their part, have found a cure to the manipulation and corruption that people like Peter Mafany Musonge, Yang Philemon, Atanga Nji, Elvis Ngolle Ngolle, Benjamin Itoe and others have been administering on them. Anglophones have told them, loud and clear, that they belong to the past and that they belong to another political epoch whose hallmark – manipulation – leaves much to be desired.
While the government has been dilly-dallying to sincerely engage Anglophones, the English-speaking minority has, for its part, decided to take matters into its own hands. Anglophones have already decided that October 1, 2017, will be their Independence Day and last Friday’s mobilization was simply a dress rehearsal for the D-Day that many young Anglophones have been looking forward to. Their overwhelming show of unity and strength on Friday, speaks to their ability to come out en masse to let the government and the international community know that the wall of fear has collapsed and that nothing will stop them from achieving their cardinal objective, even if it means laying down their lives for future generations. The wall is down, but they want to push things a little further. They want to live in a new nation; a nation that will be predicated upon political responsibility, fairness and democratic justice. And they have already gone ahead to create the symbols of that nation they think will bring them peace, prosperity and development.
But before they actually get to the business of nation building, Anglophones will want to have a clean break with an ugly past; a past that has brought pain and death to many of their people. They will want to bring to justice – their own justice – those of their fellow Anglophones who have been aiding and abetting the Francophone-dominated government in Yaounde to inflict pain on them. A mass trial is therefore in the offing, especially as there is word out there for Anglophones to arrest those they consider as colonial SDOs, Dos, Parliamentarians, Mayors and Governors who have been enforcing the Machiavellian policies of the Yaounde regime on the D-Day. October 1 will see the writing of a new page in the long story of an Anglophone revolution that has been in the works for many decades. A few more scenes will, for sure, play out before the arrogant government in Yaounde actually thinks that it is time to dialogue with a people it has erroneously tagged as terrorists. Using the anti-terrorism laws for political ends has not intimidated Anglophones. On the contrary, it has emboldened them and it has weakened a government which only understands one language – intimidation.
This is a devastating blow to proponents of violence. It has not met their expectations. It has unfortunately dumped the country in a more complicated crisis with both parties sinking further into their dangerous positions. Even those who thought it will help to address this issue are today losing sleep. Time is rather acting as the minister of justice, given Anglophones the means and resources they need to achieve their goals. Old ways are failing the old guard and the defiance staged by Anglophones seems to herald the end of an era; an era that has brought pain and death to many Cameroonians, especially Anglophones. Those who thought the revolution will fizzle out are in total bewilderment as Anglophones keep on proving that they have the capacity to mobilize their people and enforce their own laws. Ghost town operations have been a total success and the closure of schools intended to give the government a black eye have told the world that the government is helpless and incapable of handling tricky situations.
But all hopes are not lost. Cameroon can still be spared the agony of a man-made catastrophe. Dialogue is incontestably the right tool to address most of the issues that have soured the relationship between Anglophones and the Yaounde-based government. This is a complicated job and the government must approach it with a big and proper tool box. Many moderate Anglophones, who are for a federal structure, still think that all is not lost. Proponents of statehood, for their part, argue that any measures taken by the government at this stage will be coming a little too late. The horse is out and it will be wasted effort to shut the barn. They assert that it is difficult to envisage any credible dialogue with a government that has never taken any conciliatory measures, adding that until trust is rebuilt between the parties, it will be hard to dialogue with the government. They contend that the presence of a neutral third party will be vital as the government has never complied with its own policies and recommendations. They point out that a discourse of tolerance, openness to dialogue and recognition of the Anglophone problem by the head of state would constitute a first important gesture.
They further posit that such recognition in the humblest of languages should be immediately followed by several measures such as releasing all those who have been arrested during the crisis; inviting exiles to return home; opening legal proceedings against security forces responsible for abuses; reshuffling the government and increasing the political representation of Anglophones and replacing senior officials whose actions have caused tensions to escalate. They say the government has been ignoring the dissatisfaction and anger of a fifth of its population and this may be detrimental to a government that is already dealing with Boko Haram in the Far North and militias from the Central African Republic in the East.
They argue that it will be hard for the government to change its ways, pointing to the ongoing militarisation of the Anglophone region, especially after Friday’s demonstration of courage and determination by the country’s English-speaking minority. They however point out that no militarisation will deter Anglophones from righting the wrongs of the past and that if the government does not change its mind on the issue of sincere dialogue before October 1, then the world should be ready to welcome a new nation.
By the editorial desk
Cameroon Concord News Group