The Anglophone Diaspora has, over the last two decades, grown exponentially as many people from Southern Cameroons seek new ways of kissing goodbye to the humiliating poverty that has become the hallmark of their community. As the number of Anglophones living abroad increases, many development experts are still wondering why the territory is one of the most underdeveloped in Cameroon. The main roads leading to the many towns and cities of the two regions are really begging for an extreme makeover. During the rainy season, these roads are simply non-existence. This has affected Southern Cameroon’s trade with neighboring regions of La Republique du Cameroun and with the Federal Republic of Nigeria and farmers, in particular, are feeling the pinch as most of their produce decomposes in their homes as they cannot move it to other parts of the country which serve as a good markets for Anglophone produce. It is estimated that post-harvest losses in South West Region in Anglophone Cameroon alone stand at about 70% as the region is noted for its perishables such as oranges, mangoes, cassava, cocoa and coffee. But getting highly needed foodstuff such as beef, cabbage, maize from the Northwest region into the South West is proving to be very challenging as the main roads linking the two Southern Cameroons regions remain impracticable.
This unfortunate situation is causing food process to escalate, making life unbearable for citizens of Southern Cameroons. With regard to healthcare, Anglophone Cameroon has divisional hospitals some of which became operational in 1972. Over the years, less efficient doctors from La Republique du Cameroun have reduced the hospitals to consultation clinics with many Southern Cameroonians ending up in the mortuary for little health issues such as constipation and seasonal flus. The outdated equipment and lack of commitment on the part of staff have made Southern Cameroons hospitals a gruesome environment whose main role is the issuance of dead certificates. Also, as education in the area is unfortunately underfunded, the Anglophone region which is noted for its talented people has taken a huge blow to the liver. The educational infrastructure is suffering from acute ageing and most of it is crumbling with Southern Cameroonians looking helplessly. This, coupled with the grinding poverty, unemployment and despair is making many Anglophone citizens to simply bid farewell to formal education which was in the past, the region’s hallmark. However, many development experts remain hopeful, especially as the Anglophone Diaspora grows exponentially, with the majority of them living in North America. But what role can and will this growing Diaspora play in efforts at reshaping life and mentalities in a Southern Cameroons that is begging for meaningful economic and social investments?
Making the Diaspora part of the development process in many developing countries is an idea whose time has come, even in the Southern Cameroons. While Asian communities have been using their Diasporic communities since the 1970s to boost their development efforts, African countries have just recently embraced the idea and, in the Anglophone Cameroon, there has been some reluctance even among members of the Southern Cameroons Diaspora due to past experiences and mentality issues. However, there are efforts underway to help members of the Anglophone Diaspora to embrace this new idea. Members of the Anglophone Diaspora have to understand that there is power in numbers and that their little contributions could, if well managed, turn things around for their beloved nation. The Diaspora, it should be recalled, constitutes a huge treasure trove of development information, experience and investment resources.
Anglophone Cameroon is mired in abject poverty and the Southern Cameroons Diaspora can work towards rebuilding modern schools, upgrading hospitals and clinics in the territory. Their contributions could transform these clinics from glorified mortuaries into life-saving institutions. Southern Cameroonians living abroad have the means to help make their state an earthly paradise. This is, if they change their thinking and believe that working together is an idea whose time has come. They must understand that development ideas might not necessarily be theirs. They should rather look at the merits and good such projects will spin out to the people in the British Southern Cameroons such as a return to the 1961 federal status or an independent state of Southern Cameroons. They have to quit their old squabbling and bickering mentality in the name of North West/South West Divide to embrace collective effort which is a notion that is very much alive in their new countries. Little contributions of about US$50 a year from every member of the Anglophone Diaspora will go a long way in changing things in Southern Cameroons. This implies paying US$4 a month. This sounds small, but its impact will be marvelous. With such contributions, school infrastructure can be built, hospitals could be equipped, scholarships could awarded to smart kids on a yearly basis, programmes to transform mentalities could be launched, and Anglophone mayors in all major cities could be given an opportunity to travel abroad and learn from mayors in large Western cities. The Southern Cameroons Diaspora could work for twinning projects with cities in the West. Other Diasporic communities are already making the most of these opportunities.
Furthermore, the collective efforts of those living abroad can help transform the mentality of those back home. A bad mentality is a poverty generator. Our people are mired in poverty because their thinking has not evolved for decades. They still believe in having many kids and wives including a harem of mistresses! This explains why they are ever ready to accept less influential nominations or appointments from Francophone political elites. The days when people were proud to have large families are long gone. Fighting poverty requires sharing information with those who are not lucky to have access to that information. With Anglophone Diasporic communities setting up many organizations abroad, they should understand that those organizations could be used as NGOs for the sensitization of those who have been caught in humiliating poverty back in Southern Cameroons.
With some tribal divisional organizations clearly playing significant roles in Anglophone development efforts, these organizations could be empowered to play an educational role in the whole of Southern Cameroons. Our people could be helped to understand that there are educational courses in life that can open more doors. Besides, the students could be made to realize that it is not just enough to have certificates. It is a lot better to have a certificate and be knowledgeable to defend the certificates we have. And this can only be achieved through continuous reading and research. If the Southern Cameroons Diaspora can build libraries in the territory, it will be able to make reading a culture and many poor kids in Anglophone Cameroon will have reliable places where they can conduct research and have access to information that can help transform their lives.
This does not apply that the Anglophone Diaspora is not doing a lot back home. There is much going on right now at the individual level, but most of these efforts are personal and the results are hardly visible. Currently, capital flows from Anglophone Diaspora are currently spent on education, hospital bills and the consumption of foreign-made goods such as TVs and clothes and not much has been channeled to the Anglophone struggle for self determination. However, if Southern Cameroons has to benefit from its large population abroad, the numerous Anglophone organizations abroad have to work hard to bring the Diaspora together. The leaders out there must embrace new ways which are predicated on reliability and transparency. Back home, the Diaspora must ensure that it has reliable partners to work with. Without reliable partners in Cameroon, the Diaspora’s efforts will only go that far.
All across Southern Cameroons, there are huge infrastructure gaps due to a kind of criminal neglect by La Republique du Cameroun which have made the territory less competitive when it comes to trading with neighboring regions and countries. Poor roads, unreliable energy systems and declining state-owned telecommunication systems clearly explain why the Anglophone Cameroonian cannot put its best foot forward against any region of the country. But some of these shortcomings can be reversed through the transparent management of Diaspora remittances and the Anglophone Diaspora must shake off old ways of thinking and embrace new ones. Consensus building is an idea whose time has come. South West and North West leaders – both at home and abroad – must ensure that they and their people are reading from the same script when it comes to federalism and the struggle for an independent state for Southern Cameroons including development projects.
If British Southern Cameroons has to develop, the Diaspora must understand that it has a significant role to play and living abroad comes with a huge price tag – that of reaching out to those who are unfortunate in life. That is where annual individual contributions come into play. The Anglophone has a chance to move forward as its people migrate. There is power in numbers, but the Anglophone has not yet seen those benefits. Its Diaspora must ensure that huge development opportunities do not pass the territory by. Other Diasporic communities such as South Sudan, Niger Delta and even Biafra are transforming the lives of their people. The Anglophone Diaspora has to wake up from its slumber and indifference if it has to be counted among the important Diasporic communities across Africa. It must be united and purposeful. Squabbling and bickering will not take anybody anywhere.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai
Cameroon Concord News Group