1, June 2017
For over seven months, Anglophone Cameroonians have been staging a rebellion that has shaken the country’s government to the core. One would have thought that after such a long period, Anglophones would be tired of the strikes that have disrupted an entire academic year and put courts out of business. Many businesses have collapsed and Silicon Mountain, a software development hub in the South-West regional capital of Buea, is struggling to find its feet after months of government shut down of the Internet and rigorous ghost town operations called by the now outlawed Consortium. Faced with a huge challenge, the government has been helpless. Instead of coming up with effective and reliable policy measures, the government has opted to count on time as a key ally in its bid to make mincemeat of the Anglophone struggle.
The government has miscalculated on many scores. From the beginning, it did not understand that Anglophones were unanimous in their decision to challenge a government whose political decisions have brought a lot of hardship onto many Anglophones. Anglophones have a developed sense of purpose and their sense of unity has established a strong and unbreakable bond among them. Tough times have transformed them into tough people. This resilient people have remained united and steadfast to their principle and their demands have continued to expand over time. Though their initial demands for a federal system of government had been met with ferocious brutality by the government, their will to right the wrongs of the past remains very strong. And this is giving secessionists a field day. Many of them are working hard to win hearts and minds among moderate Anglophones who, right from the beginning, stood for a federal system that will give the regions greater autonomy and authority over their lives.
Secessionists are winning bigly. The brutality of the military as well as the arrest and detention of many Anglophones and their leaders have made Anglophone Cameroonians to think that an independent Southern Cameroons will be the appropriate answer to their problem. Over the last couple of months, the drums for a federal system of government have become silent while the call for a return to statehood has gained a lot of traction. The radicals, for their part, are calling for outright secession, as they think that the Yaounde government will never be as good as its words, although it has promised to undertake reforms that will address some of the issues that have been raised by the country’s English-speaking minority.
Though not many Anglophones will agree that the government has done a lot to appease Anglophones, it is fair to point out that the government has, over the last months, taken many steps to manifest its genuine intention to address some of the issues that caused the political crisis that has cast it in very bad light. The government’s mismanagement of the crisis has given it a bad name. The ferocious brutality that followed the protests has placed the government on the same stratum as Hitler’s Germany. The arrest and detention of journalists, as well as the media censorship that followed the protests for a federal system have left the government with a blood-shot eye. The government has a lot to do to regain its lost reputation.From the beginning, Cameroonian authorities got it all wrong. The decisions they took to fight Anglophones only turned out to be counter-productive. Their actions have proven that they are frozen in time. They failed to understand that ICTs had connected the world and a little action in one part of the world could be seen in less than no time in other parts of the globe. The Internet has simply revealed that Cameroon is still that bastion of brutality that many people around the world did not know about prior to the neatly planned Anglophone rebellion. Cameroon was only famous for its football and phony peace. But this has now changed. The government is today among the greatest abusers of human rights. Many human rights reports have called the country’s human rights records into question.
On the democratic front, the government has been erroneously priding itself on its bogus democratic credentials, while ordinary citizens continue to deal with abuses. Anglophones have been complaining about marginalization in many spheres of life and the government has recently gone into a charm offensive and it is today bending over backwards to prove that Anglophones are key members of the country. A special section has been created for English-speaking Cameroonians at the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), the school that trains magistrates and administrators. The entrance examination into the school has been launched and the government is doing all it can to prove that the errors of the past could be addressed and that the country could be one and indivisible. Similarly, some Francophone Senior Divisional Officers have been withdrawn from the English-speaking part of the country and they have been replaced by Anglophones who understand the culture and thinking of the country’s English-speaking minority. There is a special section for the practice of the Common Law in the country’s the Supreme Court. These steps, though few, are still laudable.
But for many Anglophones, there is no love lost between the people of former Southern Cameroons and the Yaounde government that had signed an unholy alliance with the French to rob Anglophone Cameroonians of their dignity and culture. Many Anglophones hold that the government is unfortunately shutting the barn after the horse has bolted. Years of marginalization have left their mark on the Anglophone psyche, with almost two million Anglophones fleeing the country and residing in countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. From the look of things, it will take a lot of negotiations and appeasement for Anglophones to forgive and forget. Many have lost their loved ones due to government brutality and marginalization. Their country has neglected them for more than five decades. Anglophones hold that the government has been more interested in their region’s wealth than in the people who inhabit that region of the country.
It should be recalled that Cameroon’s oil fields are located in the South-West region of the country and this region alone accounts for more than 30% of the country’s wealth. The entire Anglophone region is blessed with many resources, including oil, gas, diamond and timber. Its rich sub-soil has brought lots of economic benefits to the country. For almost 50 years, the Rio Del Rey estuary has been the source of more than 90% and at times 100% of all the country’s hydrocarbons, specifically oil.In 2014, Cameroon exported US$5.88 billion worth of products, of which US$2.65 billion, about CFAF 1,650 billion, was from crude oil. Though global oil prices have, in recent times, taken a nosedive, Cameroon still makes a significant amount of money from oil sales, as production has increased over the last years. The government stands to gain if it heads to the negotiating table with Anglophone leaders, many of whom are either in jail or in exile. And the more Anglophones you have out of the country, the more chaos they can create for the country. Many are mad at the government for not granting them a chance to also serve their own country. Over the last thirty years, not many Anglophones have occupied ministerial positions in Cameroon and certain strategic ministries are out of reach to Anglophones. For more than five decades, no Anglophone has ever headed the ministry of defense. The ministry of finance is a preserve of Francophones, while the ministry of foreign affairs is a no-go-area for Anglophones. This is the kind of injustice and marginalization that have transformed Cameroon into a land of chaos.
Today, schools in the Anglophone region are in total chaos. While the government is giving the impression that all is well, the people in the English-speaking region know that things have really fallen apart. Many Anglophone children are not writing end-of-course exams. After more than six months at home, it will be preposterous for any reasonable person to take such exams. However, there is still a glimmer of hope. The government has till August to address some of those issues that have antagonized the English-speaking minority. If the right policy decisions are taken, the next academic year could take off without hitches. But if the government is still leaving everything to time and luck, then the country will go through a long period of political turbulence, as the next academic years will face the same challenges that have made it hard for young Anglophones to go to school this year.
While anger may have increased the love for statehood among Anglophones, there is still room for Cameroon to become that oasis of peace. The people of West Cameroon may be having a huge appetite for statehood, but there are many Anglophones who think that if granted a federal structure, they could live in harmony with their Francophone brothers in a united and indivisible Cameroon. But the content of such federalism will constitute the next bone of contention. Will the government be prepared to yield much ground just to make Anglophones feel at home in their country? Will the president give up some of his powers just to restore peace and unity in this country that is already going the way of other African countries? What is known, for sure, is that Anglophones will not settle for a system wherein the president will be appointing governors and government delegates. Anglophones are more participatory in their approach to governance, while Francophones have strong faith in centralization. This has been the apple of discord for many years. Anglophones will not settle for a system that will be determined by one individual. They want a system that will have very strong checks and balances. A system wherein the judiciary, the executive and the legislative branch of government are independent of each other. A system that will enable them have full control of their lives and culture.
The government needs to be proactive. It needs to take prompt actions to avert a situation where chaos will replace peace. The longer the crisis lasts, the greater the chances for it to escalate. As the situation in neighboring Nigeria gets worse by the day, the chances are that Cameroon could implode. Biafra is also seeking to secede from Nigeria and this does not augur well for Cameroon. Biafrans have the experience of fighting their government and they know how to get weapons into their part of the country. The government of Cameroon needs to take a look at the situation in Nigeria to fully understand the risk it runs by being indifferent and reactive when it comes the Anglophone problem. If it lets Anglophone secessionists to weave an alliance with Biafrans, then Cameroon will become a boiling pot for a long time. Many Anglophones have been beating the drums of war. What they have not been successful at has been the importation of arms into the country. But with Biafra seeking to walk away from Nigeria, Anglophone secessionists may find good allies in Biafrans and this could spell disaster to Cameroon that has always cut the image of a peaceful country in a rough neighborhood.
To avert such a disaster, the government should make more concessions. It should release all Anglophones held in Francophone jails in Yaounde. With such a gesture, it will be a lot easier to have people with whom to discuss the country’s future. Anglophones have chosen their leaders. They are the people who must negotiate the country’s political future for them. The government should understand that for as long as Dr. Agbor Felix Nkongho, Dr. Neba Fontem, Justice Paul Ayah and Mr. Mancho Bibixy are still in jail, there will be no meaningful discussions on the country’s future. Dialogue is an idea whose time has come. It will be a smart decision to use the negotiating table to achieve peace in Cameroon. Time is of the essence. Letting things drag on is dangerous for everybody. With neighboring Nigeria currently boiling, Cameroonian authorities could be shooting themselves in the foot by displaying such inexplicable indifference and arrogance. It is time to talk and it is only by talking that Cameroon will emerge as a winner in this conflict that has changed the country forever. Cameroon can only be one and indivisible if dialogue replaces dictatorship.
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.