24, November 2016
The past month has been a challenging time both for English-speaking Cameroonians and their government. The urge to have many injustices against the English-speaking minority in Cameroon addressed by the government is gradually turning into a call for secession. Of course, English-speaking Cameroonians have suffered different forms of indignities at the hands of their Francophone government. The policy of assimilation and total destruction of whatever legacy the British had left behind to the citizens of the once southern Cameroons has left many English-speaking Cameroonians in total confusion.
For many decades, English speaking Cameroonians were required to attend the country’s lone university where knowledge was imparted to students in French. This implied English-speaking Cameroonians whose knowledge of French was, at best, approximate had to study in a language that had not been their academic language from birth. Many Anglophones simply skipped university because of this policy of self-destruction. Only those whose parents could afford to pay exorbitant fees in countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Nigeria had the devil’s luck of having a good university education. There were a few who actually succeeded in the erstwhile University of Yaounde, but to say the least it was an uphill battle.
For many of such graduates, their language skills have been seriously compromised and theirs has been a kingdom wherein they only play second fiddle to their French-speaking colleagues. It is abnormal for English-speaking Cameroonians to occupy certain strategic positions in the country. They cannot lead any strategic ministry. It is tacitly forbidden for them to be a minister of finance, minister of defense and minister of foreign affairs. It is hard to think of an English-speaking Cameroonian who has occupied such a position in forty years. Of course, it is rare for an Anglophone to be a director of any state corporation if a French-speaking colleague is around however less qualified the francophone may be.
Cameroon is not the only country in the world wherein people with different linguistic backgrounds have been made to live in a single geopolitical entity known as a nation state. Canada, Belgium and Switzerland have had to go down this treacherous and bumpy path. But rather than ruin the rich cultural heritage that comes with having many linguistic blocs, these countries have carefully turned their challenge into a worthwhile experience. This does not imply there are no issues. In Canada, some Quebecers are permanently shaking the ship as they keep on calling for an independent state. But such calls are on the decline as many young Quebecers see a bright future in a strong and prosperous Canada. Canada’s federalism empowers the provinces and territories to take decisions that can bring peace and stability to their people.
Educational policies are decided by provincial political authorities and even the existence of natural resources in one province or territory cannot constitute a bone of contention as the resources are mined for the good of the entire nation. That is why the country has an equalization fund and the wellbeing of Canadians is at the centre of every government policy. This also applies to Belgium and Switzerland and in the event of a conflict, the authorities are always prompt in their efforts to find long-lasting and satisfactory solutions. After all, there is no life without problems, but what should make a difference is the manner in which the stakeholders lay such matters to rest.
But in Cameroon, the marriage between Anglophones and Francophones has not really been a bed of roses. The Anglophone educational system has undergo dramatic changes that have only helped to leave many English-speaking Cameroonians desperate and hopeless. In many parts of English-speaking Cameroon, it is normal to have a Francophone as a mathematics and/or a technology teacher in some technical colleges. For end-of-course exams questions to be set, they are usually first drafted in French and later translated into English and in most cases, the translation is not done by professional translators. This has accounted for the heavy drive away from technical education in English-speaking Cameroon. Of course, sometimes you have expressions like “béton armé” translated into English as “armed concrete”. This makes no sense to an English-speaking kid with little or no knowledge of French. The right translation will be “reinforced concrete”. This has helped to confuse many students and many have missed their destinies because of such confusion. If you think the confusion in technical colleges is bad, why not try hospitals in the English-speaking part of the country where sometimes even medical doctors in hospitals where at least 99% of patients are heavily Anglophone, are unfortunately Francophones.
This unfortunate state of affairs could lead to the death of many unsuspecting patients. Of course, accidents have occurred but in a system where there is no official autopsy policy or where there are no vital statistics departments, such accidents never get reported or investigated. Would it not be normal just to give the people the professionals who can express themselves in the language the people understand? Is it necessary to play with the lives of other people just because a point must be proved?
Of course, the trigger of the current demonstrations is the fact that many judges and magistrates in English-speaking parts of Cameroon are Francophones. Lawyers in the North West and South West regions of the country are required to make their submissions in French in order for the French-speaking judges and magistrates to rule on some very critical issues. This is not only ridiculous but frustrating for a people whose knowledge of French is at best rudimentary.
The injustices are many and they cannot be swept under the carpet. While the frustrations are justified, it will be necessary for English-speaking Cameroonians who have taken to the streets to keep things in their right perspective. The organizers of the demonstrations must also ensure that extremists do not hijack their effort to bring peace and justice to their people within a strong and united Cameroon. Over the past few days, there have been calls for a secession as the government in Yaoundé remains indifferent to the people’s plight. Of course, secession looks like an attractive proposition, but let Anglophone Cameroonians not forget that not all that glitters is gold. A secession will solve the linguistic problem, but it will never address the unjustified and unnecessary rivalry between North Westerners and South Westerners.
If secession were the appropriate solution to political challenges, South Sudan will be a strong and prosperous nation today. On the contrary, South Sudan has been rolled back into poverty by at least one century because of the fierce rivalry between the major tribes that fought for secession from Sudan. Anglophones can obtain most of what they want within a united Cameroon if they remain united and determined. The government’s inability to rein in this demonstration is proof of the fact that the authorities themselves are out of steam, after all, if the commander in chief is old and tired, the foot soldiers will surely spend more time sleeping and eating the crumbs that have been given to them. Anglophone Cameroonians must understand that this struggle is not against the ordinary francophone. It is a struggle against a government that has sought for decades to sustain a divide-and-rule strategy put in place by the French even before the two Cameroons agreed to be a single entity. Anglophones should avoid shooting themselves in the foot by considering the ordinary Francophone as the enemy. Mixing up things is a good recipe for failure. It will be appropriate to remain focused in order to achieve the common goal.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey