Anglophone Problem: Government gets it all wrong 1

The government of Cameroon on Thursday, December 1, 2016 finally came out of its silence with a series of Prime Ministerial Orders as a response to the demonstrations that have been playing out in the North West and South West regions of the country. Over the last two weeks, the government’s response to this unfortunate situation has been very confusing. While some ministers such the Ministers of Justice, Communication and Higher Education have taken turns on various media platforms to advise the world that there is no Anglophone problem, the Prime Minister, for his part, has made a trip to the North West region to meet the demonstrating lawyers and teachers in order to gain a better understanding of the issues. The President, for his part, has completely switched off, giving the impression that the demonstrations have no justification and that the demands of the protesters will not be met. In certain cases, peaceful demonstrators have been victims of violence on the part of Cameroon Defense Forces.

In Buea where university students organized a peaceful demonstration against university authorities, the police responded to the students with force that was grossly disproportionate. Many students have been tortured and wounded while some have been arrested and are still in jail for reasons that are only known to the government. Many innocent students were arrested even when they were not part of the protests. This is making it hard for Anglophone leaders to actually sit down with government authorities to have a frank and fruitful discussion on how to deal with the issues that are hurting the people. Government surrogates are on media platforms and outfits trying to put a spin to the issues with some even indicating that no student had been tortured or raped although the Internet is awash with videos substantiating the claims. These spin doctors are still living in the past. For them, the world has stood still, failing to understand that smart phones have transformed many Cameroonians into citizen journalists. With cutting edge technology, it is possible to stream images in real time. Tactics of the past have no place in the world of hi-tech. It is no longer possible for governments to oppress their people without the world being aware. It is almost impossible to shape global opinion with cock-and-bull tales. The world has moved on, but Cameroon political authorities are still frozen in time.

Thursday’s announcement by the government did not make any mention of an Anglophone problem. Rather than provide real solutions to the issues that have been raised by demonstrating Anglophones, the government is, as usual, seeking to provide some cosmetic and Band-Aid solutions. It will be recruiting 1,000 bilingual teachers, many of whom will be sent to those areas where there is a shortage of teachers. Of course, that sounds interesting. But the issue has not been about bilingualism. It has been about meeting the real educational needs of the population and teachers. Of what value will a bilingual Francophone be if he will be asked to go and teach English in a city like Ossing in the South West region or Oshea in the Northwest region? The government is failing to understand that oral bilingualism is different from intellectual bilingualism.

Anglophone schools will surely be requiring mathematics, physics and chemistry teachers. How will a bilingual Francophone address such an issue? Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry in English will surely not be the same in French and when it comes to expressing oneself intellectually in such complex subjects, the teacher’s rudimentary knowledge of English will surely take French leave of him. Would it not be wise for the government to come up with the appropriate solutions that will help it stave off conflict? Why is it trying to fan the embers of conflict? Cameroonians – be they Anglophones or Francophones – want to have a good education in the language they understand better. They want to live in harmony and conflict-free. When will their authorities understand that the issues that have pushed other nations into fratricidal conflicts have been very little things such as indifference and injustice?

The prime ministerial orders also indicates that the government will also be reaching out to mission and private schools to enable them achieve their goals in the best possible conditions. In this regard, the government will be providing some two billion francs to these institutions, although there is no time frame for such a gesture. It could take a decade or less. This is a country where things are done in slow motion. Before a health center is completed in some villages, almost everybody is dead and gone and the structure will be there for politicians to pride themselves on. Are Cameroonians not tired of promises that hardly come true? What has become of those computers that were promised to university students across the nation? Why is the government not seeing the writing on the wall? Cameroonians are frustrated. Years of economic hardship and frustration are gradually transforming a peaceful people into a violent people. Why can the government not understand that those who make peaceful change impossible only make violent change inevitable?

There is still time for the government to deal with some of the key issues that have been put on the table by the Anglophone minority. The lawyers are still prepared to down their tools until they are sure that Francophone judges will no longer be transferred to Anglophone courts; something that has been a bone of contention for years. They want a pure common law system in Anglophone Cameroon and not the harmonized legal system the government has been trying to stitch together for decades. How does the government expect a heavily Anglophone lawyer to make submissions in French just because the judge or magistrate is illiterate in English? There are other issues and some of these issues also affect Francophones. Anglophones like Francophones have been caught in the throes of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. Both Anglophone and Francophone kids need quality education. Both Anglophone and Francophones need good hospitals.

The country’s hospitals have over the years been reduced to places where patients go to die. Doctors have become business people. The oath of Hippocrates has been transformed into the Oath of Hypocrisy. Healthcare, genuine healthcare, is out of the reach of many helpless Cameroonians. There is nothing to write home about the country’s road network. The roads are at best death traps. Corruption and nepotism have blighted the lives of Cameroonians. These could be sources of conflict and the fear is that conflict is like rumor. It spreads very fast and it could take a different dimension as it spreads. What might have started as an Anglophone problem could end up becoming a national issue. Poverty knows no language and it has hit both Anglophones and Francophones like a ton of bricks. The government has to sit up. It must take appropriate measures to spare this country the scourge of war that has gripped other African countries. This is not time for any grand-standing. It is time to acknowledge that certain things have not worked well for Cameroonians and that those things could be done differently to bring peace and stability to this fractured country.

By Dr. Joachim Arrey