1, December 2016
Over the last month, Cameroon has been caught in a downward political spiral as students, lawyers, taxi drivers and teachers in the former Southern Cameroons take their frustrations to the streets after years of complaints and indifference on the part of the Yaoundé government. Cameroon, which for so many years, has been characterized as an oasis of peace in a chaotic and unstable region, is finally going the way of other countries in the region. Chad, Congo, DRC, CAR and Nigeria have all been theaters of violent conflicts shortly after independence, but Cameroon which is a union between East and West Cameroon also known as Southern Cameroons has enjoyed some relative peace. Though years of the Maquisard movement in East Cameroon threatened the country’s independence and unity, the country’s first president, Amadou Ahidjo, held the country together sometimes through brute force and sometimes through the carrot which he displayed to his enemies. After all, it is also possible to catch flies with honey. We don’t always have to use vinegar.
But the current political situation is threatening to tear the country apart. Anglophones or Southern Cameroonians are threatening to go their own way if the Yaoundé government continues to be deaf to their complaints. Many Southern Cameroonians are already looking at the possibility of a secession while others are thinking of a return to the pre-1972 political situation where Cameroon was a two-state federation. Many point to the political rigor that characterized Southern Cameroons. In those days, politicians were accountable to the people. The region’s parliamentary democracy was healthy and exciting and the people had a strong sense of ownership. In southern Cameroons, it was unusual for anybody to be arrested without a warrant of arrest. Senior civil servants had service cars, but after 6 p.m. all the cars had to be parked at the nearest police station. It was unacceptable for any politician to use his/her position to influence things in another department. Healthcare was within everybody’s reach and the future held a lot in store for young Southern Cameroonians. These are the type of things that are generating a lot of nostalgia among Anglophones, making them to always look back in anger. But is a two-state federation a panacea for all the issues facing Anglophones?
While the government in Yaoundé is to blame for the ugly situation playing out in the country, the leaders of the strike and those calling for a two-state federation must understand that there is no world without problems. While the political elite in Yaoundé has never paid attention to the sorry plight of the suffering masses, Anglophones must also understand that the generation of Anglophone politicians who played by the rules has completely disappeared. For Anglophone Cameroonians who are less than forty years, their knowledge of the glorious days of Southern Cameroons only comes from history books. Not many of them have practical experience of genuine and sincere democracy where the winner hardly takes it all. They may be speaking English, but the rigor and dedication that inspired faith and confidence in the population is lacking in both Anglophones and Francophones. Greed, self-interest, corruption and embezzlement that have characterized life in post-1972 Cameroon are more of a national problems than a linguistic issue. Anglophones just like their Francophone counterparts have willfully participated in the moral and political decline of a country that was once considered an earthly paradise.
Of course, federalism will be a welcome solution as it will inspire change and economic development in the various regions. It will empower the population. The ideal federalism will be a 10-region federalism that will grant power to the grassroots. While Anglophones might be having specific issues, it must be remembered that their Francophone colleagues are also victims of a political elite that thrives on divide-and-rule tactics that have spread a lot of poverty and pain in Cameroon. Cameroon is a country blessed with some of the finest human resources on the African continent, but years of misrule, corruption and indifference have seen this country export its best and brightest. This does not only affect Anglophones. Francophones like Anglophones are dealing with the consequences of an economic crisis that has been manufactured by the country’s leaders. Many are in exile and thousands want to return to their country of birth, but what will they be returning to when every well informed Cameroonian is aware of the political chaos that is hanging over the nation like the Sword of Damocles.
Besides economic hardship, both linguistic blocs are having serious infrastructure problems. Though being the lungs of the Central African region’s economy, Cameroon as a whole is bereft of modern infrastructure. Over the years, the government has been sleeping at the switch, leaving the poor people of Cameroon in the dark. Power supply in the country is at best epileptic. The roads are death traps and many have been consumed by these so-called roads. The hospitals are nothing more than consultation clinics and educational standards have taken a nosedive. Corruption is on the rise and political patronage has become the order of the day. It is every Cameroonian who is feeling the pinch of this chaos that has been engineered by a greedy political elite. The hardship manufactured by the government knows no language.
Calling for a two-state federation is like blaming all Francophones for the calamity that has befallen the country when it is common knowledge that many Anglophones have willfully participated in the man-made catastrophe that is leaving a trail of death and destruction among the people who have been reduced to sorry spectators of events in their own country. Rather than look for solutions that may turn out to be phoney, it will be smart to seek solutions that will bring prosperity and peace to a federal Cameroon that will place the people’s welfare at the center of every policy and action. While this article is not intended to discourage those seeking to right some of the wrongs of the past, it must be understood that even among Anglophones there are deep divisions which are more tribal. The rivalry between the Northwest and Southwest regions has nothing to do with linguistic differences. The fear of the Bayangi domination in the Southwest region has nothing to do with the language. The share number of Bayangs in the Southwest region clearly implies that they will dominate politics in this region for centuries. These are people who are very prolific when it comes to procreation. Their nocturnal activities have almost neutralized all the other tribes in the region. In the Northwest, such rivalries also exist. Where there are humans such unfortunate situations must exist. A ten-region federalism will not be a panacea but it will enable the people to be in control of their lives and destiny, and the tensions that exist because of linguistic differences between Anglophones and Francophones will be reduced to the barest minimum. Let anger and frustration not rule the current movement for change. It’s good to be rational and not to act on the spur of the moment. Cameroon should be a federation, but a 10-region federation.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey