Since November, a series of strikes and demonstrations in Cameroon have been affecting the North-east and South-West Anglophone regions. So far, the response of long-term president Paul Biya has been one of repression. At present, an ad hoc committee for a bilingual and multicultural society promises to resolve the persistent problem, assuring equality between Francophone and Anglophone regions.
The members of the newly-established National Committee for the promotion of bilingualism and multiculturalism, set up on 23 January, have at last made official the plan of action and edited the roadmap in the hope of finding a concrete solution to the long-standing “Anglophone problem” of the English-speaking regions that, since the seventies, have endured continual discrimination.
On 14 June, the office run by Peter Mafany Musonge has revealed that the funds set aside by President Paul Biya to begin the process will amount to 700 million CFA Francs (1.192 m. dollars) in the 2017/2018 fiscal year. The commission will have the arduous task of promoting bilingualism and multiculturalism in Cameroon and so consolidating peace and unity among the various regions. This was made public after the National Commission of Cameroon for Human Rights and Freedom (NCHRF), in a communique circulated on 12 June, had strongly condemned the frequent episodes of violence taking place in the two Anglophone regions of North East and South east Cameroon.
Seven months of protests and repression
For some months now, the two Anglophone regions bordering with Nigeria have endured a period of strikes, clashes and violence as shown by the various videos and photos uploaded onto the social networks by the people themselves. It all stated in November when the Cameroon Francophone government – the Anglophones have a very small representation in parliament – decided to place Francophone personnel in the courts and schools. The news caused lawyers and teachers – supported by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) led by Ni John Fri NDI – to respond by striking against the will of President Paul Biya and his party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC), since they were tired of the unending process of marginalisation suffered by the two regions for decades.
The regime of Paul Biya (president since 1982) responded with repression causing at least six deaths, leading to the arrest of hundreds of people (accused of extremism, secessionism and crimes against the Republic) with the Internet cut off for three months in the two Anglophone regions where, according to Internet without borders, the prolonged blackout has caused damage amounting to 44 million CFA Francs, (about 749,000 dollars).
At the moment, the situation in the former British territories is very tense: families are refusing to send their children to school, cities are emptied on certain days in protest and some of the civic leaders have been arrested accused of serious crimes. Among these is the head of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) – an association outlawed in January -, the barrister Felix Nkhongo, accused of incitement to violence and remanded in custody for the fourth time at the military detention centre at Buéa.
Meanwhile, in the North east and South east regions, discontent continues to increase as does the desire for a return to the previous status quo when Cameroon was a federal state and the autonomy of the regions allowed them to run their own political and social affairs along their own cultural lines. This unexpressed need is increasingly finding an outlet in the numerous federalist or secessionist movements such as: the South Cameroon Youth League, the South Cameroon National Council, and the Ambazonia movement, all of which are at present members of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation – UNPO), with its centre in Aia.
A decades-old problem
These episodes of violence hide a long-running history of discrimination and marginalisation. In fact, it began when the Federal Republic of Cameroon, created in 1961 and led by President Ahmadou Ahidjo, became, in 1972, a unitarian state: the United Republic of Cameroon.
Since then, the centralising policy of President Ahidjo in practice abolished the autonomy of the Anglophone minority in favour of the Francophone majority, so creating the “Anglophone problem” that has dragged on for decades, ignored by the Cameroon political élite.
For Tassang Wilfred, General Secretary of the Cameroon Teachers’ Trade Union, the Francophone problem represents a serious case of cultural discrimination with its imposition by force in all key sectors from education to the justice system. An Anglophone, the teacher believes, is not just a person who speaks English but one who has grown up in a cultural system whose points of reference are made up of values and beliefs completely different from their Francophone counterparts. In brief, they are people with an Anglophone identity. Of the ten regions that comprise Cameroon, eight are Francophone and only two are Anglophone. Around 80% of the population live in Francophone Cameroon while the remaining 20% live in Anglophone areas which are very poorly represented politically. “Cameroon is a bilingual country, a country with two judicial systems, but the government is violating all these aspects of our culture and nationality”, Tassang Wilfred insists.