By Emmanuel Unah & Victoria Ojeme
THE Anglophones of Cameroun who constitute 20 per cent of the population, feel marginalised and have since 2016 been giving vent to their grievances which they readily expressed through strikes and riots. The activists are demanding a return to the federal model that existed from 1961 to 1972.
By way of nipping the emerging dissent in the bud, the government of 84-year-old president Paul Biya had responded by clamping down on the activists, including those who share their sentiment.
The process of suppression included the arrest of the movement’s leading figures and the cutting off of internet access in the southern part of the country to check on-line mobilisation adopted by local activists and those in the diaspora. Though a bilingual country, French is the preferred language by the government and has routinely imposed same on the English-speaking Anglophone part of the country.
This resulted in the widely condemned internet shutdown that lasted a record 93 days. But obviously government’s repressive response could not stop the activists who proceeded thereafter to demand for federalism or secession through six months of general strikes with one school year lost in the process. Though forced to negotiate with Anglophone trade unions and to make some concessions, government remains determined not to yield any ground with regards to the demands of the activists.
But to buttress their complaint, the protesters, operating under the aegis of the Southern Cameroun Ambazonia Governing Council, cited many clear instances of lack of development in their part of the country as evidenced by bad roads, the threat of elimination of the Anglophone legal system and its common law values, the ‘infiltration’ of French speaking teachers in the Anglophone area. It was the latter that prompted teachers to embark on strike leading to the closure of schools there.
But in contrast to the demonstrations spearheaded by Anglophone Camerounians, members of parliament gathered at the Reunification Monument in the capital city, Yaoundé, to drum up calls for unity and peaceful coexistence.
In Douala, regarded as the country’s economic capital, members of the ruling Cameroun Peoples Democratic Movement, CPDM, embarked on street marches calling for a united Cameroun. Not surprisingly the celebration in Yaoundé was largely boycotted by opposition parliamentarians from the Anglophone part of the country, just as the opposition Social Democratic Front party in Douala condemned the CPDM outing, citing concerns bordering on the “discriminatory attitude of administrative authorities.”
The Anglophone area consists of two of the country’s ten regions, the Northwest and the Southwest. It covers 16,364 square kilometres of the country’s total area of 475,442 square kilometres and has about five million of Cameroun’s 24 million inhabitants. It is the stronghold of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, SDF, and plays an important role in the economy, especially its dynamic agricultural and commercial sectors. Most of Cameroun’s oil, which accounts for one twelfth of the country’s gross domestic product, GDP, is located off the coast of the Anglophone region.
Colonial root of the problem: The Anglophone problem and a number of other contentious issues in present-day Cameroun have their roots in the colonial period. The problem dates back to the independence period. A poorly conducted re-unification, based on centralisation and assimilation, led the Anglophone minority feeling politically and economically marginalised, a situation exacerbated by the feeling that their cultural difference are ignored.
But it all began when the German government and the traditional Douala chiefs signed a treaty in July 1884 establishing a protectorate called Kamerun. Its territories were shared out after the German defeat at the end of the First World War. The League of Nations appointed France and the United Kingdom, UK, as joint trustees of Kamerun.
During the period of the mandate and the trusteeship, each colonial power shaped their territories in their own image.
This resulted in major differences in political culture. English was the official language in the territory under British administration. The justice system (Common Law), the education system, the currency and social norms followed the British model.
Emergence of a form of self-government: The system of indirect rule allowed traditional chiefdom to remain in place and promoted the emergence of a form of self-government to the extent that freedom of the press, political pluralism and democratic change in power existed in Anglophone Cameroun prior to independence. The territory was administered as though it were part of Nigeria and several members of British Cameroun’s Anglophone elite were ministers in the Nigerian government in the 1950s.
How it all began: But it would appear that the history of the conflict goes deeper than that. According to Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the self-appointed Interim President of Southern Cameroun Republic of Ambazonia, the struggle has been a long one and has been sustained by the sacrifices of those among his people he regarded as outstanding heroes some of whom had paid the supreme price in the course of the struggle.
In a New Year message to his people, he had submitted thus: “In 1953, British Southern Cameroonian representatives in the Eastern House of Assembly in Enugu seeking self-autonomy declared ‘benevolent neutrality’ and walked out of the House. This marked the birth of the fight for an independent Southern Cameroons – the land and territory that God blessed us to live in and raise our children happily.
Till date, we have never gained that unconditional independence. Our land is illegally occupied, our resources indiscriminately exploited, and our people assimilated and marginalised in political, economic and social spheres in a union with La République du Cameroun, LRC, that never was since 1961.
“For more than half a century, we have been deprived of our inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Looking back, I am thinking of major political figures like Emmanuel Mbella Lifafa Endeley, John Ngu Foncha, Solomon Tandeng Muna and Augustine Ngom Jua who believed in the vision of an independent Southern Camerouns and fought till their dying times.
Think of activists like Albert Mukong who suffered brutal and inhumane treatment in the infamous Kondengui prison for fighting injustice that engulfs Ambazonians within the LRC system. Think of statesmen like Ambassador Henry Fossung, Barrister FonGorji Dinka, NjohLitumbe, NforNgalaNfor, Augustine Ndangam and the many others who have sacrificed all their lives for the liberation of Ambazonia. These are the fathers of Ambazonia. They are our true patriots.
WHILE the crisis between the French and English speaking Cameroun continue to unravel, there are mixed feelings in Nigeria about the development.
This is particularly the case in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states where elders and leaders of the people have continued to express concern about it while urging the Nigerian government to adopt proactive measures that would ensure the protection of Nigerians living there(Cameroun). For instance, the Ata of Ekid and a former member of the House of Representatives from Akwa Ibom State,
Chief Essien Nduese, is worried that Nigerians living in the Cameroun could be at risk since they are also English-speaking as the Anglophone agitators.
“So the Nigerian government should look for a way of protecting or evacuating the Nigerian citizens there. So long as they are English-speaking they could be treated same way as the Southern Camerounians who are also English-speaking,” he said.
He added that if the Camerounian government continues to clamp down on people of southern Cameroun who are currently agitating for their independence, more of them would seek refuge in Nigeria just as victims of Boko Haram attacks in the North East Nigeria did by running over to the Cameroun.
The state Executive Director of Community Policing Partners Justice, Security & Democratic Reforms, COMPPART, Mr. Saviour Akpan, pointed out that the only thing that could instil fears in Nigerians that the worst is about to happen over the Cameroun issue was the deployment of Nigerian troops to the borders.
His words: “Nigerian government at this point does not have any reason whatsoever to deploy military machinery to the borders because too much presence of the military at the borders will heighten the situation and make people to panic. You know one of the causes of insecurity in the Niger Delta is too much presence of military personnel.
“If government is serious in doing the right thing they should deploy trained policemen who are conversant with the gamut of community based policing to go around the border areas and hold dialogue with the communities and build their confidence.
“At this point the territorial integrity of Nigeria has not been attacked. It is only when the territorial integrity of a country has been attacked that you can deploy the military because that is their constitutional function. In a situation like this what our government is supposed to do is to issue continuous press statement on the position of the country to allay the fears of the citizens back home. But that is not done. That will only be done when the thing has gone beyond control, which is bad. This is as a result of the fact that we don’t take sanctity of lives of Nigerians citizens serious.
“We are running a careless government from the Federal to the regional. As it is now we have states that have border with the Cameroun. When you talk about English- speaking Camerounians I want to tell you that about 47 per cent are Nigerians. So there is the possibility of spill over in case something happens; but anything outside that, there is no need to panic”.
In his contribution, the Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, said that it could not be ruled out completely that agitations in the South Eastern Nigeria and even other countries of the world could have influenced what is happening in Cameroun.
“Cameroun has been so complacent over a long period of time. Now, for the first time, the Southern Camerounians are beginning to ask questions about their well-being and all that. Somehow when agitations begin to spring up like this, there is always an influence from one geographical area to the other. You recall when you had the Arab Spring.
“So you may not totally rule out the fact that the Southern Camerounians could also have been influenced by agitations by IPOB in the South East of Nigeria. It could be a connected influence. Even with the social media which goes world wide, a lot of the activities in Nigeria are seen in the Cameroun the moment they happen. That cross border influence is always there. The world is becoming a global village.
“Events at one end of the world are immediately noticed at the other end of the world and could influence developments there. So you cannot rule out the fact that what happens in Europe could influence what happens in Asia and what happens in Asia could influence what happens in Africa. That is my thinking about it. But there is nothing for us to worry about the situation for now,” Nwoko said.
Similarly Bishop Samuel Joseph, who had lived in the Southern Cameroun, expressed worry that Nigerians constitute the largest number of the English-speaking Cameroun.
He, however, expressed the feeling that agitations all over the world, not just IPOB of Nigeria, could have influenced the Southern Cameroun people who, according to him, have suffered neglect, marginalisation and suppression as well as lack of political recognition and inclusion by the French- speaking Cameroun over the decades. “They have been struggling for their independence and when you look at what is happening in Catalonia, Spain and some other parts of the world everybody wants independence. We are in the Internet age where people watch what is happening in other part of the world,” he said.