For over a month now, heated debates have been going on among Cameroonians. These debates do focus on an issue which, in turn, divides public opinion, arouses passions which were thought to be forgotten, and rekindles antagonisms, believed to have been dealt with in the past.
This reflection examines successively the arguments of the opposing groups, states my position and formulates a number of practical and useful suggestions.
1. The arguments being discussed
Two groups, at least, are at loggerheads with regard to this passionate issue.
The first group, a majority of them francophones with very few anglophones, maintains energetically that there is no specific anglophone problem in our country. According to proponents of this view, all the ten regions put together do experience similar difficulties, marked by an abject lack of viable infrastructures (roads, water, electricity, hospital, schools, etc.). These observable shortcomings do cause lots of displeasure to the populations in the areas affected, without any exception.
Instead of attempting to use the present grievances to achieve unknown goals, the troublemakers from the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as supporters of the first group hold, ought to join forces with their compatriots from the eight other regions and together push for a meaningful improvement of national infrastructures and the institutions for a better and decentralized political and economic governance.
On the other hand, the second group of Cameroonians who feel concerned with this debate is mainly comprised of anglophones, including a minority of francophones who back their views. Its supporters strongly believe, on their part, that there is without any shadow of a doubt an anglophone problem, initially created by the violation of the resolutions of the July 1961 Foumban Conference, which explicitly recognized the existence of TWO distinct Cameroonian entities which deliberately agreed (i.e. without force) to become united, but on one condition: that the cultural specificity of each part be respected, and that some specific characteristics resulting from history in relation to the way of life of Cameroonians of both sides of the Moungo be considered.
The official languages, French and English, were give equal status by our fundamental law, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
It should be noted that, according to the second group of people, constitutional equality is not respected on daily bases by the powers that be and by Cameroonian citizens, mostly French-dominated. Is it normal, they wonder, for you to be ridiculed in public places in Yaounde, Douala, Ngaoundere or Bertoua, simply because you sought an information in English? Is it normal for an English-speaking citizen to be told by a civil servant, "I do not understand that your dialect, can't you speak in French like everyone?" Finally, how do we condone the commonly used expression in French "je ne suis pas ton Bamenda (I am not your Bamenda)" interpreted as: "I am not your house servant!"?
This daily abuse of the rights of anglophone Cameroonian citizens is their common lot through out the national territory.
The haughty and condescending behaviour portrayed by lots of francophones (who most often do not measure the ravaging impact of such hurtful and humiliating words towards their own brothers from the other side of the Moungo) may lead to frustration and a sense of revolt. This explains the conviction of some anglophones who generally sympathize with the SCNC secessionist ideology, that francophones are bent on swallowing up their anglosaxon culture and language. Their conclusion? Francophones are responsible for all their woes.
The violent protest orchestrated by a minority of anglophones, can be seen as a result of feeling as Second Class citizens in Cameroon. Unfortunately, in the political arena, impressions are even more important than the reality.
This paper, in a way skims through, perhaps hastily, the main positions of the protagonists of this key debate.
What is to be drawn from these arguments?
2. My stance on the current issue
Given the number of complaints from our anglophone compatriots over the years (some of which have been stated above), it is hard to conclude that there is no "anglophone problem". The mere fact that our own brothers feel ill at ease to the point of expressing their frustrations publicly on mass media and elsewhere, is in and of itself a real problem.
Instead of resorting to individual and collective denial, it is safer for the French-speaking demographic majority, to do everything to understand the twists and turns, the nature and depth of the frustrations experienced by a group of Cameroonians whose historic past is uniquely different.
Many Cameroonian are frequently heard declaring that all the regions do face economic, financial and existential difficulties. This is perfectly true. But none of the eight regions- apart from the Northwest and Southwest- was made to choose freely between uniting with Cameroon or with Nigeria.
It is worth recalling that Resolution 1352 (XIV) of the UN General Assembly of 16th October 1959 as regards the Plebiscite provided TWO alternatives for the populations under British administration attached to Nigeria: either to link with Nigeria or to join francophone Cameroon.
In our analyses , we must therefore keep a sense of proportion.
Acknowledging the existence of an "anglophone problem" is quite different from asserting that the protesters are right across the board or are granted the right to abuse legal provisions.
It goes without saying that Anglophones can aspire to and hold any position in this country.
When our anglophone compatriots clamour for the full respect of all their rights as citizens of Cameroon, all Cameroonians must work hand in hand so as to make this a reality. We therefore have to change our daily behaviour and adapt it to the spirit and the letter of our fundamental law.
However - and this is very important - when some in this group, though a meagre minority, advocate secession, the profanation of State Symbols, "the return of francophones to their land", in a general atmosphere of violence, Cameroonians of both cultural divides must clearly say NO.
This is why. No group that has preached secession in Africa has ever witnessed economic prosperity in such a context. The Biafra war of secession from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which was already a federal state at the time, recorded between 500,000-2,000,000 deaths from 1967 to 1970. As for Rwanda, where two groups of citizens wanted to lock horns though not of separate ethnic extractions from anthropological point of view (same culture,e same language, same religion and same history). Their deadly confrontation ended up with at least 800,000 people dead within three months only (April-June 1994).
As far as South Sudan is concerned, the last born of secessionist Republic in Africa, which separated from the Sudan of Khartoum on July 9, 2011. It is far from being an example of a prosperous state. The fratricidal struggle occurring within and without Africa’s youngest Republic has already cost over 150,000 deaths till date. (Source: United Nations, March 2016).
From the foregoing, it can be asserted that no matter the legitimacy of the complaints voiced by several Anglophones groups, "the solution" favouring violence, war and chaos can only be devastating for Cameroon whose identity in Africa and the world lies in the concept "Unity in Diversity". Should we call back to mind that the UN Resolution 1352 of 16th October 1959 already mentioned above gave no room for the creation of a separate State by the anglophone regions of Cameroon.
The confidential internal letter of 10th June 1960, sent by British authorities on the field to their hierarchy at United Nations headquarters, shows evidence of this official position (source: Victor E. Mukete, My odyssey. The story of Cameroon Reunification 2013, p419).
3. To conclude, what concrete proposals?
• The rule of law must always prevail. As no citizen stands above the law, all those who involve themselves in offences, should answer charges before the relevant courts: civil courts for civilians and military courts for the forces of law and order. In respecting these dispositions lie the authority of the State and the safety of everyone under the rule of law.
• Renovate and upgrade the Reunification Monument located in Yaounde. How many Yaounde city dwellers or Cameroonians who pass by are aware of its deep historic significance? It is about time we give it the full extent of its pedagogic significance.
• Consider the creation of the position of a State Mediator charged, among others, with processing files from civil society members or organisations, under clearly defined conditions.
• Review the curricula of secondary and university education and introduce at long last the key sociocultural aspects regarding the ten regions of Cameroon.
• Introduce the teaching of English to francophones and French to anglophones as from the age of five to free young Cameroonians of linguistic imprisonment and make them open to the stimulating horizons offer by all the cultures of their common heritage: Cameroon.
• Accelerate a genuine decentralisation process with the ultimate goal of bringing administration closer to the people and enable proximity rule.
• Take keen interest in identifying and invigorating civil or religious institutions present in the two parts of our territory for the purpose of creating enduring links. For example, the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon (PCC) and Eglise Presbytérienne du Cameroun (EPC), the same should go for all religious institutions on both sides. Furthermore, the Tikar, Bamoun, Mbam and Banso kingdoms which were founded in the 14th Century by one and the same family (two brothers and a sister) are a clear illustration of the cultural links between the so called Anglophone and Francophones.
• Foster a complete change in behaviour towards one another (francophones and anglophones). Do all within our powers to know and acknowledge one another’s cultures and ways of life, and turn away from nefarious prejudices which constitute a danger to the stability of our entire Nation.
• Recall also that the official languages that we speak and defend so passionately today are not a choice made by our Cameroonian ancestors. Indeed, before the 14th November 1884, NOBODY in Cameroon spoke French or English.
That is an irrefutable fact.
LET US THEREFORE AVOID TO FALL INTO THE SAME TRAP THAT PLAGUED LIBYA ENTRY TO CHAOS.
Pr Jean-Emmanuel Pondi
Professor of Political Science and International Relations
Ph.d., Penn State University
M. Phil., Cambridge University;
M. Sc., London School of Economics.