A deep running crisis is happening in Cameroon. Since 2016, the central African country has witnessed rising unrest and protests in the Anglophone majority regions. Following the unrest, dire consequences on the economy have been felt. Property worth millions of dollars has already been destroyed. Additionally, more than twenty people have lost their lives in the protests.
Cameroon’s government, led by President Paul Biya, has tried to initiate solutions to the unrest. The negotiations, however, always end up in chaos as the solutions turn out to be tyrannical. The crisis has further been fueled by the deaths of protesters. Their deaths have been blamed on trigger-happy soldiers who were meant to maintain order during protests.
The Anglophone problem has been a perennial issue in the country. The origin can be traced back to the First World War. During the scramble for Africa, Germany acquired Cameroon as its colony. However, during the First World War, French and British forces came together, attacked and seized the colony. The territory was therefore divided between France and Britain with the majority of the land going to the French. The Northern and Southern areas went to the British. They were known as Northern and Southern Cameroon.
Following the influence of their colonial masters, the colonies became Francophone or Anglophone. These differences in culture and language have existed up to present day Cameroon. The Francophone form the majority of the population, while the Anglophone have remained a minority group forming about 20% of Cameroon’s 23 million population.
After Cameroon gained independence in 1960, a referendum organized by the UN provided the Anglophone Cameroonians with an opportunity to join Francophone Cameroon. This was a promise of an equal federation.
The Betrayal of Anglophone Citizens
The then incumbent president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, however, did not honor the promise of federalism to the Anglophones. He reorganized the country to six regions with state-appointed leaders and abolished the two federal states. The Anglophones, being a minority, were not able to successfully resist. They have since felt humiliated and marginalized. Efforts to raise their concerns were often met with brutal force.
The Cameroonian civil war in the 1960s only made it worse for them. With the rise of the Social Democratic Front in the 1990s, which is not only the country’s main opposition party but also deeply rooted in Anglophone regions, their hopes of freedom were revived. President Biya, who came into power in 1982, has been frustrating their efforts.
Francophone: Imposed Culture
In 2016, the government nominated magistrates who were solely Francophone and could barely communicate in English. Anglophone lawyers demanded an explanation from the government. It never came. This sparked off protests in the Anglophone regions. They were aggrieved at how the Francophone culture, language, and law was being imposed on them. Teachers and students in schools and universities also went on strike protesting how the French language remained dominant. These demonstrations were brutally countered by the government, leading to the deaths of some people. This only escalated the crisis.
At the beginning of 2017, in a repressive tactic, the government shut down the internet infrastructure in Anglophone majority cities and regions. The shutdown remained for three months and greatly affected the economy. The government, in a crackdown, arrested dozens of prominent Anglophone activists and jailed them. These repressive tactics didn’t work as mass protests continued forcing the president to order their release and drop charges. However, only some were released. The Anglophones have continued in demonstrations calling for a reinstatement of the two original federal states. They have also been threatening with secession if their demands are not met.
Recently, President Biya sent Mr. Philemon Yang, the Prime Minister, to the Anglophone regions with a message of peace and hope. The Prime Minister initiated a dialogue with the Anglophone business community and exchanged ideas on how to resolve the crisis and return to normalcy. Prominent activists have remained suspicious of the dialogues and term them as acts of bad faith and provocation. Other efforts to encourage dialogues have often been met with resistance and bore no fruits.
With the presidential election scheduled for 2018, it remains a matter of time to see whether the efforts to start a dialogue will be successful, ease the tension, quench the secession fire and save the country from imminent collapse and the loss of lives.
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