Am hurt but not dead’.
On November 21st long simmering resentment in anglophone West Cameroon against perceived francophone domination came to a head. Initial demonstrations left four people dead. (The English-speaking population of Cameroon makes up just under 20% of the total). Lawyers and teachers went on an indefinite strike vowing not to resume work until their demands – including removal of francophone principals of schools, and the full acceptance of common law jurisprudence – would be met. Soon the collective movement of protest – ' we have had enough' – came to be called the 'Coffin Revolution' after a figure of speech used by its leader and spokesperson Manchu Bibixi. More demonstrations followed, schools remained closed, courts no longer passed judgment.
Not long before Christmas the Catholic bishops of anglophone Cameroon stepped into the fray by publishing a powerful Memorandum detailing the origin and history of the anglophone grievances and outlining the elements of a fair and balanced settlement of the conflict. Explicit support of their stance by their fellow francophone bishops and the Nuncio remained strangely absent. But their courageous initiative had the effect of alerting foreign embassies in the capital and thus giving greater prominence to what had so far been viewed as a local problem. Many, even in francophone East Cameroon, were either unaware or downplayed its importance.
Honesty in the face of the Anglophone Problem_
One of the most disingenuous things any enlightened Cameroonian, talk less of educated Cameroonian of Anglophone upbringing, can do is to deny that there is an Anglophone Problem. If former French President, Jacques Chirac, the Commonwealth, the European Union, and many others have recognised that there is an Anglophone Problem and advised that the government of Cameroon and the discontented Anglophones engage in dialogue, how can Cameroonians deny that there is a problem? To play the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand is to sow disaster for the future of the nation we all love. It is to give way to extremist tendencies in the Anglophone community born of frustration at not being listened to or understood. Is it possible that the government has not heard the cries of distress of the All Anglophone Conferences which represented a broad base of Anglophone Cameroonians? Is it possible that the government has not heard the Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), the Common-Law Lawyers, the Teachers’ Trade Unions, Students, and others who are not only uncomfortable but are choking under the present dispensation?
Is it possible for us to look this beast in the eye, confront it together and overcome it for the sake of peace and unity in our country? The government’s continued denial of any Anglophone Problem, and its determination to defend the unitary state by all available means, including repression, could lead to an escalation of Anglophone demands past a point of no return, and this is not something any responsible citizen would wish for their country. (Memorandum Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference)
In the actions of the protest movement had been stepped up and a weekly two day 'ghost town' shut down was proclaimed and followed all over anglophone West Cameroon.
All along the social media rumour machine had gone into overdrive spreading a host of unwelcome – to the government- and at times false information. Predictably but annoyingly the government reacted by shutting down the internet indefinitely.
A coalition of teachers and lawyers, The Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium – went into talks with the government. After an initial attempt to buy the allegiance of the representatives was thwarted substantive talks got on the way. A framework agreement was reached but before the representatives were able to hold consultations with their constituencies the leaders, Mr Nkongho Felix and Dr Fontem Neba, were arrested. On the same day as their arrests, January 17th, the government declared the group illegal. The jailed lawyers have been charged with terrorism, a crime that landed them before a military tribunal raising alarms from human rights groups.
Unesco got involved from January 17th because of the school question. Human Rights Watch came to investigate.
In recent weeks, dozens of protesters have been arrested and taken to Yaoundé.
In reaction the ‘ghost town’ was extended to three days.
President Biya who has ruled the country since 1983 and seems increasingly out of toch, has announced setting up of 15 person commission to ensure that bilingualism is effectively applied.
But most people laugh at this measure saying they refuse to be fobbed off recalling earlier exsperiences of similar commissions.
On 1st February the Anglophone bishops were called to Yaoundé for talks with the prime minister.
The courageous stance of the Anglophone bishops in support of their people’s grievances gives an added impetus to the protest movement.
One bishop told me of having been approached by an influential local chief who sides with the government to intervene in favour of the re-opening of Catholic schools. His response: “This is an insult to my intelligence!” The chief should rather turn his attention instead to government schools!
Recently the New York times published an article drawing attention to the Anglophone grievances.
And so the conflict drags on with no clear solution in sight. The stubborn resolve of the anglophones remains unflinching.
Fons Eppink mhm