The Republic of Cameroon is bilingual, with eight Francophone regions and two Anglophone regions, the Northwest and Southwest. In 1919, the League of Nations partitioned the country between France and the United Kingdom. Eventually, 80% of Cameroon was managed by France as a United Nations trust territory, and the Anglophone 20% was managed by England, which administered from Nigeria. In 1960, the Republic of Cameroun, the French section, got independence from France. Then in 1961, the UN gave Anglophone or Southern Cameroon given two options for independence: joining either the Republic of Cameroon or the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Anglophones voted to join the Republic of Cameroon, which was already independent in 1960. Their choice was justified by history: at the time of German colonization these were one people, separated only when Germany was defeated in the First World War. The Anglophones’ slogan to join the Republic of Cameroun was “How good it is to join our brothers!” But they forgot that colonization by France and England had made Cameroonians acquire two different cultures. The marriage of inconvenience nonetheless came about, and cohabitation has been poorly managed.
In 1961, it was agreed that the new state would be called the Federal Republic of Cameroon, with each entity maintaining specificity in its educational and legal systems, local parliament, etc. In no circumstances would this arrangement be altered. Unfortunately, the French Cameroon political leadership had a hidden agenda. The President was Francophone and the Vice-president was Anglophone, and thus the second personality of the state. Gradually the Francophone majority began discretely erasing as much as it could of the Anglophone identity, launching a slow marginalization. In 1972, the Federal structure was scrapped, and Cameroon became a United Republic with two stars on the flag signifying the two entities. Paul Biya came to the Presidency in 1982, and he decreed in 1984 that Cameroon was no longer a United Republic but was becoming simply the Republic of Cameroon.” The flag would have just one star.
In political appointments, Anglophones are always assistants. They are never appointed to fill key positions or to head ministries. Although marginalization has long been decried by Anglophones, they care less about landing political appointments, and more about the erasing of their educational and legal system, etc.
In 2016, Biya accelerated assimilation and marginalization by naming French-speaking magistrates to the common law courts of the English-speaking regions. These magistrates neither understand the common law of the regions, nor do they speak English well. Francophone teachers deficient in English have been appointed at Anglophone universities. Anglophone lawyers and teachers who organized a strike to denounce inequities in October 2016 were beaten and arrested by government law enforcement. Thus began the present crisis, which is now escalating.
Unfortunately, most Francophones are indifferent to the crisis, and many spread false information about the unrest. Some more objective administrators have exposed the truth about the frustrations of Anglophones. While no problem is apparent between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroonians, the government is trying hard to create one. Anglophones see a problem of governance and do not envision a civil war.
Some Facts on Government Repression
- In Anglophone regions, Internet and phone communication was shut down for more than 3 months in October 2017. After wide international condemnation and pressure, Internet service was partially restored.
- Anglophone leaders who were advocating for a return to the federal system of government to allow the population a proper participation in managing their own affairs were arrested and imprisoned in the capital, Yaoundé, far from their homes and families. They have been tried in a military tribunal under terrorism laws. Many have remained in prison since January 2017.
- Through international pressure the leaders notably Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba were released but those who remained in prison are tried in a military tribunal. On the 10 of April 2018, Penn Terence, a teacher in one of the Anglophone schools arrested in January 2017 was imprisoned by the military tribunal for 12 years while Che Benjamin and Ambeizi Andrew were imprisoned for 11 years. Many more Anglophones imprisoned in Yaoundé are awaiting the same fate. How can a political problem be solved by the military tribunals?
- Schools and courts have not been operational in most parts of Anglophone Cameroon since 2016.
- The radicalization of the population which is due to government repression is now very clear. Moderate voices have been silenced; naturally, violent ones have now taken the lead.
- Instead of looking for political solutions and dialogue to find solutions, President Biya has sent in the military, who treat all Anglophones as terrorists. Many Anglophones have been arbitrarily arrested and sent to prisons in Yaoundé. A corrupt circuit has been put in place so that those able to secure their release do so at a high price, spurring a lucrative business for the Army, which has a Francophone majority. Criminals now find little room in Yaoundé’s prisons, filled largely with Anglophones.
- A curfew prevails in the two English-speaking regions, and movement is greatly limited.
- As of January 2018, more than 50,000 Anglophone refugees live in terrible conditions in neighboring Nigeria.
- The government has restricted the movement of journalists and human rights activists within the English-speaking regions so as to hide atrocities committed by the Army. Even a UN human rights agent was denied entry to the regions.
- Entire villages, such as Kwakwa, Kembong, and many others, have been burnt by the military. Grandparents unable to run have been living in hell and the case of Mama Eyele incinerated in her house by the Cameroon military is pathetic.
- In Buu village, near Kumbo, houses and harvests were burnt. The Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Douala, his Eminence Christian Cardinal Wiyghan Tumi, visited the grieving villages, and he has continued to speak out about the tyranny of President Biya’s administration. Biya has been in power since 1982.
- In January 2018, 47 Anglophones were kidnapped or “extradited” from Nigeria, during a meeting held at the Nera Hotel in Abuja to coordinate help for Anglophone refugees. The Nigerian government appears to be complicit in these disappearances. The whereabouts of the 47 are unknown to their lawyers and families, who fear they may have been executed.
- The moderate elements of Anglophone society are losing their voice, because growing numbers of youths are demanding outright secession from the Republic of Cameroon to create the Federal Republic of Ambazonia. They are ready to stand against the Cameroon military to avenge the killings of family members, neighbors, and compatriots over the past two years. No one knows how many have been killed so far, but the Army has lost more than 30 personnel. In a desperate move, after many killings, youths have started striking back. If not stopped, the violence will escalate.
It is unacceptable to stay quiet, stand by, and watch President Biya continue slaughtering innocents who demand only accountability and their rights. We call on:
- The government of Cameroon to release without condition all unjustly imprisoned and illegally detained.
- United Nations and the African Union not to stand by and witness the massacre of innocent citizens. Instead they should increase pressure on President Biya to stop the violence and negotiate a political solution to the crisis.
- The international community to take action that includes Freezing the assets of Cameroonian authorities; and denying and cancelling visas of government officials and their families and of others in President Biya’s inner circle.