Cameroon and the Anglophone problem: How to quench the erupting volcano?

CAMEROUN :: Cameroon and the Anglophone problem: How to quench the erupting volcano?

Lawyers-protestToday Cameroon should be attracting and reassuring investors in view of its emergence slated for 2035. But the country is rather facing poignant emergencies such as rampant corruption, massive youth unemployment, daunting insecurity with attacks by Boko Haram, etc. And worse still, it is the Anglophone problem that can throw the country into disarray. It is up to the State authorities and the elites, without any distinction of political leanings, to understand this crisis and work out appropriate solutions in full responsibility. This can only be achieved through a serene and honest dialogue with the real representatives of the angry but not desperate Anglophone community, whose obvious wish is to be considered and listened to, and not insulted or ignored as it has so far been the case.

I - What exactly is the Anglophone problem?

Maybe the average Francophone cannot fully grasp the problem with Anglophones. Only the one wearing tight shoes can feel the pinch, but the powers that be should understand it and stop turning a blind eye to the issue. The Anglophone problem is a set of demands formulated in various ways and on many occasions by Anglophones in Cameroon. These are identity and language claims that actually question the form of the State. Indeed in 1961, the Anglophones formed a two-state federation with the Francophones, but today Anglophones are merely two administrative regions out of ten. Their grievances should be received and examined, accepted or rejected, just like in any normal democratic setup. But Anglophones cannot simply be contemptuously turned away or ignored, accused of identifying themselves in relation to a foreign language, told that the malaise is national and not just Anglophone, or be brutalized by the police. Such responses from the State exacerbate tensions in a country where the right to protest is guaranteed.

Anglophones are not just Cameroonians who speak English as their first official language, as opposed to those whose first official language is French. As Simo Bobda (2001) argues, being an Anglophone in Cameroon is a more ethnic, cultural and regional concept than a linguistic categorization. This definition excludes the Francophones who have long settled in the Anglophone area, even though they may possess economic assets or family ties there, as we analyzed in our book Fifty Years of Bilingualism in Cameroon - What Perspectives in Africa? (L'Harmattan, Paris, 2010). This approach also excludes Francophones with Anglo-Saxon education, and those who have studied in Anglophone schools in French-speaking Cameroon. In short, Anglophones in Cameroon do have a particular cultural identity, a limited geographical space and a specific sociopolitical history, even before being a linguistic community. With this clarification in mind, we can better and fully grasp the nature and the scope of the Anglophone problem, which is today causing riots and tensions in the South-West and in the North-West.

II - A brief historical flashback

When France and Great Britain took over from Germany in Cameroon from 1916, this created a Cameroonian Anglophone community living in 1/5 of the territory on the one hand, and a Francophone community living in 4/5 of the country on the other hand. The Anglophone minority was used to relative political and cultural autonomy during the British indirect rule colonization. But France applied a strict Jacobin type of centralism in the Francophone zone, coupled with linguistic and cultural assimilation, though Cameroon was not technically a French colony. One can therefore understand Anglophones' uneasiness within a highly centralized State, which the first Francophone president saw as the best way to achieve rapid development in peace and unity. After adopting French-English bilingualism based on biculturalism in 1961, reunited Cameroon became the meeting ground of French and English, two of the most prestigious languages ​​in the world.

Indeed, the new political dispensation allowed the country to take advantage of the great heritage of French (a beautiful language of Latin origin spoken by more than 400 million people worldwide, full of refinement, enriched and defended since 1539 by generations of writers and scholars, and present in more than 70 countries and territories). In addition, the country would benefit from the prestige of English (an international language spoken by one billion people around the world, which is dominant in strategic sectors such as communication, diplomacy, business, etc.). But the blessing of adopting English in Cameroon has seemingly become a curse, or at least has contributed in giving rise to the Anglophone problem. Why? Just because in the course of its implementation since 1961, Cameroon's bilingualism has run into a number of difficulties: the law of the majority has conferred a de facto preponderance on French, despite all relevant constitutional provisions; the promotion of bilingualism has remained minimal or just academic, instead of being systematically implemented through specific laws and regulations in each sector like in South Africa; bilingualism has become lopsided as it is not always supported by strict biculturalism. In the end, Anglophones cannot culturally enrich or impact the governing system in Cameroon, hence their feeling of being assimilated by the Francophones. In that respect, in 1964 in the Cameroon cultural review Abbia, Bernard Fonlon in an article entitled We Should Make or Mar, had the following complaint to make: "After Reunification, we now drive our cars on the right, the franc has replaced the pound as our currency, the academic year has been aligned with that of the Francophones, the metric system has replaced the British measurement units, but in vain have I have looked for a single institution brought back from Anglophone Cameroon. Anglophones' cultural influence is virtually nil ".

Even when Anglophones are appointed to high positions in the administration, their cultural and linguistic specificities should be protected by relevant and binding laws and regulations. In his book entitled My Faith, a Cameroon to Refurbish (Véritas, Douala, 2010), Christian Cardinal Tumi writes: "The daily anguish of the Anglophone Prime Minister on certain issues, the repeated, chronic and open disregard for him from some members of the government just aggravate a situation which is already very embarrassing ". Official bilingualism cannot just be used to conceal or cover up the State's failures in other important aspects of national unity or harmony.

III – What are Anglophones' Worries?

The main threat to the Anglophone sociological entity in Cameroon came on May 20, 1972: Ahmadou Ahidjo organized a referendum to put an end to the federal system that had been in place since 1961. Under that dispensation, the Anglophones constituted a federated state and were able to manage their own local and regional affairs without any interference from the Francophones. But of what significance are the Soviet-like results of a popular consultation organized in a context of tyranny and single-party politics? Ahidjo's political maneuver was just a trick to neutralize and better assimilate the Anglophones, with the overt and covert complicity of France. In that connection Christian Cardinal Tumi, still in his book quoted above, writes (on page 33) that a French diplomat in Rome had told him that France's policy in Cameroon was "to wipe out the Anglo-saxon culture of the Anglophone minority in Cameroon ".

At any rate, since 1972 the Anglophones in Cameroon have been able to realize, with Ahidjo and even after him, the real meaning of the unitary State for them: adamant political marginalization, impossibility for them to head a number of key ministerial departments (Finance, Foreign Affairs, Territorial Administration, Education, Defense, etc.), Francophone administrative authorities in Anglophone areas, the absence of good roads linking the South-west to the North-West, the growing political divide between the two Anglophone regions, the dilution of the Anglophone cultural heritage, the non-respect of the Anglophone Prime Minister by some Francophone cabinet members, the publication of official texts mostly in French, etc. It was after realizing that huge trickery that John Ngu Foncha, who had led the Anglophones to the 1961 Reunification, opted to resign in 90s and demanded a return to federalism.

With the return to a multiparty system in the 90s, Anglophone group unity began to crumble. Political opposition between their two regions was exacerbated. After the All Anglophone Conference (AAC) and the meeting of Anglophone teachers and parents in Buea in 1993, the two Anglophone regions remained politically divided. Worse still, through their elites and traditional rulers, they engaged a fierce competition for the State favors. The contention intensified in the 1990s after Achidi Achu (from the North-West) and Mafany Musonge (from the South-West) were alternately appointed prime ministers, from 1992 to 1996 for the former, and from 19996 to 2004 for the latter. They both proclaimed that politic na njangi, just a way to say that politics is a game of interest in which the ruling party gives favors only to the constituencies that have given them their votes. That mercantilist and non-democratic conception of power politics, which gave rise to unspeakable backstage maneuvers for appointment positions, was detrimental to the values ​​that characterized Anglophones: restraint, hard work, moral probity, transparency, honesty, selflessness and dedication. And not surprisingly many Anglophones were subsequently seen indulging in fraud, the rigging of elections, the corruption of traditional rulers, the embezzlements of public funds, etc.

Concerning the educational system, a serious threat to the Anglophone entity was the francophonization of technical and vocational education. Indeed, technical secondary schools in the English-speaking area have operated since 1972 like in the francophone zone, and their pupils had to write the same examinations such as the CAP, the technical Probatoire and the Bac, even after the GCE Board was created. Worse still, most technical education teachers were Francophones until the year 2009, when the first Higher Teachers' Training College for Technical Education was opened in Bambili in the North-West region. Moreover, since colonial times the Anglophones have always made it a point of honor to inculcate civic values to young children (good morality and citizenship, hard work, obedience, etc.). That was achieved through religion and moral education courses taught at all levels, in public schools as well as in secular and denominational institutions. These two subjects were officially disqualified in 1976 by presidential decree as criteria for admission to university or to employment in Cameroon. The Anglophones saw in that move a desire to radically francophonize their school subsystem.

Following the creation of Anglo-Saxon universities after the massive failures of Anglophone students in the bilingual national universities, the Anglophones noted that Francophone lecturers were appointed to teach or to manage those Anglo-Saxon institutions. This could be seen as real attack on the Anglophones' specific cultural identity. A similar threat was the migration to the Anglophone areas of thousands of Francophone students attracted by the high quality of the Anglophone subsystem. Indeed, many Francophone students and their parents had discovered, after the inception of the GCE Board in 1993 and the admission of Cameroon to the Commonwealth in 1995, that Anglophone certificates could open up more doors worldwide than Francophone diplomas. As a result, France was no longer the first destination for serious undergraduate or post-graduate studies: Cameroonian students preferred to study in the US, Canada, the RSA, India, etc. And to get better prepared for that, the Anglophone subsystem was the ready answer. These new linguistic Anglophones, expected to increase in number as time goes by, can gradually turn the original ethnic Anglophones into a minority among all English-speaking Cameroonians.

IV - The Responsibility of the State

Such are the hard facts, as seen through Anglophones' eyes. What should the State do at this point in time? The difficulties faced by Anglophones are of identity, socio-political and linguistic in nature, with many psychological implications. Therefore the first measure towards solving the Anglophone problem is human and communicational: finding credible mediators who can really build the bridges and destroy the walls, in order to (re)establish dialogue between the concerned parties. Then the second step should be technical and scientific. The 1996 Constitution, by establishing a decentralized unitary State, has visibly failed to create the desired level of harmony in Cameroon. The persistence of the Anglophone malaise is clear evidence of that failure. The country needs a strong national unity combined with a real regional autonomy. That is the system at work in the US, in South Africa, in Germany, and even in neighboring Nigeria. It is called federalism. It allows democratically elected officials placed at different levels of hierarchical responsibility - local, regional and federal - to manage the country according to the rule of law, and with due respect for objectivity, fairness and accountability. But Cameroonian experts and constitutionalists could also invent for their country a form of federalism that is even more adapted.

The government and the governed, to preserve the unity of the nation, must stop seeing anglophonization as a threat to some, and francophonization as death to others. Besides, the governed are sometimes ahead of the government: many Francophone families in Yaoundé and Douala have anglophonized their children without getting the green light from the State. The future of Cameroon will be a judicious anglophonisation/francophonisation of a number of cultural elements that came to us either from France or from England. And if our national interest one day requires us to borrow some ways of doing things from Germany, China or Japan, shall we refuse that move just to keep our cherished Francophone or Anglophone identity? It is high time we changed our way of thinking, and started behaving as Cameroonians aware of building their future as Africans in a global context of rapid change.

Indeed, as discussed in my recent book Time for Africa's Emergence? With Focus on Cameroon (USA, 2016), in this era of globalization, Africa's emergence will rely more on our geography than on our history. It is therefore up to us to strike the right balance between our identity and our aspirations that is between our roots and our wings. But it should be noted that federalism in Cameroon would be a boon not only to Anglophone regions, but also to many other regions whose elites have been sending memoranda for years to the central government. These regionalist claims clearly express the thirst of all Cameroonians for a better distribution of national wealth, a better conduct of local affairs, and a better management of regional peculiarities. Obviously each and every region would like to be part of a well-managed country where all the citizens, in harmony with one another, can develop their full potential through hard work, in strict respect of their individual as well as collective rights?

Today the urgency for the State in Cameroon, conscious of its obligations before History, should be to appease Anglophones while correcting or redressing any institutional dysfunctions to preserve or perfect our national unity. The Anglophone problem (or any other similar set of grievances) is actually a thermometer that reveals high temperature, the urgent need to reform our institutions to enhance our living together. In that respect, and by way of example, the educational system is a great tool for a sound homogenization of the rising generations without sacrificing natural regional diversity, and not a nursery where short-sighted politicians can sow the seeds of future hatred and discord. More importantly, what the Anglophone regions are asking for (that is more freedom, autonomy, political initiative, better local government, etc.) is also good for other regions in the country. In the final analysis, the Anglophone problem is the manifestation of the discomfort of a community aspiring to better living conditions, but it also reveals a need that can be found all over the country. Obviously 22 million Cameroonians cannot be governed today with the same reflexes, methods and institutions as in 1972, when the country had only 6 million inhabitants. 

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