from ROSY SADOU in Yaoundé, Cameroon
YAOUNDE, (CAJ News) – CAMEROON, already facing calamity posed by the upheaval in neighbouring countries spilling into its borders, is on the throes of self-imposed catastrophe as a decades-old reunification process returns to haunt the Central African country.
With the country suffering the impact of the Boko Haram spilling into its borders from Nigeria in the north, as well as militia from the Central African Republic in the east wreaking havoc, Cameroon is grappling with a resurgence of the so-called Anglophone problem as the marginalised English-speaking minorities’ frustrations transform into political demands, resulting in strikes and riots.
Agitated by government crackdown, protesters are now demanding federalism or secession. Security experts fear with the 2018 general election on the horizon, could suffer devastation.
At the centre of the conflict is the fact that French-speaking region dominate government, education and legal systems.
English – speaking Cameroon in the North-West and South-West regions make 20 percent of the 23-million population of the largely French-speaking country. The two regions have lived through general strikes, school boycotts and sporadic violence.
Since late 2016, protests and strikes have escalated over the economic and political marginalisation.
Secessionist groups, aided by the Anglophone diaspora, have emerged since the beginning of the year and are making the most of the situation to radicalise the population.
The mobilisation of lawyers, teachers and students in recent months has revived identity-based movements which date back to the 1970s.
These secessionist movements are demanding a return to the federal model that existed from 1961 to 1972.
“The current crisis is particularly worrying resurgence of an old problem,” stated the International Crisis Group (ICG).
“While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a
resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.”
The government of President Paul Biya, the strongman who himself is under criticism for allegedly fuelling tensions, has reacted heavy-handedly to the protests.
In the resultant crackdown, in Bamenda, the country’s largest Anglophone city, at least four people have been killed since the onset of the crisis.
Security forces have fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters.
Three civil society leaders face the death penalty for alleged treason,for their role in organising peaceful protests.
The trial of Felix Balla Nkongho, Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy in a military court in the capital, Yaoundé, has been adjourned on several occasions.
Activists face various charges, some which, like treason and terrorism, carry the capital punishment.
A fourth activist, Justice Ayah Paul Abine is being held incommunicado at the Secretariat for Defense while hundreds of others remain detained at the Kondengui Central Prison in the capital city.
Global civil society group, Civicus, condemned the ongoing arbitrary arrests and prosecution of individuals opposing government’s response to protests.
“The international community has a responsibility to help end the cycle of persecution in Cameroon,” Mandeep Tiwana, chief programmes officer at Civicus.
Their trial itself has been marked by irregularities lack of due process.
In the latest proceedings, the judge expelled one of the defence attorneys out of court.
The court interpreter mistranslated the defence team’s representations in English into French.
In addition, the judge claimed that the state was not aware of the trial of the activists.
ICG warned if the Anglophone problem worsened it would disrupt the presidential and parliamentary elections.
“Above all, it could spark off further demands throughout the country and lead to a wider political crisis.”
It is probable Biya, who will be 85 at the time of the election and is among the continent’s longest-serving leaders having assumed power in 1982, will contest.
Political analyst, Adamo Nzie, projected the problems to worsen with elections impending.
“Biya is the personification of the current crisis. The mention of him and polls in the same breath is enough to agitate aggrieved Anglophone Cameroonians,” said Nzie.
He charged Biya had exacerbated matters by his continued “indifference” for rarely addressing in English.
The Anglophone problem dates back to the independence period.
Cameroon, hailed as the Pivot of Africa for linking the central and western regions of the continent, attained independence from France in 1960.
Under then-President Ahmadou Ahidjo, in 1961, the formerly British Southern Cameroons united with French Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
In 1972, the federal system was abolished in favour of a United Republic of Cameroon.
ICG pointed out the re-unification was based on centralisation and assimilation hence calls for secession.
“This has led the Anglophone minority to feel politically and economically marginalised, and that their cultural difference are ignored,” the think-tank explained.
Hope has been retained after government took several measures such as the creation of a National Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, new benches for Common Law at the Supreme Court and new departments at the National School of Administration and Magistracy.
Government is also recruiting Anglophone magistrates and 1 000 bilingual teachers.
The internet has been reconnected to striking regions.
Political analyst, Adamo Nzie, dismissed these as ploys by the Biya administration to curry favour ahead of the next polls.
“It’s too little, too late to halt the cogwheel towards secession,” Nzie said.
Zuhmboshi Eric, the prominent scholar, said the act of separation is permissible under the African Union Constitutive Act (Charter) of which Cameroon is a signatory.
“Consequently, the detachment of Southern Cameroon from Republic of Cameroon is not secession but a mere act of separation,” Eric explained.
“If we keep using the word secession in our context, it will create the impression that we were once part of French Cameroon at the time it had independence– an idea which is historically untrue and misleading.”
Speaking in Yaoundé at the launch of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, Prime Minister Philemon Yunji Yang, ruled out separation.
“Cameroon’s unity is a precious heritage which no one has the right to take liberties with,” he said.
– CAJ News
from ROSY SADOU in Yaoundé, Cameroon