The Anglophone Problem is beyond promoting Bilingualism and Multiculturalism
I am deliberately adopting an uncommon open letter approach to draw your attention to the ongoing carnage by security forces, who are perpetrating what some are now calling genocide and crimes against humanity against Anglophones in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. A lot has been said about the Anglophone problem, which you acknowledged in your traditional year-end address to the nation. But it appears you have a superficial understanding of the problem; in which case, I am compelled to school you on the problem, so you can end the nation’s drift and save Cameroon from the looming anarchy. Mr. President, we should stop chasing shadows. The Anglophone problem is not about promoting bilingualism or multiculturalism. I will spare you an academic definition, but for practical purposes, the Anglophone problem is the systemic marginalization and institutionalized discrimination against people of the former Southern Cameroon state, who have been reduced to second-class citizens in a country they voted to join as equal partners. It is the plunder and gross mismanagement of their resources, to finance a Cameroon state, captured and held hostage by a vampire elite of tribal bigots and jingoists; corrupt politicians and rent-seeking bureaucrats, operating a system of ethnic -inspired clientelism with mindless impunity. The resulting frustration and anger have caused Anglophones to lose faith in the Cameroon project and now want a return to federalism or outright separation from the Cameroon state. This is the Anglophone problem, Mr. President, so let’s discuss it!
As the bread basket of the nation, producing over 60% of national GDP, Anglophones have every reason to be angry, especially when government deliberately and provocatively breaches the social contract with the people; while plundering their natural resources – oil, gold, timber, coffee, cocoa, tea, rubber, banana, palm oil – and flaunting it on their faces. It is unacceptable that 55 years after reunification, Anglophones still lack basic social amenities that ought to be taken for granted like constant power supply, potable water, tarred roads, well equipped schools, functional hospitals and health centers. Mr. President, if all the resources government has been exploiting from Anglophone Cameroon were in the South; your region of origin, would your Bulu kith and kin accept to be deprived of the benefits of the exploitation of their resources? Do you now understand why Anglophones are angry?
Mr. President, the obnoxious argument that we are all Cameroonians and this somehow gives government the right to exploit our resources, while Anglophones are left wallowing in abject poverty is provocative, insensitive and self-serving. This daylight robbery of Anglophones has had its day, and must now end in the interest of peace and stability. Anglophones are not fools; we want to belong to a united Cameroon freely built on equality and fairness; where we are treated as equals; a Cameroon where there are no masters and servants, and where merit prevails; not a nation built around ethnic and primordial identities. Simply put, Anglophones want a federal Cameroon, where they can manage their own affairs. And if Mr. President cannot guarantee such a Cameroon, then like the Biblical Egyptian King Pharaoh, you must let my people go. And go they will, peacefully if possible and violently if necessary.
For sure, Anglophones are saying what all Cameroonians already know: that the country is not working, can hardly work as structured and that it is in a stasis with a likelihood of implosion. You must heed these timely admonitions. Anglophones have suffered immeasurably from the scourge of predatory politics and want a national forum, whether sovereign or not, to review the structure of the state and the organization of the economic base in terms of ownership and control of resources as well as a new, fair and equitable distribution formula for the proceeds from exploitation of our natural resources.
Mr. President, now that you understand the Anglophone problem, it should be obvious to you and anyone not blinded by prejudice or self-interest that the bureaucratic contraption you created called National Commission to Promote Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (NCPBM) cannot resolve the Anglophone problem. You must transcend the traction of hawks and hardliners in your “Situation Room” and do what is right for the country. It certainly is an unimaginable feat of political miscalculation and error of judgment for Mr. President to think he can just decree a solution to the Anglophone problem without addressing the asymmetrical structural dynamics that engender and perpetrate the Anglophone problem. Most Anglophones are functionally bilingual and there have been many marriages between Anglophone and Francophone tribes, so bilingualism and multiculturalism is not the problem. The country needs a new federal constitution, not a NCPBM.
The Anglophone problem is a Cameroonian problem and resolving it requires presidential leadership. Anglophones are protesting because they want a better Cameroon for all its citizens. The ongoing strike is an invitation to build a patriotic partnership to save Cameroon, because as the country stands today, no force on earth can eliminate corruption. You cannot continue to ignore calls for a national dialogue to reform the structure of the state and work out modalities of ensuring good governance; through a federal system of government that guarantees equal opportunity, and engenders a sense of belonging in all citizens. Sitting down with Anglophones is not a gallant surrender to pressure; rather, it will be an act of political sagacity and the first step towards rebuilding Cameroon and remolding its sovereignty.
Mr. President, it is indeed perplexing that the government has answered the call for dialogue with threats, intimidation, coercion and crude force; adopting the failed crisis control mechanism of go-back-to-work or-be-sacked, to end the teachers strike shame. Please, be reminded that education is a constitutional issue. The constitution, which you swore to uphold, bestows the right to education on every citizen. That children in Anglophone regions remain out of school despite your repeated intervention, is a shameful representation of leadership failure; a tell-tale sign of how the magisterial capacity of your office has been undermined and shows how far we have failed as a nation.
Certainly, Mr. President cannot pretend to be unaware that Anglophone regions have been reduced to a killing field where soldiers and agents of death are on the rampage, unleashing mayhem on defenceless civilians. Peaceful protests have been met with horrendous brutality by security forces. Anglophone opinion leaders including a Justice of the Supreme Court have been arrested without due process and detained on bogus charges. University students have been abducted, brutalized, tortured, raped and killed simply for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech and peaceful assembly. These egregious human rights violations fly in the face of our obligations under signed and ratified international treaties, and are telling signs of a weak governance culture. It is disheartening that the situation persists, even as I write.
Mr. President, many Anglophones of goodwill for whom the Cameroon project remains an unanswered question, have been willing to give peace a chance. But we are finding ourselves increasingly in the minority because it is useless and futile to continue talking peace and nonviolence to a government whose reply is only violence on unarmed and defenseless people. Southern Cameroon is a state; we are not a conquered people. As the blood of the victims of government’s barbarism, still raw on the pavement of our hearts cry out ever more loudly for justice, sooner, rather than later, Anglophones will resort to violence in legitimate self-defence as this seems to be the only language the government has shown by its own behavior that it understands. This is not a threat, Mr. President, it is a real possibility!
Your Excellency, I am not unaware that the office you occupy is a tough, thoughtful, burdensome and sacrificial position that demands self-discipline, gumption, prudence and political sagacity. Although misconstrued to be laden with unbelievable privileges, a president must feel the pangs of responsibility and use his elevated position for the good of the nation in a clear display of focused leadership because preserving peace and harmony is the highest objective of statecraft. I am therefore alarmed that in this age and time, a supposedly democratic government will refuse dialogue and resort to brigandage in dealing with dissent by a group of its citizens. Mr. President, the criminalization of free speech and civil liberties including the communication blackout and internet shutdown in the Anglophone regions is an unbelievable national shame that lowers our nation’s prestige in the comity of nations. This must stop.
On this basis, Mr. President, leadership is the issue. You should be concerned with the future that you bequeath this country, as well as your legacy. History is beckoning on you and giving you a chance at winning the battle for self-redemption and national rebirth. It is a lifetime opportunity to engrave your name in history. Should you fail to call a national conference to resolve the Anglophone problem, your name will still find its way into the book of infamy, historic still, in a way, as the man who was opportune to rewrite the history of Cameroon but failed needlessly. The choice is patently yours to make.
Mr. President, I hate to be the one to say this, but before I go, I must tell you that token measures of appeasement, like the NCPBM will not succeed where violence and intimidation have failed in resolving the Anglophone problem. And even if soldiers kill every Anglophone in Cameroon, our ghosts shall rise from our graves to seek freedom and demand justice.
Thanks for reading, and accept, Mr. President, my most esteemed consideration for your good self and exalted office.
By Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai Excellent Manor