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The Church In The Anglophone Crisis-The Great Divide

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Ambazonia Clergy

 

 

 

 

In addition to ethnic divides, the Church suffers from fissures between Anglophones and Francophones. There are five ecclesiastic provinces in the country, all under the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC). Four of them are French-speaking, while the ecclesiastic provinces of Bamenda administers the predominantly English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions, under the aegis of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference (BAPEC). Not surprisingly, the six bishops of the Anglophone regions express more concern about the crisis than do those in Francophone areas, reflecting anger among the Anglophone flock at the central government’s actions and the sympathy of the clergy in Anglophone regions for Anglophone grievances.

Two issues related to the crisis are particularly divisive among the clergy. The first concerns the structure of the state, namely whether to advocate for decentralisation, federalism or even independence for a new Anglophone state. The national ecclesiastical hierarchy supports decentralisation within a unified state. Touring the affected regions in May 2017, Archbishop Samuel Kleda, president of the NECC, asserted that the conference had asked the government to implement decentralisation, as stipulated by the 1996 constitutional law.

Some Anglophone priests have gone so far as to call for the creation of a new state.

In contrast, some Anglophone priests have gone so far as to call for the creation of a new state. In April 2017, for instance, Father Wilfred Emeh of the Kumba diocese called for the restoration of the statehood of Southern Cameroons (he proposed federalism as a step toward achieving independence). The next month, Father Gerald Jumbam of the Kumbo diocese wrote an open letter to Archbishop Kleda supporting full independence for the Anglophone areas and calling federalists “cowards standing on the fence”. He was joined later in May by Father David Fomanka, former Catholic education secretary of Mamfe diocese, who advocated for independence in an open letter to “Southern Cameroonians”.

These three priests all now live abroad. Their stance undoubtedly reflects the frustrations of a section of the Anglophone population. But the vast majority of Anglophone Cameroon’s 350 priests are more cautious, saying little in public and privately supporting either federalism or effective decentralisation – not independence. Furthermore, most respect the Church’s hierarchy and the principle that the voice of the Church should be heard through the bishops.

The second division is over whether to support a school boycott declared in January 2017 by Anglophone militants, along with a general strike (they vowed to turn cities into “ghost towns”). The boycott continued throughout 2017 but, in 2018, classes have resumed at many schools, especially in cities. Fomanka, Emeh and Jumbam support the boycott, while Bishop George Nkuo, president of the BAPEC and effective head or spokesperson of the Anglophone part of the Church, disagrees, arguing that children’s education must be respected as a primordial mission of the Church. In this he agrees with the national Church.

Still, some disagreements remain at the level of the bishops. In May 2017, Archbishop Kleda pressured Anglophone bishops to ensure that classes resume immediately. Bishop Immanuel Bushu of Buea had a different opinion. Without supporting the boycott, he did say that it expressed the wish of parents and that progress toward resolving the crisis, and thus reopening schools, could better be made if the government released detainees.

The position of leading figures within the Church against the boycott has provoked the anger of Anglophone militants and prompted them to threaten clergy. They also have set fire to schools not taking part in the boycott. Militants burned down two Catholic primary schools in Tobin and Kumbo on 5 August 2017 and badly damaged the Sacred Heart Catholic College in Bamenda on 18 September.

Despite the polarisation, Anglophone and Francophone bishops share some views, and important Church figures are trying to find middle ground.

For the most part, Francophone bishops have remained silent about the crisis, allowing Archbishop Kleda to speak on behalf of the national Church. Nor did they speak out when a government-fabricated consortium of parents filed a series of lawsuits against Anglophone clergymen, accusing them of aiding the school boycott. In April 2017, the Bamenda Court of First Instance summoned several Anglophone bishops, as well as the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon and the executive president of the Cameroon Baptist Convention, in connection with this case, with state prosecutors adding their own charges of endangering national unity, accusing the bishops of making statements that had paralysed the schools. A court in Buea summoned bishops from the Southwest shortly thereafter. Charges have since been dropped, but the government has proved itself willing to put clergy on trial for political reasons.

As in the past, the Church is caught between the Yaoundé government and its opponents on the ground. The top-down pressure came even from the papal nuncio (recently replaced), who pushed Anglophone bishops to reopen schools, but expressed no concern about either the schools’ safety from arson or the politically motivated prosecution of bishops. In Yaoundé diplomatic circles, the pope’s emissary was seen as having taken the government’s side in the crisis.

Despite the polarisation, Anglophone and Francophone bishops share some views, and important Church figures are trying to find middle ground. For example, despite differences in tone, both Anglophone and Francophone bishops condemned the heavy military crackdown on civilians between September and October 2017. This precedent indicates that greater coherence, and a more constructive role for the Church, are possible.

Culled from the International Crisis Group April, 2018 Report.

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