Cameroon – Opinion: The Anglophone problem could become the new Boko Haram
By David Abouem in Tchoyi, Former governor of the South-West, then of the North-West
Interviewed on a television set on the evening of 31 December 2016 on the “Anglophone question”, I realized that this problem was blurred by many misconceptions. So I felt I had to write an article to restore my share of truth. In all humility, without any pretension to exhaustiveness, let alone the monopoly of truth. It is from abroad that I followed, not without sadness, the events which have for some time shaken the regions of the North West and South-West. It was not possible for me to access the various information and official reactions to these sad events. But I have a direct and intimate knowledge of the problems of these two regions, to which I am bound by strong and tender ties: I spent ten years in my administrative career.
Is there an Anglophone problem in Cameroon? Yes, certainly. At least if the term “anglophone” is understood to mean people from the northwest and southwest, those who live there or who have lived there, whether they speak English or not, whether indigenous or not, Whether installed or not. This is how most Cameroonians perceive the “Anglophone” in Cameroon. Even those who say “anglophone” speakers of the English language refer only to nationals of the northwest and south-west who, when called upon to refute certain claims, come to enumerate positions occupied by anglophones. Yet all the members of the present government are fluent in English. Would they all be anglophones? For the sake of simplification, I will use the word “francophone” to refer to Cameroonians from the former French-speaking state.
One can remain deaf to calls, close one’s eyes to evidence, clash in denial, or even think like the first Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Cameroon who, answering this question in 1964, had this A memorable phrase: “there is no anglophone problem; All anglophones learn French very quickly “. But it is all of us who, very quickly, will be able to be caught up by the realities.
“It is also not a problem to live together, but is it not this region that welcomed thousands of Cameroonians fleeing indigenous and forced labor? To many upconcessionists trapped by the colonial forces, and thousands of men and women from African countries live and prosper there in harmony “.
So, what’s the problem? How does it arise? Why these recurring eruptions in these two regions, sometimes on the basis of innocuous facts, as if the fire were smoldering under the ashes, waiting only for the opportunity to explode with fury? Because there is, obviously, an anglophone problem in Cameroon. This is not a problem between anglophones and francophones: there has never been a conflict between compatriots on both shores of the Mungo, on the basis of linguistic differences.
It is not the rejection of what comes from Francophone Cameroon: no community in the north-west or south-west has ever opposed the practice in its territory of Bassa, Beti, Bamileke, Peuhl, Sawa … or other communities of the former East Cameroon.
It is not, on the part of our compatriots in these two regions, an obsessional mania and a morbid desire to exalt the Anglo-Saxon colonial heritage, or to cling to it in order to demand its taking into account. It is not, and it is very important, a desire to undermine national unity, apart from the extremist manifestations to which I shall return, such as those calling for secession. At the time of the federal state, Cameroon was no less united than today. The national feeling was even stronger at that time, perhaps because we had just regained our freedom.
What is the problem?
Six facets come to mind:
1- Criticism of the centralized state.
2- The transfer of the decision-making centers of Yaoundé, far from the populations and their problems.
3- Failure to respect commitments to equitably take into account the institutional, legal and administrative cultures and traditions inherited from the former administering Powers.
4- Non-compliance with the solemn promises made during the referendum campaign.
5- The change of the name of the State: replacement of “the United Republic of Cameroon” by “the Republic of Cameroon”.
6- Non-respect of bilingualism in the public sector, although the Constitution makes French and English two official languages of equal value.
I will go over, in a cursive way, these different faces
1. Critique of the Centralized State
To have been stripped of the important skills that the State of Western Cameroon exercised autonomously, many compatriots of this part of the territory developed a deep sense of nostalgia, discomfort, frustration and discomfort. This feeling was accentuated in the years following the advent of the Unitarian State. It is not the mere nostalgia of an era of dreams more or less gone. It is the comparison between the quality of public governance practiced since 1972 and that which was honored in the federated state of western Cameroon which systematically leads a large number of actors to defend the former and to regret the second, Many of whom are in favor of recovery. This feeling is real even among those who have not experienced the self-government of western Cameroon as a federated state.
The conclusions of the Foumban Conference of July 1961 can be glimpsed endlessly. It is fair to acknowledge that it gave very important powers to the federated states on a list of just as important subjects as they were called To be managed independently.
Federated States had broad and exclusive powers over important matters such as the Interior, Penitentiary Administration, Decentralization, Rural and Community Development, Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Public Works, Cooperatives , Primary and Maternal Education, Energy and Water, Domains and Cadastre, Natural Resource Management, Federated Finance, etc. Each federated state had its public function which it administered sovereignly. That of West Cameroon was managed with the help of the Public Service Commission, a sort of Supreme Council of the Civil Service, responsible for ensuring the objectivity of appointments and promotions and respect for ethical principles in the management of Careers.
The management of natural resources by the future Federated States was of particular sensitivity in July 1961. In separate interviews, JN Foncha, ST Muna and AN Jua assured me that it had been the subject of hard discussions with The delegation of the Republic of Cameroon to Foumban, and then aside with President Ahidjo. They did not want any agreements previously signed with France to apply to the federated state of western Cameroon. According to them, it is also in the perspective of the sharing of income from the exploitation of certain natural resources (mines and hydrocarbons in particular) that they demanded and obtained that the figure of the population of each state is clearly mentioned in The text of the
Federal Constitution of 1 September 1961.
Cameroon was considered a constitutional curiosity, with a strong presidential regime and no counterweight at the federal level, but a classic parliamentary regime at the state level.
In eastern Cameroon, classical parliamentarism was not able to function despite the provisions of the Constitution of that State because of the unification of political parties and the fact that President Ahidjo continued to exert a daily influence on the management Of public affairs in that part of the territory which he already directed as President of the Republic before the Reunification. One recalls the letter of resignation of a former Prime Minister of Eastern Cameroon, Vincent de Paul Ahanda, in which he implied that President Ahidjo did not allow him to assume his responsibilities.
But in Western Cameroon, parliamentary democracy was fully exercised, respecting the Constitution of that State. The elections were organized by an independent electoral commission created by a federal law of November 1961, the first in a country with French as its share. By its composition, the mode of designation of its members and its rules of operation, it was truly independent of the Executive and the Legislative. Its President, Justice Asonganyi confirmed this to me during an interview in Bamenda.
The government had to be invested by Parliament before it took office and was accountable to it. The parliament, consisting of two chambers -House of Assembly and House of Chiefs-was jealous of its prerogatives. President Ahidjo himself, despite all the authority he had, has realized this on several occasions, notably in 1966.
Following the parliamentary elections held this year, the Kndp had the largest number of deputies in the House of Assembly. But its President, J.N. Foncha, until then Vice-President of the Federal Republic and Prime Minister of Western Cameroon, could no longer cumulate these two functions under a recently passed law. President Ahidjo decided to replace him with the Honorable S.T. Muna, whom he considered more federalist than No. 2, Augustine Ngom Jua. But the parliament sent a firm message to him that it would refuse the investiture to a government headed by a minority party. Ahidjo was forced to appoint the Honorable Augustine Ngom Jua as vice-president of the Kndp, whose autonomist inclinations irritated him.
Incidents were not long in coming. First between the Prime Minister and the Federal Inspector of Administration for the region of Occidental Cameroon – it would now say Governor – that he considered as being in its territory. Then between the police, a federated force under the authority of the Prime Minister, and the national gendarmerie, a federal force, who nearly came to an armed confrontation! Actors and witnesses of these incidents are still alive.
The fact that all this has been suppressed without being replaced at the managerial level by something better or even as good has generated the frustrations and demands that we are still experiencing today. Appointments in senior administration and the parapublic sector, for example, no longer responded to a legible rationality, and anglophones felt marginalized. Whereas, until then, everything was done on the spot in Western Cameroon, it was now necessary to go to Yaounde to “follow the files”. Our compatriots from this part of the national territory came with the conviction that civil servants-servants-were actually serving the users. They were astonished at the reception given to them by the public officials who, despite the bilingual character of the State, obliged them to mumble a barely intelligible French, often amid laughter and jeers.
2) Transfer of decision centers to Yaoundé.
The decision-making centers, formerly close to the populations and their problems, were all transferred away from them and concentrated in Yaoundé. Consequences: hyper-centralization, exasperating delays, multiple inefficiencies in public management, lack of accountability of leaders vis-à-vis the populations they serve to serve. Two examples will suffice to illustrate it.
The government has decided to centralize at the National Park of Civil Engineering Equipment (PNMGC) in Yaoundé all the civil engineering equipment hitherto held by the subdivisions of public works, in the chiefs of the regions and certain county headquarters . All the gear in good condition of the former Public Works Department (PWD) of West Cameroon was thus transferred to Yaoundé, to be hired by the PNMGC. However, PWD agents, who mastered the rhythm of the seasons, began two or three rains of road maintenance before the arrival of the dry season to consolidate the roadway. So they wanted to do the same thing the year after that centralization. When they asked to lease gear at the PNMGC, including those belonging to them in full ownership a few months earlier, they were told that the craft were on other sites; That the tanks were broken; That the “cardboard” confirming the commitment of their expenses had not yet left the Ministry of Finance; Or other reasons.
Faced with the deplorable state of the road network that was worsening, the populations threatened to revolt noisily. It was necessary to go back to the President of the Republic, after having knocked all the doors unsuccessfully, so that a solution could be found to this problem which was becoming explosive. Centralization, when you hold us!
Second example: the transfer to the National Water Corporation of Cameroon (SNEC) of the management of water supply hitherto provided by certain municipalities. This government decision was not even explained to the people. Water supplies had been made on their own funds by municipalities and village communities, with or without the support of certain external partners. The SNEC, as one of its first decisions, came to manage it and without having invested the smallest franc in it, to reduce the number of standpipes.
In the city of Kumbo, the revolt almost turned into riots. The UNC mayor of the city did explain that the pipelines had been financed by the beneficiary populations themselves, that the latter regularly paid their receipts to the commune, that it was dangerous for the health of the population to deprive them of a ” Drinking water, … nothing did. A slogan spread like a train of powder: “Beware of the snake! It has come to bite and kill. ” Play word ironic from the word SNEC. These angry populations were accused of “rebellion against established authority”. It has been necessary to go back to the level of government to find a solution to a problem of standpipes in communities in the hinterland. Centralization, when you hold us!
Cases of this nature and other subjects of discontent have multiplied. It was not, of course, a malicious will of the central government, but rather an opposition between two administrative cultures: one with instinctively centralizing reflexes and the other, functioning by nature on the principle Accountability at different hierarchical levels of organizations.
It is interesting to note that Francophone populations, which suffered the same effects of this hypercentralization, did not have the same reactions. Another cultural problem. Indeed, and our anglophone brothers could understand it without difficulty, Francophones do many acts without even realizing that they are indisposed, and not at all by malice. I take the example of the names of our constituencies.
When the regions were created in 1962, the administrative districts formerly known as the “Bamiléké region” and the “Bamoun region” were grouped together to form the Western administrative region. Rightly, because it was western Cameroon Oriental. But West of the territory of the federal state was West Cameroon, rightly called West Cameroon. During the transformation of the regions into provinces in 1972, that of the west became the western province, while Eastern Cameroon had just disappeared! Our country is thus the only one in the world where the Northwest and the Southwest are contiguous! Whereas, as our teachers have taught us, between the north-west and the south-west lies the west.
3) Non-respect of the solemn promises made during the referendum campaign.
The promises made during the “Yes” campaign in the referendum, which had determined a large number of voters to vote in this way on May 20, 1972, were scarcely respected. This is particularly the case for the acceleration of development in these two regions, which should result from the savings made by the abolition of the institutions and organizations of the federated states. The proxies of the federal government and the UNC party had indeed promised road asphalting, dam construction, urbanization of cities, development of border areas, and so on. I personally attended some of these speeches, having been part of the team of the UNC Political Secretary and Minister of Territorial Administration (I was then serving as head of the organization of the territory in this ministry).
4) Failure to respect commitments to equitably take into account the institutional, legal and administrative cultures and traditions inherited from colonization.
Whether we like it or not, British colonization, like French colonization, has produced an institutional, political, administrative, managerial and other culture and traditions. She has also shaped ways of reasoning and living. It was therefore necessary to take into account, equitably, in spite of the end of the federal state, this double legacy of the Anglo-Saxon and French systems. The State of Cameroon had undertaken to do so.
Thus, in the aftermath of the institution of the unitary state, political discourse emphasized the bilingual and pluricultural character of the State. It was emphatically affirmed that taking into account the positive elements of our colonial heritage would enrich the positive values of our centuries-old traditions, an invigorating sap of our progress towards progress. The National Council of Higher Education and Scientific Research, as well as the National Council of Cultural Affairs, organized in
1974, helped define the profile of this new Cameroonian
It was also one of the strong commitments made by President AHIDJO to ST MUNA and JN FONCHA when he consulted them on the immediate establishment of a unitary State before delivering his speech of 6 May 1972. These two Former Vice-Presidents of the Republic, told me during interviews in their residences.
In the eyes of some populations in the northwest and south-west, this commitment was not respected
Francophone compatriots often blame their English-speaking brothers for their obsessive references to the Anglo-Saxon colonial heritage, as if it were the colonial heritage that was to structure relations between communities that had long been united by Of multiple links, even before the beginning of colonization. At the same time, they resorted with delight to “their” French colonial heritage. Our constitution, our institutions, our administrative organization, our system of decentralization, our financial system, the overwhelming majority of our legislative and regulatory texts … come from the French colonial heritage. Sometimes we even carry out simple transpositions, some of which can go as far as photocopying, such as the establishment of the National Election Observatory (ONEL).
Yet, we could – and still can – capitalize on this multicultural heritage, to give our country better and better standards. Is our Code of Criminal Procedure not there to give an eloquent proof of it?
This penchant for institutional mimicry prompted protest movements such as the Cameroon Action Movement to assert that Francophone Cameroon was prosecuting French colonization in western Cameroon. Originally born in 1979, and probably based abroad, this movement circulated numerous leaflets in Cameroon, most of them posted from Canada and the United States. These pamphlets denounced the marginalization of Anglophones treated as second-class citizens; The francization of Cameroon, in defiance of the equality of the two colonial heritages; The transformation of the National Assembly into a single chamber of registration, contrary to what was happening in western Cameroon; Excessive centralization; The multiplicity and complexity of procedures; The abandonment of the development priorities which were those of West Cameroon before unification, with the consequent slowing of development in this part of the territory; Etc.
Aware of the impact of these mounting messages, President AHIDJO sent strong delegations from Bamenda and Buea, comprising members of the government, the political bureau and the UNC central committee. Their mission was to restore the facts in their truth, to explain to the people, to warn them against the harmfulness of such messages, and to reduce the tension. He then set up a high-level ad hoc committee to reflect on the English-language problem.
Only three of the members of this committee are still alive, by the grace of God: HE Mr. Paul Biya, then Prime Minister; Mrs. Dorothy Limunga Njeuma, then Deputy Minister of National Education; Myself, then Governor of the North-West Province. All the others have already preceded us. I would like to quote from memory: Solomon Tandeng Muna, President of the National Assembly, Chairman of the Committee; Ministers of State / Ministers Samuel Eboua; Sadou Daoudou; Victor Ayissi Mvodo; Emmanuel Egbé Tabi; Namata Elangwe; Christian Songwe Bongwa; Joseph Chongwain Awunti; UNC Deputy and Administrative Secretary Thomas Ebongalamé; The Permanent Secretary of National Defense, Samuel Kamé; The Director General of the DIRDOC, Jean Fochivé; The governor of the south-west; Fon Fosi Yakum Ntaw ….
I was appointed Rapporteur of this Committee. Professional secrecy prohibits me from disclosing the findings, conclusions and recommendations contained in our report. However, out of respect for historical truth, I must point out that none of the members of this committee expressed any doubt about the existence of an Anglophone problem in Cameroon.
The work lasted a whole week. After reading our report, the President of the Republic decided to receive, individually, each member of this committee. I recall that on this occasion he gave me his views on the different aspects of this question, before soliciting concrete proposals on specific aspects of my province.
Recognized at the time as real by the highest authorities of the State, would the English problem have disappeared, as if by magic? Certainly not. All the more so since certain facts have been added to an already complex situation.
(5) The change of the name of the State: replacement of “United Republic of Cameroon” by “Republic of Cameroon”
On its accession to independence, the former French-controlled State had assumed the name “Republic of Cameroon”. It was with the Republic of Cameroon that Southern Cameroon negotiated the conditions for reunification. At the advent of the latter, the Republic of Cameroon became the Federated State of Eastern Cameroon, and Southern Cameroon, the Federated State of Western Cameroon, within the Federal Republic.
The change of name of the State in 1984 – abandonment of the United Republic of Cameroon and return to the Republic of Cameroon – was perceived in many circles as a simple phagocytosis of the former Cameroon Occidental by the former Cameroon Oriental. The most pessimistic have seen a clear desire to eradicate, even in terms of symbols, the contribution of the former West Cameroon to the Reunification and the construction of a larger nation.
This change of name has also resurrected the feeling of being a “distinct entity” in many North-West and Southwestern compatriots. That of which the populations, sovereignly, had chosen to find brothers and sisters of another “entity” from which they had been separated, so that the two live in harmony and in equality. For the extremists, it was therefore necessary not only to resist “this phagocytosis”, but also to perpetuate this “entity” through a name that would recall the history of this part of the national territory. The name “Ambazonia” seemed to respond to this concern.
Where does this name come from ? Before Portuguese explorers reached the Wouri and gave it the name of “Rio dos Cameroes,” they had landed in the bay of Limbe. The saint of the day was Saint Ambrose, in the Julian calendar (we are in 1492). They gave the bay the name “Ambass Bahia”, Ambrose Bay. Under the influence of English, this name became “Ambass Bay”. It is the origin of the dance whose spelling has been francised to become “ambass-bé” or “ambassibé” or something else. But the name Ambazonia was not unanimous. Hence the return to “Southern Cameroon”.
For the sake of truth, it should be noted that the instigators of this change of name were in good faith: I discussed it with some of them. Brilliant academics freshly integrated into strategic decision-making circles at the top of the state, they were still little informed about certain realities of deep Cameroon, and only developing the reflex to convene them when preparing decisions of public authorities, In order to guarantee a healthy reception by the different segments of the social body. At no time had it occurred to them to put some of their compatriots at ease. Their reasoning was rather the following.
National unity had been the credo of the Public Powers under the Federal State and the United Republic. The election of President Biya at the end of December 1983 marked the entry of Cameroon into the era of the National Renewal. The National Renewal postulating that it was necessary to move from national unity to its higher stage, national integration, this passage constituted a real mutation, which had to be reflected through the very name of the State. The United Republic of Cameroon should therefore “become” the Republic of Cameroon.
The draft law tabled on the Bureau of the National Assembly read as follows: “From the date of promulgation of this law, the United Republic of Cameroon becomes the Republic of Cameroon”. It was a parliamentary amendment that resulted in the current wording: “… the United Republic of Cameroon shall be known as the Republic of Cameroon”; Formulation of the remainder, legitimately. The instigators of this project had not realized that instead of a mutation, it was rather a return in the name of the State of Cameroon under French tutelage to its accession to independence , A quarter of a century ago.
The tabling of this bill stirred up many people in the northwest and southwest provinces. In Buéa, where I served at the time, I was personally arrested by dozens of people, including UNC officials, who asked for the meaning, the opportunity and the justification for this return to the situation before the Reunification . In Yaounde, ministers from both anglophone provinces were all upset. Many are alive and can testify.
Some MPs from the Northwest and Southwest have even advocated an open sling, and recommended a negative vote. They all gathered around the President of the National Assembly, the Right Honorable S. T. Muna. After long and lively exchanges, they rallied to the position of the President of the Assembly and other moderate deputies who found it undesirable to raise a sling wind, owing to the circumstances of the moment. Their argument was both logical and patriotic. Observing that the conflict between the former President of the Republic and his successor had reached worrying proportions, they felt that a sling-wind in the English-speaking provinces at this moment would undoubtedly weaken the new President and give rise to Arguments to those who opposed him.
6 April 1984
They renounced the sling but charged the President of the National Assembly to draw the attention of the President of the Republic to the state of mind of the people in their electoral districts and to ask him to find, with wisdom Father of the Nation, a satisfactory solution for all. Concerns about this law were blurred only by the occurrence, in this troubled period, of serious events: the death sentence of the former president of the republic, and the mutiny of the Republican Guard on 06 April 1984. Everyone realized that in such times the entire people had to face their leaders.
6) Non-respect of bilingualism in the public sector, although the Constitution makes French and English two official languages of equal value.
Of the six facets of the English problem recalled above, which would be insusceptible of solutions? Any ! Absolutely none. So what to do?
History has given Cameroonians a sublime challenge: to build a united state, based on the singular course of their country, capable of constituting a model for the integration of the various colonial heritages and its traditional centuries-old values. If it succeeds, it can serve as a model, even a reference for all Anglophone, Francophone, Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. It could thus constitute the epitome of African Unity. This challenge can be met. It must be.
This can, however, only be done with humility, in dialogue, consultation and cordial understanding. Neither the power of numbers nor the military force can achieve it. Indeed, it is well known, “opinions are like nails: the more you hit on them, the more you push them.”
No mistake !
Let us not make the mistake of taking this problem. We would risk having bitter awakenings; Or it will be our children and grandchildren.
When I read the word Boko Haram for the first time in a newspaper, I was abroad. I then asked a Nigerian consultant colleague for information on this group. With a smirk, he replied: “You know, it’s only an insignificant group of illuminated fanatics.” In the face of the thousands of deaths, the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people, the hundreds of billions of francs used to fight this nebula, or the unnamed sufferings it continues to inflict, no one could hold such language today . What happened ? Boko Haram found support on the outside. Let us not wait for uncomfortable compatriots who shout their evil being, come one day, out of desperation, to seek support outside.
We discuss with criminals, to release hostages! Let us discuss with all the compatriots who feel the need, to free Cameroon from the threats to peace, its stability and its security.
In the 1960s in France, a unitary and millennial state, the Front de Liberation de la Bretagne (FLB) denounced what it called “French colonialism in Brittany”. Trainee in a prefecture in the west of France, I saw some of his militants brandishing the flag of the FLB in place of the French flag. Today, only historians still speak of the FLB. It is not the result of war; Nor an embalming of all the protagonists of the FLB. It is the consequence of a political offer, the result of a republican dialogue.
A few years ago, I was discussing with Dr. Ngwang Gumne, one of the main leaders of the secessionist current, with whom we had served in Bamenda. By chance, we found ourselves in Sweden, happy to see you again. After more than two hours of discussion, he had this sentence: “my brother, as no one wants to listen to us, everyone will eventually hear us.” I pointed out to him that he always called me his brother, whereas during all our discussions I argued against secession. With a smile he said: “It is you in Yaounde who do not want to listen to us.”
Let us listen to all the children of the fatherland. Without prejudice, as requested by the President of the Republic in his message to the Nation on December 31, 2016. We offer all our countrymen frameworks of discussion and consultation, to approach our problems without prejudice and resolve them with sincerity , In truth.
What is going on with lawyers and teachers is going in the right direction. But let us not limit ourselves to the treatment of what are only manifestations, even mere symptoms. Let us address, in all its complexity and depth, the Anglophone problem. With courage and determination, let us bring satisfying and convincing solutions. All citizens of our country will benefit. For peace in justice. For the good of the nation. For the salvation of the fatherland.
By David Abouèm in Tchoyi
Former governor of the South-West, then of the North-West;
Former Sg / Pr.