Prof Willibroad Dze-Ngwa, a historian, maintains that marginalisation of Anglophones in Cameroon is a burning issue that should be urgently addressed to guarantee peace. In an exclusive interview with The Post, the Yaounde University I lecturer says any intellectual who claims that the Anglophone problem does not exist is a pseudo-intellectual.
The Post: There is the build up to the anniversary of the independence of Southern Cameroons, on Saturday, October 1, and there is always this argument about the Anglophone problem. Some intellectuals say there is no Anglophone problem. What is your take on this?
Prof. Willibroad Dze-Ngwa: Well, I think it would be foolhardy to say there is no Anglophone problem in the first instance. When we are talking about Anglophone problem, we are talking about a constitutional issue and it is verifiable. It is very much documented and any intellectual who contests the existence of this issue should be a pseudo-intellectual.
Genuine intellectuals have the responsibility to clearly identify problems and provide solutions to, rather than bury their heads under greed and attempt to refuse the existence of a burning crisis in our fatherland, like the Anglophone problem.
What then is the Anglophone problem?
It is a problem of two people who came together based on well-defined terms, but one is used today as photocopy and another as an authentic Cameroonian in every sense of the word. It is not just an issue of language.
It is an issue of culture, an issue of an educational system, an issue of a legal system, all of these put together which are being trampled upon in total disagreement or disregard of the clauses that brought these two entities together. These two territories of British Southern Cameroons and French Cameroun were autonomous and internationally recognised by the United Nations as separate entities.
Before reunification, they were each well constituted each with a Prime Minister, a Government, a Parliament, a population, a territory and, what have you? These people came together with a determined will to move on as equals in a reunified Cameroon, despite differences in educational systems; legal systems, and so on.
But, today, there is total erosion and breakdown of the basic canons which brought these two people together. An Anglophone is considered in Cameroon today as an afterthought in every sense of the word, no matter what positions they may occupy.
You say it is an educational, legal and constitutional problem; could you cite certain examples so as to elucidate your claims?
Take a recent issue where we had newly registered students of the University of Yaounde I protesting that the simple orientation to get them register in the university is done in one language, French. There are newspaper articles of disgruntled Anglophone students petitioning the Minister of Higher Education to cancel the entrance examination into the Higher Teacher Training College (ENS) of Maroua, because, the questions were not translated into English.
Worst; the students in Buea were intimidated to submission when they tried to raise their voices. How can we be talking about internal cohesion, yet openly favouring one group of Cameroonians against others? Why should all the questions be in French, whereas they were also English-speaking candidates? When they tried to raise their hands to say we need a paper in English, instead of apologising, the invigilators shouted at them. Today, we talk about “harmonisation” which is a way of assimilating, a way of putting aside all the strong values of the Anglo-Saxon system.
It seems as though, the more people talk about this, the more there is a determination to crush the people. And it is regrettable to see this happening with impunity when we are talking about internal cohesion, when we want to hold back violent extremisms and build peace. I am strongly convinced that in-as-much as there is generalised hardship in Cameroon; the Anglophones have suffered from exaggerated social injustice.
When I say Anglophones, I am referring to those who originate from the Northwest and Southwest Regions of this country, even if they do not speak English. Anyone who refutes the existence of such a glaring problem and would not rather propose lasting solutions to it is simply unpatriotic.
As an academic product of this system, did you have some personal frustrations about what you call the Marginalisation of Anglophones?
If I started harping on my personal frustrations or challenges, it might not be helping this issue. I rather want to use the challenges to propose long lasting solutions for effective internal cohesion in this country. It was my frustrations in the 90s in this Yaounde University that propelled me to be engaged in peace-building and policy research. Let me say that, prior to my University education, I had always considered myself as a free-born Cameroonian. It was only when I got registered in the University of Yaounde that I knew I was different and overtly treated as such.
I should say that I am one of the first Cameroonians who effectively did research work on the “Anglophone problem in Cameroon: a historical perspective from 1916 to 1995.” That was my Masters Degree dissertation defended some 20 years ago, although some top varsity dons copied portions of my work and published without any intellectual honesty of ever citing me and my work. Somewhere along the line and with keen determination to promote internal cohesion, concord and harmony among the diverse peoples of Cameroon, I moved on to do another work for a PhD “National Unity and National Integration in Cameroon: Dreams and Realities”.
This second work highlights not only the Anglophone problem which is a burning national issue, but some other crises and conflicts which need to be handled. Yes, I have suffered from enormous rejection and discrimination, because of the language I speak.
If you insist to have one: I was the only lecturer in the Department of History who had no office, not even a chair to sit on, six years after I was recruited. The paradox is that even my position as President of all African Researchers in comparative education and member of the publications standing committee of the World Council of Education, did not change anything.
Even when I organised an international conference which brought honour to my University, I had to be too busy so as not to take my foreign colleagues to my office, of course, because I had no office.
Like I said, my challenges rather propelled me into what I like doing best, peace-building in order to make a contribution in correcting the wrongs through research and publications.
Any other example?
Anglophones generally suffer from same frustrations everywhere; although some pretend to be fine in public, but complain bitterly in private against the status quo. That is simply cowardice, hypocrisy and being unpatriotic.
Take another glaring example of sheer bad faith and outright discrimination of Anglophones in the University of Yaounde I.
Its administration, for the very first time since its creation, does not reflect the bilingual nature of the country.
All the top administrative positions in that university, from the rector, three vice rectors, directors, are all Francophones. Even if you look at the Deanery of the Faculty of Arts, you’ll see that the Dean and all the Vice Deans are all Francophones.
Does this mean that, for the past several years, there is no Anglophone Cameroonian who is competent enough to even assume any of these positions? In the yesteryears, the Anglophones always had a Vice Rector or a Rector or Dean or Vice Dean, but the more we talk now, the more our listeners become deaf and dumb.
In the Bamenda University, more than half of those who assume the top positions are Francophones who do not even master the Anglo-Saxon management principles and, of course, make Bamenda University a shadow of an Anglo-Saxon University.
What is your opinion about the SCNC?
I think like disgruntled people all over the world, they are using what they have to attract attention. It is important that they should be listened to. They are not a bunch of stupid, mad people who have nothing to do. They are Cameroonians who are genuinely asking to be recognised as such. The Government is aware of what these people are clamouring for.
If you say the SCNC is asking for secession, I would ask you this question: Who are the SCNC? The SCNC, I should say with all fairness, whether people like it or not, are all Cameroonians who come from the Northwest and Southwest Regions, whether they identify themselves with it or not.
This view is historical, because, SCNC stems from the AAC I and AAC II (All Anglophone Conferences) which held in Buea and Bamenda, respectively). It was because the resolutions and constitutional proposals made during these conferences were not respected that pushed them to extreme views.
I am not comfortable with any extreme tendencies from any party whosoever. We have two extreme tendencies: the Government of the day is exercising extreme tendencies by not making enough efforts to dialogue with the SCNC, the SCNC, on the other hand, are at another extreme. These two extremist positions could be bridged through social dialogue. I am convinced that there is no crisis that cannot be resolved among Cameroonians, if there is political will.
You talked about values; it looks like you are going back to the apron strings of the colonial masters to articulate the Anglophone problem, because we are talking about values that are coming from the UK and France?
I don’t want to look at it solely from the strings of the colonial legacies. I am talking about a people considered today as those from the Northwest and Southwest Regions. History has shown that the people who come from these regions, irrespective of the language they speak, have been marginalised beyond reason.
Truly, they are not the only marginalised people in Cameroon, but the English language and geography has been the main determinant of their plight. We should not shy away from the colonial heritage, for it is because of the colonial values that we inherited that the people are differentiated.
I think it is nonsense, in my appreciation, to think that we have gone a long way so we can forget about our colonial past. Why should one group forget about their colonial past while another upholds and imposes its own on the others? This is assimilation, pure and simple.
One politician likened secession in this context to a grown up adult going back to the mother’s womb?
Well, we want to remain academic and I think that in academics we want to discuss issues based on facts and figures. We can play politics but it is dangerous to continuously play politics over the lives of a disgruntled people. We absolutely want a situation where there should be a national dialogue on this issue because there are many things which are not going right.
Sometimes when I watch political programmes over the television, I see the representative of the MDC party always struggling to address the Anglophones in some language which is everything, but English.
Listen to some informative micro programmes on radio from some ministerial departments like the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovations, the Ministry of Basic Education, just to name a few.
You get Francophones presenting important information meant for the Anglophone public in some language between pidgin, English and French. The question is; are there no Anglophones in these various ministries who can speak and articulate the policies of these ministries in the English language? You can, as well, listen to the programmes.
Those who are refusing to heed the call for dialogue with the SCNC say Southern Cameroons was never an independent State before the process of reunification began, that the Anglophone problem can never be a problem of the statehood of Southern Cameroons…?
These people are right and wrong. They are right when they say Southern Cameroons was not an independent State before the process of reunification. They are equally right when they recognise that the Anglophone problem exists. The issue now is how to deal with a problem that we created through bad faith, constitutional manipulation and intimidation. Even the terms upon which reunification was based have never been respected.
Well, when we start arguing with glaring blindness, we are like saying ‘do what you want to do’. When a dissatisfied people are pushed to the wall, we should expect what the SCNC are doing and we should expect extremist tendencies.
Every crying child needs some attention. Like in my other research and recommendations, I will never stop calling on authorities and SCNC activists to look for a middle point. I know there are some top-notch Anglophones who, in public, pretend to challenge and want to deny the existence of this problem, but in private will give you tons of documents and grievances to justify the Anglophone problem.
Many Francophones understand the problem and articulate it very well. May be I should pay homage to this huge fallen hero, Saidou Sule, who manifested exemplary patriotism in tackling this issue, although from the Bamoun Kingdom.
I don’t think that there is any politician in Cameroon who is genuinely interested in the Anglophone problem which, I think, is worst than Boko Haram. It should not be allowed to degenerate.
As a peace crusader and political scientist, if you are given the opportunity to talk to the President about this Anglophone problem, what will you tell him?
I will tell the President and all patriotic Cameroonians that many errors have been committed and to rectify the errors is not a sign of weakness. It is rather a sign of wisdom and inclusiveness.
I’ll call on the President of the Republic to realise that the Anglophone problem is truly a burden and that there should be social justice in terms of power positioning, representation in governance, respecting the cultural heritage of these people, in terms of developmental projects for this country, in terms of usage of the language itself.
The President should be a true unifying factor. Cameroonians look up to the Head of State and if he takes a decision in the right direction, it is going to trickle down to the greatest majority. Talking about the language, I expect the President to come out from the Unity Palace, I want to insist on the word Unity Palace and speak to Cameroonians in English and French.
We need a national dialogue to tackle the Anglophone problem and other burning issues in the country like corruption, unemployment, negative ethnicity, insecurity, among others.
What advice do you have for SCNC activists who are being arrested every day, bastardised, locked up and tortured because they are fighting for this course?
I would rather advise all the stakeholders in this business: the SCNC activities, the government and the international community. To the activists, I will strongly advise them to steer clear from any extremist tendencies and hold tight to their philosophy of the force of argument and not the argument of force, but then, I fully understand that they want to make their voices heard.
To the Government and leadership of this country, including all politicians, I will remind them that this problem will not end soon if it is not tackled from the roots. Cameroonians should feel Cameroonians no matter where they come from. We need genuine dialogue before it is too late.
I call on all politicians, especially the politicians who originate from the Anglophone Regions to hold this problem as one major issue to articulate because, if not, we are going to have a replay of the same scenario for long.
I think the lawyers are doing a great job by deciding to use facts and figures to defend a course and a people. I have only one country, Cameroon; we must all weave and plant seeds of peace based on social justice.
Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom