7 March 2018

Cameroon: President Adds Anglophones to Cabinet

Photo: camerooun Tribune
Paul Biya le président camerounais

This week's Cabinet reshuffle in Cameroon appears unlikely to herald change in the government’s approach to the crisis in the anglophone regions. The crisis began nearly a year-and-a-half ago and has grown more violent. Stabilizing the anglophone regions is seen as a priority ahead of nationwide elections later this year.

There are two notable firsts in the new Cabinet of President Paul Biya.

Nalova Lyonga from Cameroon’s English-speaking southwest region becomes the minister of secondary education. Paul Atanga Nji from the English-speaking northwest region assumes the job of minister of territorial administration.

Neither of those posts has ever been held by a member of the country’s anglophone minority.

The government remains under the charge of Prime Minister Philomen Yang, who also hails from the English-speaking northwest.

Some see the new appointments as an effort to curb tensions in the English-speaking regions. However, teachers involved in the 2016 strike that kicked off the crisis say they are unconvinced.

"The anglophone populace say they are asking for a system of governance that will allow them run their own things apart, separate from what they see, from the general super-structure of anglophones and francophones, and we have talked a lot about dialogue," said Valentine Tame, a leader of the Teachers Association of Cameroon. "We have talked a lot about forgiving people, talk together and see how things can go ahead."

Cameroon has two official languages — English and French. Strikers say the anglophone minority has been marginalized. Demands range from reforms to school curriculum to a return to federalism.

Over the past year, amid deadly unrest and waves of arrests, armed separatist groups have emerged demanding all-out independence for the two English-speaking regions. The government says at least 30 and police have been killed.

President Biya has announced some reforms — for example, official documents are now more available in both languages. However, the president has ruled out any dialogue on the form of the state.

Local analysts told VOA they do not expect the new Cabinet to mark a change in the government’s approach.

Njj, the new minister of territorial administration, has been a close aide to Biya for some time. Soon after the strike began in 2016 in his home region, the northwest, Njj told state TV that there was no such thing as problems specific to anglophones in Cameroon, a position he tells VOA he maintains.

"President Paul Biya, as I have always said it, whenever he has to take any important decision, anglophones have always been in the center of those decisions," he said. "President Paul Biya has proven beyond all reasonable doubts that he has total confidence in English-speaking Cameroonians."

The Cabinet appointments this month followed reports of fresh arrests in the English-speaking regions, which remain under a curfew.

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