28 June 2018

Cameroon: The Country Is On the Brink of Civil War Over Colonially Created Barriers

Photo: International Crisis Group
Cameroonian military forces (file photo).

The current turmoil in Cameroon is dire and stems from the Anglophone minority which makes up roughly 20% of the country's population protesting their forced assimilation into the dominant Francophone society contrary to agreements that date back to the 1960s. The Francophone majority has been trying to quell the minority group's public show of discontent.

It seems to be the fate of our continent to harbour abhorrence, and mistrust for each other based on hierarchies and group differences that colonialists created. We continue to perpetuate their aim to divide us even after gaining independence from colonial powers. Cameroon is in chaos because of such colonial division.

After World War I, the territory was divided between France and the United Kingdom as League of Nations mandates. In 1960, the French-administered part of Cameroon became independent as the Republic of Cameroun. More than a decade later the southern part of British Cameroons federated with it in 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. This was abandoned when it was also renamed the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and again in 1984 as the Republic of Cameroon.

Since 1982 the country has been ruled by the majority Francophone population under Paul Biya and his Cameroon People's Democratic Movement party. The dwindling political and social representation of the Anglophone minority since 1972 has caused agitation in the minority whose politicians are advocating for greater decentralization or complete separation and independence.

Lack of inclusion

When the Southern Cameroons elected to join the Republic of Cameroon by UN plebiscite a power-sharing agreement was reached: the executive branch of government was meant to be shared by Francophones and Anglophones.

At the time President Ahidjo stood before the UN and promised the world that the association with Southern Cameroons will be on the basis of Two States Federation; with equal status. It's on this basis that a UN plebiscite was held on the 11th of February 1961. The people of Southern Cameroons were given two choices: Association with La Republic Du Cameroon or the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But that agreement has not been upheld over the years. Some of the things the Anglophone community is contesting according to change.org include:

- The imposition of French as the working language in purely common law courts in the very heart of Southern Cameroons. This also applies to government publications/announcements and other organizations as well as most public examinations.

- The recognition and reduction of Southern Cameroons to ethnic groups.

- The policy closure of booming Southern Cameroons economic structures to increase dependence on Yaoundé such as Powercam, Tiko Airport, etc.

- No Anglophone is allowed to head any institution in any of the three branches of government: the presidency, the government, the Senate, the national assembly, the supreme court and the Economic and Social Council

- The House of Chiefs which was a Southern Cameroon heritage- has been destroyed. Kings and chiefs are now diminished in their reach and power.

- The marginalization of Anglophones in military appointments with only 2 Anglophones Generals out of more than 25.

- Inequality in the allocation of industries and educational establishments within the national territory.

- Discrepancy in wages between state workers from La Republic and SCs (with same or similar qualification and/or job experience.)

Current crisis

The crisis finally bubbled over when lawyers, joined by teachers and others with similar grievances, led peaceful protests in major western cities in 2016 demanding that the integrity of their professional institutions be protected and their minority rights respected. In response to the protests President Paul Biya deployed troops to the region and blocked internet access, thus agitating the conflict into a national political crisis. Since then, there have been allegations of cases of extrajudicial killings, kidnapping and torture among other human right violations.

Amnesty International reproaches Cameroon for Torturing Suspects. Cartoon: Dante Besong

On June 12, Amnesty International issued a report documenting human rights violations in Cameroon. The International Crisis Group; which carries out field research on violent conflict and advances policies to prevent, mitigate or resolve conflict; says that at least 120 civilians and 43 members of security forces have been killed in the most recent waves of violence. Based solely on what language one speaks, the conflict in Cameroon has forced 160,000 people out of their homes into the bush and a further 26,000 to cross into Nigeria as they flee regions "stalked by fear and death".

Hippolyte Sando of Caritas Cameroon writes on the site that, "Since the beginning of this crisis there has been no intervention by international organizations. Only Caritas has, with difficulty, been able to access these areas stalked by death and fear." The videos emerging out of the country show horrific footage of a situation in need of urgent intervention. It is one thing for the world to claim there will never be another Rwanda but the genocides currently happening in Syria or the Afghanistan 'holocaust', termed so due to its scale- of the recent past speak a different reality that we hope Cameroon will not become a part of.

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