By Blog Writer Neri Gokyay
Although Cameroon has been independent from direct rule since 1960, a large majority of the country’s current issues can be traced back to their experience under the British and French. This colonial state was instrumental in ‘inventing’ Cameroon as it split the country into two very distinct communities; the Anglophone region and the Francophone region. These separate ‘trusts’ were ruled in direct contention with one another; a different language alongside distinct government procedures lead to the formation of individual national identities. With no past identity for the people to cling on to, these influences took over the country’s history, and are also dictating its present and future- embodying itself in the Anglophone Crisis we see in recent news.
The Anglophones of Southwest and Northwest Cameroon have experienced systemic inequality since their birth as a unified state in 1961. The supposed superiority of the French region has its roots in population and land mass, as well as the habits they inherited from their previous colonisers. The Anglophones currently only constitute 20 per cent of the total population of 24 million.
However, it is only as of 2016 that this issue has shifted from a concern of just the elites, to that of everyday citizens such as teachers, lawyers and trade unionists- with more than 110 English-speaking Cameroonians being arrested for civil disobedience. This new found grassroots mobilisation is telling of just how consequential a strong sense of national identity can be. With the continued lack of constitutional protection under the presidency of Paul Biya, the Anglophones are further reminded that they are part of a unitary system, not a federation. In wake of these developments, the Anglophone commitment to ‘British’ values will only intensify- making integration of these two divergent identities more difficult to achieve.
This hostility has displayed itself in the form of strikes, violent clashes, government disobedience and secessionist groups like the Ambazonia movement, who are demanding full sovereignty, and the establishment of their own currency called the ‘Amba.’ The response from the Francophone government has been one of severe force, with a military crackdown of armed attacks having led to the death of at least sixteen army and police officers. The government of President Biya has also gone on to ban trade unions and, most shockingly, shut down the internet in Anglophone regions. In order to escape this violence, over 20,000 Anglophones have fled to Nigeria, with the UN agency expecting up to 40,000 more. Such extreme behaviour from both sides is telling of just how prominent national identity is in this struggle. Each region is identifying with the ways of their previous coloniser, with language solidarity at the forefront of this. As we look at the recent human rights violations carried out by the Francophone government, it is evident that Cameroon is now being indirectly colonised in the form of these legacies. As the Cameroonians cannot return to their own national identity, a reinvention is necessary. Is this the kind of decolonisation that Cameroon has been in need of for nearly 60 years?
Instead of the direct, colonial rule we are all accustomed to, this state is victim to its former cultural heritage. Each action enacted by either side is strengthening this split in national identity, as the state has no past, prior to colonisation, to revert back to. Instead, they are continuing to carry out the policies of their colonisers. This lack of cultural development is the root of the Anglophone crisis; thus, in order to tackle this problem there needs to be a level of decolonisation in the form of integration – one that goes beyond that of government representation.
Sources and Further Reading
- Denis Foretia, “Cameroon Continues its Oppression of English Speakers”, The Washington Post (21 March 2017)
- Yonatan Morse, “Cameroon Has Been in Crisis for Six Months. Here’s What You Need to Know” , The Washington Post (2 June 2018)
- Amindeh Blaise Atabong, “Pushed to Extremes: Cameroon’s Escalating Anglophone Crisis”, African Arguments (8 January 2018)
- Verkijika G, Fanso “History Explains Why Cameroon is at War with Itself Over Language and Culture” , The Conversation (15 October 2017)
- Peter Zongo, “This is a Genocide’: Villages Burn as War Rages in Blood-Soaked Cameroon”, The Guardian (30 May 2018)
Image: J Stimp @flickr