The Ambazonians have presented their arguments to secede from the Cameroon. I will restate this for them without interjecting my opinion. In Cameroon, French is the official language. To them, this translates to mean that the minority group that speaks English will have a communication problem due to the lingua franca being French. The Cameroonian government did not attempt to look into this issue of linguistic discrimination but instead embarked on the assimilation of non-speakers. Thus, the educational system largely favoured the French speakers, and the legal system kept the English speakers from getting their deserved justice when necessary. Is this true?
While the English speakers in Cameroon constitute twenty percent of the population, they are also marginalized politically and economically. This marginalization that started from language has rapidly progressed into other spheres of governance. The English-speaking regions, now called the Ambazonia, resulting from their perceived marginalization, are now collective in their agitations for independence. Are they marginalized?
In this piece, I explore the agitations of the Ambazonians, tracing the origin, and looking at the possible lessons to be learned from their agitations.
Ambazonia is originally an autonomous state before it merged with Cameroon pre-independence. Commonly referred to as the English-speaking part of Cameroon, the Ambazonians were initially asked if they would join Nigeria when the latter got independence in 1960, but, in a referendum, they opted to join Cameroon because they believed this would foster a sense of belonging in them. Ambazonia, then a federation, combined with the French Cameroon Republic to form the United States of Cameroon. Did they commit an original blunder by not being merged with Nigeria?
The constitution that guided the country then acknowledges the practice of a federal system of government. In 1984, however, Cameroon became a unitary state when Paul Biya emerged as the president, and the country became known as the Republic of Cameroon. Since then, the Ambazonians have struggled with identity, and multiple tries to become an independent nation as it were before have led to a violent faceoff with the Cameroonian military forces. Is the unitary system an error?
The conflict between the Ambazonians and the Cameroonian government is solely the output of an unresolved issue of colonialism and nationalism. When the Ambazonians protested for independence in 2016, they harped that the Anglophone regions in the country were marginalized. The protesters were discontented with several things—the French-speaking majority got an undue advantage in the current educational system. At the same time, the English speakers were negatively affected. The protesters also complained that it was harder for them to get justice because the legal system continuously kept the English speakers at a particular disadvantage. Despite the above and other sundry issues raised, the Cameroonian government did not address these issues.
However, in 2017, when there was a similar protest on the same issue, President Paul Biya’s government replied to the hitherto non-violent protests with a show of massive force. The Cameroonian military force shot at crowds, while videos circulating on the internet showed how demonstrators were brutally beaten without recourse to humanity. The reason for this was simple: the Cameroonian government is less concerned and unwilling to entertain the issues raised by the English-speaking minority. Can force be used to create a nation-state?
The Anglophone crisis is a part of the unending problem of a minority in the Republic of Cameroon, which lies in-between a need for adequate representation, independence, and a partly systemic problem of governance. This crisis shows the ineffectiveness of the unitary system of government Cameroon operates. The fact that the Anglophones have no say in Biya’s administration, majorly composed of the French, provoked tensions and ill-feeling among parts of the country. The group had demanded the return to the initial federal system of government the country operated in the past. When all demands and pleas fell on deaf ears, the only solution deemed feasible to the Ambazonians is to break away from Cameroon since their agitations were disregarded, a move not strange to Nigeria’s history and present. Is “true” federalism a solution?
For years, Cameroonians in the Northwest and Southwest region (which are the English-speaking regions) have been caught between a lackadaisical government in Yaoundé that has appeared apathetic to their demands, which has now ensured the growth of the armed group leading the country’s secessionist movement, which despite limited resources, have become very dangerous. The level of trust between Anglophone activists and the government worsened with the continuous arrests of the movement’s leading figures and the shutting down of the internet in the English-speaking regions. Since then, the two Anglophone regions have embarked on strikes, boycotts, and even violent means to drive home their demands. While not justified, this is not farfetched. Is violence the only option?
The Ambazonia separatist fighters also get added support from the Cameroonians in the diaspora. The continuously vicious clampdowns on the Ambazonians have caused these freedom fighters to respond to the Cameroonian military forces with violent attacks. Even worse, these fighters are also recruiting members to continue their faceoff with the military forces. The violence between the separatist fighters and the Cameroonian military has displaced close to half a million citizens, many of them migrating to Nigeria as refugees. In Anglophone areas where the government’s heavy presence is felt, Cameroonians are intimidated, harassed, and forced under martial law. The government troops have continuously detained and tortured captured secessionists. Should Nigeria grant them asylum?
Furthermore, the Ambazonians have also complained of economic and resources marginalization. They had requested an immediate reform in the governance structure because it is in their region that crude oil is discovered, which has contributed to the country’s wealth. They deem the continual oil extraction activities in their land as enslaving them; thus, they agitated for top political offices with no basis of linguistic or other forms of discrimination. Since President Biya has ignored these pleas, these regions have settled for secession. While this is being met with constant military actions, the separatist fighters (Ambazonian warriors) have engaged the military forces to achieve their aim of secession. Like the Biafran movement in Nigeria, the Ambazonians already have a white and blue flag and a national anthem, raising the prospect of a civil war in the immediate future. They claim that their struggle is peaceful, but this does not mean they will forego their independence and establish a Republic. They insist on their full rights and that belonging to the minority is not a justification for their voices not to be heard. Will the war ever end?
Since the conflict between the Ambazonians and the Cameroonian government is essentially the result of marginalization, the latter must address these issues to prevent an undesirable and costly civil war. Already, these crises have displaced over half a million Cameroonians, and dragging them for too long would only mean more millions. The government should find a way of balancing the aggrieved with what is expected of his government while not jeopardizing the national interest. Who is to protect human lives?
It is expedient to state here that the Cameroon government has claimed to find ways to resolve and contain the situation. For instance, there has been a redeployment of French teachers from the English-speaking regions, and in fact, the legal system has gradually begun to accommodate the English speakers. Furthermore, the Cameroonian government is now swift to promote bilingualism and multiculturalism in the country. This is to foster a sense of solidarity among the English and French speakers. Can Biya solve this problem?
Clamping down on the protesters who only want their identities and rights protected is a draconian mode of addressing cogent issues, which escalated the crises that probably would have been settled amicably. Although in recent times, arrested leaders of the insurrections have been released to show the government’s response to resolving the crisis. Under President Biya’s leadership, the Cameroonian government has also been making moves to adjust the electoral system to make it possible for the English speakers to have a say in whom they want to emerge as their leaders. This has proved fruitful. Will democracy work?
To show its seriousness to address the marginalization of the English speakers and the Ambazonia’s quest for independence, the Cameroonian government has embarked on a national dialogue. This dialogue has not done enough, however, to quench the quest for self-determination of the Ambazonia. Dialogue aims to achieve an inclusive and peaceful resolution to the conflict. Unfortunately, the Cameroonian government roundtable discussion with the minority group did not achieve the aim of dialogue. Thus, there is still a huge need for a practical and effective mediation process that will ensure that the grievances of both parties are mutually resolved. Should the African Union mediate?
Importantly, these crises have led to the loss of many lives and properties. It is to end this that the Toyin Falola Interview series seeks to find more on what the Ambazonians still want, what is yet to be considered, and the grounds for which they might be able to rescind their decision to withdraw from being a part of the Republic of Cameroon or negotiate better terms as a permanent region of a troubled nation. Professor Carlson Anyangwe will present the case of his people. Do please join us on:
Sunday, July 18, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria/Cameroon
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
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