POLITICS: Understanding the Anglophone crisis

POLITICS: Understanding the Anglophone crisis

Since the end of 2016, protests have developed into a crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. To understand the crisis, we examine its origins in the history of Cameroon under colonial rule and the years following independence. Christine Holzbauer looks into the background to the unrest.

The unrest in Cameroon began in November 2016, when Englishspeaking teachers and lawyers in the Northwest and Southwest regions took to the streets, calling for reforms and greater autonomy. They were frustrated with the dominance of the French language in official matters and with what they saw as the marginalisation of Cameroon’s Anglophone population. French and English remain the official languages in Cameroon.

The protests were followed by a government crackdown, as well as internet shutdowns and arrests. In October 2017, marginal secessionist groups declared the independence of the socalled Anglophone “state” of Ambazonia. Some people were killed in clashes and many were detained in the aftermath of the declaration. Many have also fled the country into Nigeria.

The politicisation of the crisis and the radicalisation of its protagonists are mainly due to the government’s response, the diminishing trust between the Anglophone population and the government and the exploitation of the identity question by political actors who have aggravated the population’s resentment. Many Anglophones now see a return to federalism as the best feasible way out of the crisis.

Colonial legacy

After the First World War, the former German protectorate of Cameroon was split between France and Britain. Each colonial power shaped their territories in their own image. This resulted in major differences in political culture. English was the official language in the territory under British administration. The justice system (common law), the education system, the currency and social norms followed the British model. The system of indirect rule allowed traditional chiefdoms to remain in place and promoted the emergence of a form of self-government to the extent that freedom of the press, political pluralism and democratic change in power existed in Anglophone Cameroon prior to independence. The territory was administered as though it were part of Nigeria and several members of British Cameroon’s Anglophone elite were ministers in the Nigerian government in the 1950s.

After the First World War, the former German protectorate of Cameroon was split between France and Britain. Each colonial power shaped their territories in their own image. The two political traditions inherited from colonialism influenced the new state

In contrast, the Francophone territory was more directly administered by France following the assimilationist model, although colonisers and the traditional elites also practised a form of indirect government, especially in the north of the country. French was spoken and France’s social, legal and political norms shaped the centralist political system of successive regimes. Bogged down in a war against the nationalist Union des populations du Cameroun (UPC), which challenged the French presence, the Francophone territory enjoyed less freedoms.

The process leading to the reunification of the two Cameroons is at the heart of the Anglophone problem. At the time of the 1961 referendum, the political landscape in Southern Cameroons was already dynamic: the majority of the population aspired to independence. But the UK and some developing countries were against it on the grounds that Southern Cameroons would not be economically viable and that it was best to avoid the creation of microstates. They advocated a vote in favour of joining Nigeria. The UN therefore excluded the independence option and limited the referendum to a choice between joining Nigeria and reunification with the Republic of Cameroon.

The main figures among the Anglophone political elites, Emmanuel Mbella Lifafa Endeley, John Ngu Foncha, Solomon Tandeng Muna and Augustine Ngom Jua, pleaded at the UN for an independent state of Southern Cameroons, or alternatively for temporary independence during which time it would negotiate the terms of unification from a better position. The UN’s rejection of the independence option left two opposing camps during the referendum. At the end, Endeley, the leader of the Kamerun National Congress (KNC), campaigned in favour of joining Nigeria. Foncha, the leader of the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP), who left the KNC in 1955, Muna and Jua campaigned in favour of reunification with the Republic of Cameroon. Influenced by these prominent political leaders and by a certain fear of being absorbed by the Nigerian giant, the vote went in favour of reunification.

In 1961, representatives of Southern Cameroons and the president of the Republic of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo, met at Foumban in the west of Francophone territory (July 17–21) to negotiate the terms of reunification. Even today, the failure to keep the promises made at the Foumban conference, which did not produce a written agreement, is among the grievances of Anglophone militants. The Anglophone representatives thought they were participating in a constituent assembly that would draft a Constitution guaranteeing an egalitarian federalism and a large degree of autonomy to federated states, but Ahidjo imposed a readymade Constitution that gave broad powers to the executive of the federal state to the detriment of the two federated states (West Cameroon and East Cameroon). The Anglophones, who were in a weak position, accepted Ahidjo’s Constitution and only obtained a blocking minority by way of concession.


Emergence of Anglophone grievances

Since then, unification and centralisation have been the political dogmas of the governments of Ahidjo (1960–82) and Paul Biya (since 1982). After reunification on 1 October 1961, Cameroon became a federal republic, but in practice inherited a soft federalism with an unequal distribution of power between the two federated states in the federal assembly and in the government. Ahidjo was the first and only federal president. Foncha was both vicepresident of the country and prime minister of West Cameroon, in line with the constitutional provision according to which the vicepresident must be from West Cameroon if the federal president comes from East Cameroon, and vice versa. At the time of reunification, Ahidjo already had a near political monopoly in East Cameroon. Only West Cameroon represented a serious obstacle to his hegemonic ambitions. In 1961, he set about bringing West Cameroon under control by exploiting the divisions among Anglophones. At the federal level, despite the constitutional guarantee that English and French would both be official languages, French was the administration’s language of preference.

The federated states did not have financial autonomy and depended on grants from the federal state. Understanding where the real power was located, the Anglophone elites competed with each other for positions in the federal government, spending more time trying to please Ahidjo than defending the Anglophone populations. Ahidjo took advantage and manipulated the rivalries among the elites and the ethnic and cultural divisions between Grassfields in the north, which had cultural and linguistic links with the Bamilékés of the west Francophone region, and the Sawa in the south, who had cultural and linguistic links with the Francophone coast. The result was political divisions in West Cameroon, including a split between Foncha and Muna, who left the KNDP in 1965 to form the Cameroon United Congress (CUC).

In 1966, taking advantage of divisions among the Anglophones, Ahidjo called for the creation of a single party in the two Cameroons, in the name of national unity. Strengthened by the support of some Anglophone leaders, such as Endeley and Muna, who saw an opportunity to dethrone Foncha, he succeeded in his objective. The Cameroon National Union (CNU) was formed in 1966 and the other parties were dissolved. Foncha, Jua and Bernard Fonlon (assistant general secretary at the presidency) were initially opposed but changed their views for fear of losing their positions in the federal government. The single party resulted in the Anglophones losing all institutional leverage to plead their cause. In 1968, Ahidjo was able to appoint his new ally, Muna, as prime minister, replacing Jua.

In 1966, taking advantage of divisions among the Anglophones, Ahidjo called for the creation of a single party in the two Cameroons, in the name of national unity. Strengthened by the support of some Anglophone leaders, such as Endeley and Muna, who saw an opportunity to dethrone Foncha, he succeeded in his objective

Once the single party was formed, Ahidjo intensified centralisation, going so far as to suppress federalism on 20 May 1972, when Cameroon became the United Republic of Cameroon, following a referendum. Anglophones continued to challenge the legality of this change on the grounds that the 1961 Constitution did not provide for any alteration in the form of state and stipulated that only parliament could amend the Constitution. Anglophone militants also consider that the referendum should not have taken place throughout the country and should have been limited to West Cameroon, which had the most to lose. Finally, they claim that it was not possible to hold a free and transparent referendum in the context of the time and that the ballot was marred by serious irregularities.

It was also in 1972 that Anglophones really began to challenge their marginalisation. At the CNU National Congress in 1972, Fonlon publicly criticised the creation of the unitary Republic. Other prominent Anglophones, such as Albert Mukong and Gorji Dinka were also fiercely opposed. Foncha and Jua wrote privately to Ahidjo and expressed their opposition in the official media.

Anglophones resist assimilation

When Biya succeeded Ahidjo in November 1982, he further centralised power. On 22 August 1983, he divided the Anglophone region into two provinces: Northwest and Southwest. In 1984, he changed the country’s official name to the Republic of Cameroon (the name of the former Francophone territory) and removed the second star, which represented the Anglophone part of the country, from the flag. But Anglophones formed movements and associations to resist their assimilation. In 1994, they protested in vain when the government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announced the privatisation of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), which played a major economic and social role in the Anglophone part of the country. In that same year, the government’s move to standardise the Anglophone and Francophone education systems provoked strong resistance from teachers’ unions and the parents of pupils and it finally had to create an independent General Certificate of Education (GCE) Board by presidential decree.

Unification left Anglophones with a sense that their territory was in economic decline, because it entailed the centralisation and/or dismantling of West Cameroon’s economic structures, such as the West Cameroon Marketing Board, the Cameroon Bank and Powercam, as well as the abandonment of several projects, including the port of Limbé, and airports at Bamenda and Tiko, with investments in the Francophone part of the country winning out.

In particular, unification left the impression of a democratic setback, cultural assimilation and a downgrading of political status. Many Anglophones think that the Francophone part of the country followed a strategy of marginalising Southern Cameroons. The Anglophones are still not sufficiently aware of the disastrous impact the economic crisis of the 1980s had on several Francophone regions. When the multiparty system was restored in the 1990s, the Anglophones seized the opportunity to make their grievances heard. On 26 May 1990, the Social Democratic Front, a new profederalism opposition party, with a national vocation but with a strong contingent of Anglophones, was formed in Bamenda. It gained ground in the Anglophone part of the country before extending its influence into Francophone provinces. It then participated in the October 1992 presidential election and fared well in it.

With the prospect of a review of the Constitution to adapt it to the multiparty system, the Anglophones organised the All Anglophone Conference (AAC) in 1993 and called for a return to federalism. The Consultative Committee for Review of the Constitution rejected this option in favour of decentralisation. Meanwhile, after resigning in 1990 from the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), the name adopted by the single party in 1985, Foncha and Muna, yesterday’s rivals, resigned from the Consultative Committee in 1994 and openly criticised the assimilation of Anglophones. In that same year, a second All Anglophone Conference (AAC2) was organised in Bamenda and some of the participants called for a twostate federal system or even secession.

During this period, Muna and Foncha launched diplomatic offensives at the UN to demand independence for Southern Cameroons. The Social Democratic Front rejected secession and proposed, in the context of Francophone opposition to a twostate federal system, a fourstate federal system. This was judged to be ambiguous by some Anglophone militants, who in 1995, formed movements calling for twostate federalism or secession; the most well known was the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), the youth wing of which, Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), resorted to lowintensity violence.

Anglophone consciousness

During and after the golden age of the 1990s, dissent weakened and the focus switched to the creation of an Anglophone consciousness through the education system, churches, associations and media. However, SCNC militants continued to organise protests in the Anglophone regions every 1 October. Despite the emergence of Anglophone movements, centralisation continued and Anglophones lost even more political strength and ministerial posts at the national level. This has, however, now changed with the nomination in March this year of a new cabinet that included two Anglophone ministers. Pauline Egbe Nalova Lyonga, the former vice chancellor of the University of Buea, has become minister of secondary education, while Paul Atanga Nji, as minister of territorial administration, has taken charge of the security of the territory and the organisation of the coming elections.

Thus, the Anglophone crisis appears as a classic problem of a minority, which has swung between a desire for integration and a desire for autonomy. It shows the limits of centralised national power and the ineffectiveness of the decentralisation programmes started in 1996. The weak legitimacy of most of the Anglophone elites in their region, underdevelopment and tensions between generations are symptoms common to the whole country. But the identity issue could be particularly tough to resolve. Cameroon, facing Boko Haram in the Far North and militia from the Central African Republic in the East, needs to avoid another potentially destabilising front opening up. The Anglophone problem needs to be solved before the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2018.

Personal ambitions and rivalries among the elites did not help matters. The elites have not been able to present a common front to defend a united Cameroon. The Anglophone question has divided society with mutually negative perceptions of the Anglophone and Francophone populations.

The current crisis represents an especially worrying resurgence of this old problem. Never before has the Anglophone question manifested itself with such intensity. But Paul Biya has managed to successfully implement successive administrative processes of adaptation to solve the crisis. The Cameroonian leader ironically stated: “It is not he who wants to that lasts in power, but he who can.”

Key Dates for Cameroon’s National Unity

1884: In 1884, Cameroon became a German protectorate. Following the defeat of Germany

in the First World War, its possessions in Africa were redistributed. The League of Nations placed Cameroon under French and British mandates, with 10% under British administration and the rest entrusted to France. After the Second World War the two countries continued their rule under United Nations trusteeships.

French colonial rule in the east was more direct than British rule in the west. The two political traditions inherited from colonisation strongly influenced the accession to independence and more specifically the organisation and the dynamics of the new state.

1960 French Cameroon proclaimed independence on 1 January 1960, becoming the Republic of Cameroon. In the referendum held on 11 February 1961, Northern Cameroon chose to join Nigeria and Southern Cameroons chose to join the Republic of Cameroon. Southern Cameroons became independent on 1 October 1961, when it joined the Republic of Cameroon.

1961 Resolution 1608 (XV) of 21 April 1961, taken by the United Nations on the basis of the referendum in former British Cameroons, was more a matter of laying the foundations for coexistence between the former French Cameroon and Southern Cameroons. The conditions of this coexistence were discussed at the Foumban conference of 16 July 1961 and led to the choice of federalism for the Constitution.

1961 Resolution 1608 (XV) of 21 April 1961, taken by the United Nations on the basis of the referendum in former British Cameroons, was more a matter of laying the foundations for coexistence between the former French Cameroon and Southern Cameroons. The conditions of this coexistence were discussed at the Foumban conference of 16 July 1961 and led to the choice of federalism for the Constitution.

1972 The Constitution of 2 June 1972 proclaimed the official birth of the unitary state as the United Republic of Cameroon. It was a single state with a single government, a single assembly and a single judicial body.

1984 After having constitutionally succeeded Ahidjo, in 1984 President Paul Biya changed the name of the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon.




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