The misery and plight of English-speaking Cameroonians in the north

Nii Ntreh February 12, 2020
Thousands have died while hundreds of thousands have fled from their homes in northern Cameroon. Photo Credit: BBC

Last year, the U.S. announced that it was severing trade ties with Cameroon over allegations of human rights abuses in the West African country.

It was the first time the six-decade-long relationship between the two countries had been threatened. But the Americans were explicit in communicating their concerns.

The US said it was unhappy with reports of torture and extrajudicial killings of citizens by the country’s military as reasons for removing Cameroon from the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).

What the US was referring to was the seemingly uncontrollable sporadic spates of violence that have plagued Cameroon’s northwestern and southwestern regions for decades.

These parts of Cameroon are populated by English speakers although the majority of Cameroonians are Francophone.

Anglophone Cameroon has for years struggled for better representation in government and civil service. The struggle has taken turns in various degrees between simple protests to separatist insurgency.

Since the 1970s Anglophone Cameroon has asked for various kinds of autonomy from language to outright independence.

President Paul Biya, Cameroon’s 86-year-old leader who has had his job since 1982, is a southerner whose predispositions on the matter are quite well-known.

The unrest is thus about Cameroon’s failure to form a national identity, or quite simply, a no-nonsense hammering of English speakers into line.

But in fairness, that is just half of the story. After World War I, Cameroon, then a German colony along with other territories in central Africa, were shared among the British and the French.

When French-controlled Cameroon gained independence in 1960, British-controlled Cameroon united with the other half after a referendum in 1961.

Referenda of such nature was a common arbitration tactic by Western colonizers to decide the matter of nationhood for newly-independent states in Africa.

But while those in the northernmost parts of British Cameroon wanted to join Nigeria, Cameroon’s modern-day border-neighbour, those in the south of British Cameroon voted overwhelmingly to join French-Cameroon.

But a federal arrangement of government meant that English-speakers had some control over some immediate aspects of their identity, including but not limited to language.

After another referendum in 1972 that pitched federal governance against unitarian governance, the majority of Cameroonians chose the latter, setting the stage for the nature of the problem these days.

The northwestern city of Bamenda has in recent years been the battleground of forces of the state against armed separatists.

In 2018, videos and photos of government forces torturing and burning building in Bamenda made their way to the internet. The BBC reported that the Cameroonian government had tried to prevent the world from knowing about the brutalities.

In the last few years alone, over half a million people have had to flee their homes for safety even as the UN also reports that thousands, mostly English-speaking civilians have died too.

Currently, there is no promise of a lasting solution and President Biya has not stated intentions of stepping down even after his current term expires in 2025.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: February 12, 2020


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