On October 11, 2016, Common Law Lawyers who predominantly practice in Cameroon’s North-West and South-West Regions started a four-day sit-home strike after having petitioned the government to address their grievances, without success.
Cameroon inherited two legal systems when areas controlled by Britain and France joined to form a single state after the colonial powers withdrew. Civil law was practised in the French-speaking part and common law was practised in the English-speaking region.
The Anglophone lawyers on strike asked the government to hold an emergency session of the Higher Judicial Council and redeploy all civil law magistrates from the two Anglophone regions, among other demands.
They also requested a return to a two-state federation, as the best framework to guarantee the coexistence of both legal systems.
Teachers in the English-speaking regions joined the lawyers on November 21, 2016, after their own demands were also not met.
Anglophone teachers fell out with the government for its continued deployment of Francophone teachers to Anglophone schools.
They claimed that the teachers taught in broken English and, as a result, many students did not perform well in their final examinations. They also maintained that Francophones disproportionately outnumbered Anglophones in the Anglophone universities of Buea and Bamenda.
Still on November 21, 2016, ordinary citizens led by Mancho Bibixy Tse later joined in the protests, decrying the poor state of infrastructure and difficulty in accessing basic necessities.
Teachers, lawyers joined forces… gov’t half solutions
Given that they had similar issues, the teachers’ and lawyers’ unions joined together to form the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) to dialogue with the government. A commission was created to this effect to look extensively into the problems of Anglophone lawyers and teachers and propose appropriate solutions.
The government proposed a 2 billion CFA franc subvention to confessional schools and promised the recruitment of 1 000 bilingual teachers. The government also produced an English version of the OHADA Uniform Act, which existed only in French.
The CACSC remained implacable and refused to lift the call to strike, insisting on having a two-state federation as the best way to guarantee their demands. In addition, they called for civil disobedience and a shut-down of all economic activities in the two Anglophone regions.
How overzealous ministers stoked the crisis
While then Prime Minister Philemon Yang was in Bamenda holding talks with disgruntled teachers and lawyers, some members of government were in Yaoundé granting interviews and press conferences to the effect that there was no Anglophone crisis.
In fact, the Head of Government Philemon Yang was struggling to solve a problem that his ministers claimed did not exist. These ministers who stoked the flames of the ongoing Anglophone crisis include: Jacques Fames Ndongo (Minister of State, Minister of High Education), Laurent Esso (Minister of State, Minister of Justice), Atanga Nji Paul (Minister of Missions at the Presidency at the time), Issa Tchiroma Bakary (Minister of Communication at the time), Jean Ernest Massena Ngale Bebehe (Minister of Secondary Education at the time), Youssouf nee Adidja Alim (Minister of Basic Education at the time) and Emmanuel Rene Sadi (Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation at the time).
When the aforementioned ministers caused Prime Minister Yang’s talks to fail, Yang appointed his Director of Cabinet Goghomo Paul Mingo to lead the talks along with Ministers Fame Ndongo, Massena Ngale Bebehe and Youssouf nee Adidja Alim.
The ministers went to Bamenda and were riding on high horses during the talks. Consequently, the talks hit the rocks.
On January 17, 2017, after the ad hoc commission submitted its report to the government, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization signed a ministerial order banning all the activities of the CACSC and the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) throughout the national territory.
The government proceeded to arrest some key leaders including Nkongho Agbor Balla (Barrister and president of the Anglophone Consortium), Fontem Aforteka’a Neba (Lecturer, Department of English, University of Buea and Secretary General of the University of Buea Chapter of the Union of Teachers of Higher Education, SYNES), Paul Ayah Abine (Supreme Court Judge) and Mancho Bibixy (leader of the November 21, 2016, Coffin protests in Bamenda).
Other leaders fled the country or went into hiding. On the same day, the government also shut down Internet services in the two Anglophone regions. The regions went for 93 days without Internet, until 20 April 2017 when the services were restored. The Internet blackout greatly damaged the economy of the country, and Internet service providers incurred big losses. Businesses were ruined, distance learners were put offline and social bonds were broken. Some called themselves “Internet refugees” as they had to travel hundreds of kilometres to “digital sanctuaries” in French-speaking regions to access the Internet. If anything, the suspension of Internet services greatly reinforced the sense of exclusion in the Anglophone community.
On the day of the ban, the Consortium transferred its operations abroad, where others continued to organise and lead anti-government protests and give directives to the population to engage in civil disobedience.
As the crisis degenerated, Atanga Nji was brought in to replace Rene Sadi at the Ministry of Territorial Administration while Sadi moved to the presidency to take Atanga’s office following the March 2, 2018 cabinet reshuffle.
The appointment came to Atanga Nji as compensation for his denial of the existence of the Anglophone crisis. As such, he continued with even greater energy to deny the existence of an Anglophone problem.
Cameroon will not dialogue with separatists – Minister Atanga Nji
The Cameroon government will not dialogue with separatist elements in the country’s Anglophone region, Atanga Nji stressed a month after his appointment as interior minister.
Speaking on state-owned Cameroon Radio Television, he reiterated a position he had advanced at the baby days of the crisis that Yaoundé will deal only with persons advancing the continued unity of the nation.
He said President Paul Biya had placed security as a top priority because without it, Cameroon will not be an ideal investment environment.
According to him a thirty day grace period will be opened for separatist elements to lay down their arms, failure to do so, “it is the law that will take its course,” he said.
After his appointment, Atanga Nji went to the Anglophone area – the northwest and southwest, calling on people to support the government’s peace efforts.
What has become known as the Anglophone crisis, has riled the country’s two English-speaking regions. A previous cry against discrimination and marginalization from French-majority Cameroon has now taken a violent turn.
Secessionists under the so-called Ambazonia Republic continue to push for a breakaway from Cameroon – a move the government has flatly rejected. After a crackdown on protests in October last year during a planned symbolic independence declaration, the secessionists turned to arms.
They have since attacked and killed hundreds of members of government forces – police, soldiers and gendarmes. They have also kidnapped and even executed government officials.
Fame Ndongo, thorn in the Anglophone flesh
CPDM Secretary for Communication, Prof. Jacques Fame Ndongo, has long been of the opinion that the Anglophone Crisis is an abandoned issue.
On November 5, 2017, Prof. Fame Ndongo said the Anglophone Crisis existed just for a short while.
“In the Northwest and Southwest Regions, nursery school kids are going to school. Pupils are going to their different primary schools. Students are going to their different colleges.
Amphitheatres of the different universities out there are overflowing with students. So, we cannot continue talking of a Crisis. There is no Crisis. The Crisis is over,” the CPDM bigwig told CRTV’s Ibrahim Cherif.
Cherif, visibly not convinced with Fame Ndongo’s claims, tactically brought back the issue of the Anglophone Crisis a number of times during the programme.
But the senior CPDM official stuck to his gun that the Anglophone Crisis does not exist anymore.
Anglophone Crisis Degenerating
Meanwhile, many political observers are unanimous that Fame Ndongo’s claims about the Anglophone Crisis being a forgotten issue are not only spurious, but unfortunate. The recent killing of state forces – 15 in Bamessing last week by separatist General No Pity is testament of the fact that Fame Ndongo and his kind are in wonderland.
To the political observers, most Anglophones found such November 5, 2017 pronouncements from the CPDM baron, who was one of the refuters of the Anglophone problem to be spiteful, provocative, and peevish.
Many Cameroonians think that the Anglophone Crisis is rapidly degenerating and may continue to be so for the next decade.
Anglophone Activists Tagged Demagogues
During the TV Programme in November 2017, the Minister of Higher Education blamed Anglophone activists in the Diaspora, whom he called demagogues for the upheavals in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.
He claimed that the Anglophone Crisis started when the Anglophone activists resorted to a game of demagogy, in a desperate move to convince the people back home to buy their illusion of creating an independent State of Ambazonia.
He said the activists painted the CPDM Government black in the eyes of the people and also deceived them into believing that a high level delegation from the United Nations was coming to Buea to declare “an imaginary independent State.”
Fame Ndongo said the activists, whom he qualified as demagogues, “built castles in the air”, as regard what the new independent State will look like.
He said the activists painted the picture of a fallacious situation where everybody in the new country will have a job.
To him, people were told of how everybody will be rich in the new State.
The CPDM bigwig said the ‘demagogues’ in the Diaspora deceived the people of the Northwest and Southwest not to send their children to school as part of the fight for imaginary independence, while their own children abroad were going to school.
He mocked at the type of country the ‘demagogues’ dream of creating when in the 21st century children are told not to go the school.
He compared the Anglophone activists to Boko Haram, which he said are against Western education.
Fame Ndongo further said the Anglophone activists also launched Ghost Town operations in the two Regions and deceived the people into respecting it.
The Chancellor of Academic Orders accused the activists of impoverishing the people with Ghost Towns, while they were abroad carrying out their different activists to feed themselves and their families.
On what ended the Anglophone Crisis, Fame Ndongo said following messages of appeasement and measures taken by the Government under the directives of President Biya, the people in the two Anglophone Regions finally realised that they were manipulated and misled by ‘demagogues.
On what the CPDM is doing concerning the Anglophone issue, Fame Ndongo said President Biya’s directive is to continue with dialogue and the message of appeasement. But he spitefully said “dialogue will only be initiated with those who were deceived.”
Asked how Government has been using the advice given by the late Douala Archbishop Emeritus, Christian Cardinal Tumi, that Government should dialogue with Anglophones, including those they termed secessionists, Fame Ndongo maintained that “the Government will not discuss with secessionists”.
Silence from they who stoked the flames of violence
Today, those who said there was no Anglophone crisis, or who admitted its existence for only a short while, cannot set foot on the North-West and South-West Regions.
Since Tchiroma became Minister of Employment, he has not been heard talking about the anglophone crisis. The same is true for Ngale Bibehe who left the Ministry of Secondary Education for the Ministry of Transport. Youssouf Adija has been enjoying her retirement with little known about her whereabouts.
When Biya admitted the existence of the Anglophone problem on September 10, 2019 and organised the Major National Dialogue, those who had denied the existence of the problem were those who turned out to find solutions.
Two years after, the situation has worsened. The likes of Atanga Nji who have since announced Biya’s victory over the armed separatists are left in shame, especially after the recent exploits of General No Pity in Bamessing and Balikumbat.