Members of the Coalition of Cameroon Federalist Groups and Activists (CCFGA), a civil society group advocating for federalism in Cameroon, say Cameroonians should join efforts with them to explore the possibility of federalism in the country.
The CCFGA members stated at a press conference on Saturday that they support the creation of a federal government by the people through an election or referendum.
The group, which has existed since 2021, says its primary goal is to bring federalists together and convince Cameroonians that federalism is the ultimate form of government that will lay to rest the socio-political upheavals and governance problems in the country.
“We believe that federalism is the most sustainable solution to the many problems facing our country, Cameroon. This strong belief is articulated in our motto: ‘One Nation, Federated’,” said the CCFGA’s president, Michael Takie.
“Cameroon is our country; it is indeed one nation; but it was designed to be, and ought to remain, federated.”
He added that they want Cameroonians to freely think about and discuss federalism and make their own choices concerning the type of federalism the country needs.
At the moment, there are diverse views concerning the type of federal structure that suits Cameroon.
Some argue that the country needs a two-state federation where the French-speaking and English-speaking regions serve as separate federal blocks.
But others think each of the country’s 10 regions should become a federal state with the chance to govern its own resources.
The second argument is typical of many elites of the South West Region, who are growing more uncomfortable about a two-state federalism option where the two English-speaking Regions are merged under one entity.
Addressing the divergent views on federalism, CCFGA members said this question should be left to the Cameroonian public to determine the type of federation they want through an election.
“That decision should be made by the people, and what CCFGA is encouraging our federalists who have different convictions to do is make the case for the choice that they have made to convince more people to come towards that,” said Benjamin Akih, Secretary General of CCFGA.
“Once we talk about making a decision democratically on this issue, the emotions that we see on this question subside, and the question becomes, We shouldn’t be talking about a two-state federation; we should be talking about a federation.”
But for the people to be able to decide, the CCFGA says federalists must first form a united front through which they can easily sell federalism to the rest of the country.
Protecting Core Values Systems
Cameroon practices two legal and educational systems: the Anglo-Saxon system typical of the two English-speaking Regions, and the Francophone system used by the eight French-speaking Regions.
Both systems originated from the British and French colonial administrations of the two states, which were later reunited in 1961 under a federal system of government.
But after the two-state federal system was abolished in 1972 and a unitary system was born, English-speaking Cameroonians began crying out against marginalisation and the “francophonization” of their culture and institutions.
This historical grievance burst into a lawyers-teachers strike in 2016.
But a year later, separatists hijacked the industrial strike to declare the independence of the English-speaking Regions, sparking the ongoing armed conflict.
“We recognise that the protests in Northwest and Southwest were born out of frustration with the marginalisation, assimilation, and domination of the people of former Southern Cameroons. These grievances have their roots in the mismanagement of the post-reunification Federation,” said Jean Carol Zanda, 1st Vice-chairperson of CCFGA.
To prevent marginalisation and ensure peaceful coexistence between the English and French systems in Cameroon, the CCFGA has as one of its goals to preserve the two core values.
“We are not just talking about federal; we are talking about core values systems protected and one of the ways to protect these core values systems is to make sure that there are one or two states in former Southern Cameroons,” said Benjamin Akih.
He added, “But it’s also to make sure that there can be as many states in former French Cameroon. But the boundaries of the core values system should not be crossed.”
Government Insistence On Unitary State
The fight for federalism in Cameroon faces resistance on two fronts: from hardliners of President Paul Biya’s government and from Anglophone extremists who want secession.
President Paul Biya’s government, which has ruled Cameroon for 41 years now, has long rejected all proposals for a return to federalism, which many think will resolve underlying complaints about the marginalisation and annexation of the minority English-speaking Regions by the French-speaking majority.
English-speaking Cameroonians first came together and made the call for a return to federalism in 1993, during the first All Anglophone Conference (AAC I) held in Buea.
In an elaborate statement released from the conference, termed the Buea Declaration, they argued that “the only redress adequate to right the wrongs done to Anglophone Cameroon and its people since the imposition of the unitary state is a return to the original form of government of the reunified Cameroon”.
English-speaking Cameroonians reiterated the need for federalism during the second All Anglophone Conference held in Bamenda in 1994.
In the AAC II declaration, they warned that, if the government failed to look into their concerns, they would “proclaim the revival of the independence and sovereignty” of the English-speaking Regions, formerly called Southern Cameroons.
Scared Of Federalism
One of the convenors of the two AACs was Dr. Simon Munzu, who is also a founding member of the CCFGA.
He says many Cameroonians are misinformed and scared of federalism today, and the CCFGA is to clarify the misconceptions surrounding the concept.
“We believe that federalism is the optimal thing for our country, but we also acknowledge that there’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation about this, apathy, skepticism and so forth,” said Dr. Munzu.
The existing skepticism about federalism has made Anglophone extremists see those who advocate for a federated state as “sellouts”.
The Cameroonian government, too, has been scared of opening any public debate about federalism, despite the Anglophones’ repeated calls for a federated state.
Rather, the regime has continued to insist on a decentralised unitary state agenda, which, critics argue, promotes corruption and keeps English-speaking Cameroonians subdued.
During a 2019 Major National Dialogue aimed at discussing the ongoing armed conflict in the North West and South West Regions, the government completely ruled out discussions about federation and granted the two Regions a “special status” that involved the creation of Regional Assemblies and a House of Chiefs.
However, critics say these were cosmetic measures that did not capture the people’s aspirations and have failed to end the armed conflict in the Anglophone Regions.
“Contrary to the reality on the ground, the Government of Cameroon continues to promote the narrative that the Major National Dialogue, with its preconceived modified unitary state solution, was a success. The Government of Cameroon desperately wants us to believe, quite against all evidence, that normalcy has returned to the war-torn regions of former Southern Cameroons,” said Carol Zanda, CCFGA’s 1st Vice-Chair.
“Unrealistic” Independence Quest
On the opposite end of the Cameroon government hardliners are Anglophone separatists, who no longer see any need for federalism.
After proclaiming independence in October 2017, they have been using arms to fight for a separate state called Ambazonia.
Confrontations between the Cameroon army and separatist fighters have led to a cycle of killing and destruction in the two English-speaking Regions.
Many civil society groups have argued that violence is not helping, while federalists have termed the struggle for independence unrealistic.
“We reject the recourse to the use of force by both the separatists and the government to solve a problem that is clearly political. Categorically, we, therefore, say NO to violence; and NO to the illusive search for a military solution,” Zanda notes.
The CCFGA believes neither the orthodox unitary state views of the pro-government politicians nor the extremist notions about independence by the separatists will help Cameroon at the moment.
Philomina Cho, a member of the CCFGA, says the prospects for an independent state out of the former Southern Cameroons are slim due to a lack of “diplomatic support” and “meaningful progress” in the quest.
“The independence they seek can only be further pursued through a war of independence with unrealistic chances of success within a reasonable time, given the obvious challenges,” Cho said.
She thinks Cameroonians who are caught between government hardliners and separatists should embrace federalism, which is a middle ground that will protect Cameroon’s territorial integrity and still make people self-governing.