May 20, 1972 – May 20, 2021 marks 49 years after the dissolution of the federal system of government, making Anglophones second-class citizens.
The government chose 20 May as Cameroon’s National Day to commemorate President Ahmadou Ahidjo ‘s abolishment of the federal system of government in favor of a unitary country in 1972.
Despite so much talk about national unity, Government treats Anglophones as if they were conquered slaves.
In a message to his compatriots on National Day, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya tweeted:
Let us bear in mind the theme of this year’s National Day.
“Army and nation: Together let’s overcome health security challenges and preserve the peace, stability and prosperity of Cameroon”.
When 88-year-old Paul Biya talks of preserving “the peace, stability and prosperity of Cameroon”, which Cameroon is he referring to?
In the North West and South West Regions of the country, thousands of people have died since 2016 when inhabitants of the English-speaking regions started protests against decades of marginalisation and the annihilation of its culture and economy.
Biya responded to the protests with the firepower of the state, leading to untold human sufferings in the North West and South West Regions. In fact, the conflict is far from ending as non-state armed groups beef up their war artillery against a government that is unwilling to dialogue and negotiate with its own people.
In the absence of peace, stability and prosperity in former West Cameroon (present day North West and South West Regions), is Biya talking about the preservation of peace, stability and prosperity in former East Cameroon, which is today Francophone Cameroon?
May 20, a compromising day?
When the President addresses the people of Bamenda in English, it is considered a favour. One of the greatest symbols of national unity is the President of the Republic who should regularly address Cameroonians in both official languages from the Unity Palace.
Such a bilingual attitude, would instill a greater sense of belonging in all Cameroonians. May 20, 1972, has been considered by politicians as a compromising national day. There was apparently wrong with the Unitary State that was instituted on May 20, 1972.
The name the United Republic of Cameroon, imposed by the Unitary State logic, clearly showed that Cameroonians were a united people from former British Cameroon and La Republique du Cameroun.
However, the most important vexing aspect was the changing of the name in 1984 from United Republic of Cameroon to simply the Republic of Cameroon, which was the name of French Cameroon at independence.
Such a change of name of the country was done without the consent of the people. Others may call this political evolution, but it is clear that either the Republic of Cameroon (former French territory) engulfed and assimilated Southern Cameroons or seceded from the union. A return to the name United Republic of Cameroon will make for sustainable national unity.
In the face of the on-going conflict in Anglophone Cameroon, it is incumbent on the authorities to state historical facts and figures in a very succinct manner, to enable the people have a better understanding of the situation. Cameroon has two independent dates; January 1, 1960 is the date of the independence of French Cameroon while that of Southern Cameroons is October 1, 1961.
The bane of progress in Cameroon is that a majority of Cameroonian politicians, intellectuals and businesspeople are not patriotic enough. The authorities should use the national day to bring together people of all walks of life to celebrate in harmony and concord only when the problems plaguing the country would have been resolved.
Time for reflection!
Like Civil Society Advocate, Ndifor Richard posits, each one of us and most especially proponents of a unitary system of government should ask ourselves if this system has worked for Cameroon.
The historian ponders: 49 years down the road what has been achieved? How far have we gone? What challenges has this brought to us? Are the reasons for a centralized unitary state, advanced in 1972 still tenable today? Can we, with all honesty, say that this is the best form of government for Cameroon at this time?
Given that Cameroon is engulfed in a brutal war of secession, Biya should have used this day to make amends and chart a path to peace.
“The war has seen government forces killing scores of people, burning hundreds of homes and other property in villages and cities across the North-West and South-West regions, and tortured suspected separatists in detention. It has also seen Armed separatist groups killed, tortured, assaulted, and kidnapped hundreds of people, including students, teachers, clergy, and administrative and traditional authorities.
“And we ask the question, is this war really necessary? Should we continue to subject our people to untold suffering, pains, and deaths? Is the independence of Ambazonia a realistic goal? How soon is that going to be possible? Can we, with all honestly say there is a clear pathway to independence for Ambazonia?”
According to Ndifor, it is clear even to a 5-year-old kid that the centralized unitary state is a total failure and that the current CPDM regime cannot be trusted with even what they call decentralization.
“It is also as clear as crystal that there is no clear path to independence for Southern Cameroons and that the current war of secession is more of a war against Southern Cameroonians than it is a war against the regime (several pieces of evidence point to this fact).”
Genuine federalism is urgent!
Whether we like it or not, Ndifor says, between these two extremes, genuine federalism presents itself as the most realistic solution not only to the grievances of Southern Cameroonians or an end to the senseless war; but also to the development of Cameroon as a whole.
“Those preaching decentralization (effective or not) should have known by now that it is a farce. A scam by the CPDM regime to camouflage a centralized unitary state with the false impression that somehow there is devolution of power. If after the scam called special status you still can’t see this then you are living in self-deception,” says Ndifor.
“We should therefore stand in unison for a Federal system of government in the strict sense of it. We must fight to achieve this by working to vote committed federalists into the National Assembly and the Senate. We should also start working hard enough to replace the Biya regime with a true federalist. Not just someone who tells you he is a federalist but someone with a proven track record of advocating for federalism. That is our last best alternative.”