At independence, the elites of northern Cameroon held political power and dominated the military. Ahmadou Ahidjo, the first president of Cameroon, a native from Garoua thought it wise in 1982 to resign as Head of State in favor of his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a native of the South Region. Biya’s accession to power meant that there was to be a new political class and a military obedient to the new leader.
After an attempted bloody coup in 1984 that failed to unseat the new regime, Mr. Biya was quick to reshuffle his surroundings, especially in the military. He thought some elements were still loyal to his predecessor. A new political class and military emerged, effectively relegating the once-powerful northern elites into secondary positions.
President Paul Biya, one of the most highly educated presidents of Africa is still navigating the political and economic woes in Cameroon to maintain his firm grip on power. After 38 years at the helm of the state, the president is still in charge, successfully maneuvering turbulence to his authority. His lengthy stay in power coupled with the economic neglect of the northern part of the country is now awakening the lost glories of the past in northern Cameroon.
Today, northern Cameroon has the highest illiteracy rate in the country. The regions’ roads are old and collapsing, its villages are under continuous terrorist attacks and the people feel alienated and abandoned by the regime in Yaounde.
During the close to four decades of Biya’s rule, Cameroon has undergone major demographic changes. The youths now represent more than 60 percent of the population. Most of them were born when Paul Biya was already in power.
They have known no other president than him. Just like popular youth movements around the world, Cameroonians are vibrant and entrepreneurial. Their desire for change has made them be more politically conscious. The advent of social media has penetrated even the less developed areas of the country like the northern regions. By utilizing social media, youths from these regions have been sounding the alarm about their suffering and their desire to be taken into consideration by the national authorities.
The continuous neglect and ignorance of their plight have led to the rise of charismatic leaders from the region like Guibai Gatama who used his powerful investigative journalistic skills to lay bare the extent to which northerners were neglected and abandoned.
Mr. Gatama created an influential Facebook page “10 Million Northerners Movement” that rapidly grew in popularity. The charismatic leader claimed that the three regions of the North represent close to half of the total population of Cameroon.
He claimed that if they are this many, then they should not be neglected. He has been publishing government data portraying a clear disparity in the allocation of government funds to the Northern part of the country.
Figures published indicate that the government has been violating the republic’s laws by failing to allocate 30% of public service jobs to natives from the North. Such a bravado from a native from the North opposing the Biya’s regime is unprecedented.
This unprecedented leader with his unprecedented movement sent shivers across government offices in the capital Yaounde. The government felt undermined and threatened. The once dormant and submissive region is now awakening and dormant no more. People from the North were cheering and venting their anger with a ferocity never before seen.
Every government action and decision regarding the North was vetted and debated by the 10 Million Northerners Movement as never before. The government afraid a future crisis may be brewing in the North was fast and inconsiderate to ban what it called an “illegal movement that threatens national cohesion”.
This drastic move by the authorities proved to be very unpopular as more and more Facebook pages were created by the entrepreneurial youths of the North.
More than ever, Cameroon seems to be a divided and polarized country tilting towards its own demise. The government finds itself tussling with secessionist movements in its Anglophone regions and at the same time, having to deal with the conscious awakening of the three regions of the North claiming stigmatization and government marginalization.
Cameroon more than ever needs to battle its demons and be more politically inclusive. It must take into consideration the needs and aspirations of its citizens. If Cameroon seeks to be regarded as a civilized nation, then it must live up to the occasion.