Gradually we’re starting to get more information from West Cameroon, where a strike by lawyers has been evolving into a general strike among teachers and finally protests in several towns in this part of Cameroon that were met with violence by the State. Today, 12 December: A call is being made on the internet for declaring a Ghost Town in Southern Cameroon (see Facebook post); what will be the response? The essence of the argument in the protest is the imposition of the Francophone laws, teaching etc. on the Anglophones, a discourse that stands for so much more.
Common Lawyers strike
It started with the strike of the Anglophone Common Lawyers. I witnessed through the eyes of a former student from Leiden the long process leading up to the strike: the first steps were made this summer. It went from a peaceful protest to a harsh and violent encounter between the lawyers and the government. On Thursday 10 November 2016, several lawyers in Buea were beaten, and their wigs and gowns seized.
From a Facebook Post summarizing the process, beginning December:
Hello Prof. Mirjam! The Common Law Lawyers of Anglophone extraction have been on strike across the entire Common law jurisdictions of the North West and South West regions. This is on account of the systemic extinction of the Common Law principles by officials of ‘La République’. Prior to this strike action we had tabled a series of demands to the head of state. It is a shame that instead of responding to our demands, the government turned a deaf ear and instead employs its traditional policy of divide and rule as a means of frustrating our cause.
Consequently, we have resorted to remain resolute, determined and steadfast to our cause. We are henceforth synergizing with other unions to advance the cause.
Cameroon on fire?
Are the protests that we are witnessing today an outcry over years of neglect and oppression? And will they finally lead to change in Cameroon? For long, journalists and academics have been wondering why there was not more protest in Cameroon. I asked this question several times to my Cameroonian friends whose answers would vary; from ‘we do not like conflict’ to ‘oppression is too harsh’. Are today’s protests a turn in Cameroonian history? Will the Anglophone grievances be picked up by the Francophones who suffer similar marginality, who are also neglected by the state and have a ruler whose family has been bathing in wealth for the past 34 years? The splitting of the country in Francophone and Anglophone parts at independence (1961) has ever since served as a language to formulate anger and to search for justice.
I cite from a friend’s detailed report to me (in the week of 12 December). He was writing this in a cybercafé while the protests were ongoing on 30 November 2016:
But the unique aspect of the union of French speaking and English speaking Cameroonians is that it was not one through a formal union treaty. It was an informal arrangement between the peoples of the Cameroons who only share the commonality of German colonization from 1884 to 1916 who decided to cohabitate from October 1961. That is why the union has been described as a ‘Tontine Union’ in reference to the commonly found informal associations which function on the basis of unwritten agreements.
We preach no violence. At least not before peaceful options have been exhausted! But it was high time we got Yaoundé to understand that we have inalienable rights. It was high time we got Yaoundé to understand that we are all children of God, made in his own image and lines. That we have been recognized by the international community as a people; and so we stand side by side with them as two peoples equal in status. That, flowing from that, we shall never again glorify the status of second class citizens.
Walter Nkwi, University Professor in Buea, shared his analysis with me per e-mail (12 December 2016):
‘(…) Of course the problem of Bamenda [the anglophone capital of the North West Region, MdB] cannot be explained in a single email. It has deep historical roots and cannot be separated from the political upheavals of the 1990s. Over the years, the city has been abandoned by the ruling government to the extent that there is virtually no road.
This time around the story started with the lawyers who insisted that the government should translate the OHADA Law, which is a business law for the whole of French Africa. Interestingly this law has been there since 1999 or so. Apart from the translation the lawyers also demanded that the government should withdraw all the Francophone magistrates, who cannot pass and write judgment in English, from the Anglophone courts. This was also because the government had been insensitive to the fact that while the Francophones are trained in civil law the Anglophones were trained in common law. After a persistent plea to the government and the government stubbornness to listen to their plight they now called a strike.
In the midst of the strike, Anglophone teachers of secondary and higher education called a strike, firstly, in solidarity with the lawyers and also because the francophone had adulterated the English education; University of Buea [the capital of the anglophone South West Region, MdB] and Bamenda joined and all now are asking for a federal system of government while others are asking for complete secession with the francophone government. An attempt to diffuse this problem by the Prime Minister in Bamenda failed. This led to a rally in Buea to preach national unity by the CPDM [main political party, of president Paul Biya, MdB] stakeholders. This was happening just after Frundi [opposition leader, central in the riots in the 1990s] had visited Buea to attend the students who had gone on rampage on 28 November demanding for their bonuses, also known as the Presidential excellent award. Their names were omitted at the level of the Ministry of Higher Education and the university authorities were still in the process of getting the problem resolved. However, in Buea the rally “went well” but the attendance was very timid.
The CPDM delegation left for Bamenda where they met stiff resistance from the population, mostly the youths who put up barricades, blocking all the entrances into the city. The military replied with grenades and life bullets and in the confusion some youths were killed. The other youths resorted to burning down the electric and telephone poles as well as the police station at the Meta quarters and military cars. CPDM vote holders were even taken hostage at Ayaba hotel, one of the big hotels in Bamenda.
Bamenda, Buea and Cameroon at large are very tense. Anything can start at any time. The personnel of the University of Buea has been on strike for one month now and nothing is moving. Administrators have abandoned their offices and once in a while the police, in full combat gear, comes round. Nobody can say what will happen next. Like during the French revolution of 1789. All the ingredients for a great outburst in Cameroon are present. There is an inefficient and corrupt government; a dismembered civil society; a very high level of unemployment; an efficient military; popular masses suffering from the main base of the state; a lousy 300 parties democracy; inadequate health facilities; inadequate portable water; very poor road infrastructure etc. All need a single spark to set everything alight. The conflagration can come at any time.
I have told you in trust my mind.’
Walter permitted me to publish this text that hardly contains his anger but is also an analysis that needs to reach the eyes of the readers.