By Hans Ngala, Monday, Nov. 6 2017
Southern Cameroons Journal, Bamenda – More troops have been deployed to the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon ahead of the country’s longtime President Paul Biya’s thirty fifth anniversary as president of the country.
The Northwest and Southwest regions (formerly called provinces), are the country’s two English-speaking regions which are in the throes of political unrests which began last year after lawyers and teachers began a peaceful strike action protesting the imposition of French as the language of use in Anglophone classrooms and court rooms.
After 25 years in office, former President Ahmadou Ahidjo on November 6, 1982 handed power to Paul Biya, then the country’s Prime Minister after the former abruptly resigned on account of poor health.
Biya is one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents alongside Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Equatorial Guinea’s, Teodora Obiang Nguema, all of them have held office for more than 30 years.
While Biya has surrounded himself with aides who do nothing than clap to all his moves without raising a dissenting voice, perhaps the most challenging time in his presidency, often accused of corruption, has been the ongoing Anglophone Crisis.
Cameroon’s Anglophones make up 20% of the population. Most live in former British territories in the North-West and South-West regions. Their anger was sparked off in 2016 by the government’s refusal to respond to Anglophone lawyers aggrieved at the nomination of magistrates who neither spoke English well enough nor were trained in British common law.
After demonstrations were met with sometimes brute force, teachers and students joined the growing movement, adding similar concerns about a way of life being progressively taken over by Francophone practices. At least nine people have now died in subsequent violence, and militants have frequently used sabotage and arson.
After negotiations broke down in January of this year, the government imprisoned the most prominent Anglophone activists alongside many others caught up in protests. They also cut off the internet in Anglophone areas for three months, causing huge damage to the economy. The group Internet Sans Frontieres estimated that Cameroon lost more than 50.000 US Dollars during the 90-day internet outage, one of the longest on the continent.
Biya who rarely makes public appearances and who avoids the press, has not commented on the crisis in the English part of the country except passively in a January 1 address to the nation where he said the form of the state remains non-negotiable.
A Presidency Marred by Corruption
Biya gets a lot of credit for the relative stability that Cameroon enjoys in West and Central Africa which she straddles. But in the backdrop of this, lies a huge problem that sometimes doesn’t get as much media attention in Cameroonian media – corruption. During the 35 years of President Biya’s stint at the helm of state, Cameroon has topped corruption charts on Transparency International and has also gotten low points from Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. They have accused Biya’s government of human rights violations and forcefully repatriating and raping Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram militants.
Communications Minister, Tchiroma Bakary at a press conference in the capital Yaounde, rubbished all these reports, calling them “baseless” and an “attempt to destabilize Cameroon”.
Why Militarize NW, SW?
Biya’s thirty fifth anniversary comes at a time when Anglophones have been increasingly pushing for the restoration of the statehood they enjoyed while under British Trusteeship from 1919 until 1960 when they opted to join French Cameroun as a two-state federation of equal status; an agreement, then President Ahmadou Ahidjo swiftly did away with, to the discontent of Anglophones who today feel cheated in the union which has now been firmly centralized into the hands of a majority Francophone government.
The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) of President Paul Biya, is known to speak only what pleases the regime. In February of this year, a march led by the Prime Minister, Philemon Yang (himself a CPDM militant), was blocked after protesters pelted the militants and stopped the march from happening. The PM and his convoy had to be escorted to their hotel under heavy military security.
Yang who is also Anglophone, was designated by Biya again to the NW regional capital Bamenda to oversee that celebrations marking his anniversary actually hold. The military will be there to ensure that no disruptions happen again as was the case in February where confrontations left at least two people dead.
Mondays have been declared “ghost towns” in the region, meaning all businesses (except for hospitals) are closed as a sign of protest and with Biya’s anniversary falling on a Monday, it remains to be seen how the day will look like in the country’s two Anglophone regions.