Af­ter years of ne­glect and marginal­i­sa­tion by the fran­co­phone ma­jor­ity in Cameroon, the English­s­peak­ing en­claves are push­ing back. The govern­ment’s re­sponse to in­tel­lec­tual-led protests has been hard­line, and in the near-de­serted streets of Ba­menda there

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - By Rein­nier Kazé and Honoré Banda

Ba­menda blues Af­ter years of ne­glect and marginal­i­sa­tion by the coun­try’s fran­co­phone ma­jor­ity, the English-speak­ing en­claves are push­ing back

Since late last year, Mon­days in Ba­menda are a ‘ghost town’ – shops are closed and most peo­ple stay at home. On a bright day in mid-june, the city stretches out in a val­ley amidst dull green hills in North West Re­gion as a big white coach from Douala ar­rives at its out­skirts. A pid­gin-speak­ing man sell­ing a herbal cure-all tries to whip up cus­tomer in­ter­est as the bus leans from side to side through some rough pot­holes. The bus pas­sen­gers du­ti­fully get out for an ID check just out­side the arch­way wel­com­ing you to Ba­menda.

Be­fore the bus ar­rives, a wo­man who works in the tourism in­dus­try in Douala, who is re­turn­ing to Ba­menda for a fu­neral cer­e­mony, of­fers some ad­vice: “Do not take any pho­tos when you see sol­diers or govern­ment build­ings.” She warns that trav­ellers might need to stay un­til mid­week be­cause of the ghost town. As the bus de­scends the hills that sur­round Ba­menda, an­other wo­man chats an­i­mat­edly about the dis­crim­i­na­tion an­glo­phones in Cameroon are sub­ject to: “If you can­not ex­press your­self in French, you will be crushed. When you speak English in a hospi­tal, they tell you to wait for your ‘Ba­menda brother’. We just want to be re­spected for what we are, our cul­ture, our lan­guage. We sim­ply want im­prove­ments to our liv­ing con­di­tions.”


Wel­come to Cameroon’s ‘an­glo­phone cri­sis’. It flared up late last year when teach­ers and lawyers went on strike. In big, vi­o­lently re­presse§d street demon­stra­tions, they protested the ne­glect of the an­glo­phone ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and Bri­tish-in­spired com­mon law prac­tised in South West and North West re­gions un­der the Cameroo­nian con­sti­tu­tion. “It is a case of to­tal mis­man­age­ment,” says Paulin*, a sec­ondary school teacher. “They are send­ing an­glo­phone teach­ers to fran­co­phone schools and vice versa. They are mess­ing up the chil­dren’s fu­tures.” For their part, lawyers are fu­ri­ous about Yaoundé ap­point­ing judges with lit­tle or no train­ing in com­mon law to judge cases. Cameroon’s his­tor y as sep­a­rate ter­ri­to­ries once ruled by the Bri­tish and French means the con­sti­tu­tion up­holds le­gal and ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems in­spired by the two dif­fer­ent colo­nial lega­cies. But the bilin­gual her­itage has been a dif­fi­cult one for the govern­ment to man­age. Lawyer Bernard Muna says fran­co­phone judges are sent to Ba­menda be­cause “Cameroon is a cor­rupt coun­try”, and be­cause of bribes at the mag­is­trates’ school. Pres­i­dent Paul Biya’s govern­ment may sport an an­glo­phone prime min­is­ter, Philé­mon Yang, but his pres­ence does lit­tle to ad­dress the ev­ery­day con­cerns of an­glo­phones. There are no of­fi­cial statis­tics avail­able on how many Cameroo­ni­ans are func­tion­ally bilin­gual. Roger, a na­tive of a small town near Ba­menda who works for a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion in Yaoundé, says that in prac­tice an­glo­phones are the ones who have to make the ef­fort and speak French, and that his col­leagues speak lit­tle English and do not see much rea­son to try. James, a taxi driver who grew up in Ba­menda but did some of his school­ing in Yaoundé and drove a taxi there too, says: “I never re­ally learned French. I just spoke taxi lan­guage to get by. I lived with an­glo­phones too, so did not have the op­por­tu­nity for much French.” The late 2016 protests led to ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween civil so­ci­ety groups and the cen­tral govern­ment in Yaoundé. Opin­ion varies through­out the an­glo­phone re­gions – and also in the ac­tive di­as­pora – over the best so­lu­tion to main­tain­ing the re­gion’s lin­guis­tic and cul­tural iden­ti­ties. Var­i­ous groups are call­ing for di­a­logue and ne­go­ti­a­tion over im­prov­ing con­di­tions, while oth­ers say that Cameroon should be a fed­eral state with more pow­ers de­volved to the re­gions and more rad­i­cal groups like the South­ern Cameroons Na­tional Coun­cil seek­ing in­de­pen­dence. While it is un­clear which idea com­mands the most sup­port, per­haps a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion is not the most press­ing is­sue. Many peo­ple said there would be no protests if the govern­ment im­proved peo­ple’s daily lives with bet­ter hos­pi­tals, more re­li­able elec­tric­ity and steps to re­duce the marginal­i­sa­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by an­glo­phones, a mi­nor­ity es­ti­mated at about 20% of Cameroon’s 23 mil­lion peo­ple.


Com­pli­cat­ing the an­glo­phone cause is the fact that it is frag­ile and loosely or­gan­ised. The Cameroon An­glo­phone Civil So­ci­ety Con­sor­tium, teach­ers’ unions and lawyers’ groups were ini­tially in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the govern­ment about the prob­lems in the le­gal and ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems. But talks even­tu­ally broke down af­ter the govern­ment ar­rested an­glo­phone lead­ers and put them on trial in Yaoundé (see box on page 48). That move has crys­tallised the con­flict, which shows no signs of near­ing a res­o­lu­tion. In De­cem­ber, Pres­i­dent Paul Biya spoke about the trou­bles, say­ing: “Prob­lems must be fixed within the frame­work of the law and by di­a­logue.” A mem­ber of the re­li­gion-run ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Ba­menda says in re­turn: “There is no di­a­logue.” The govern­ment does not want to be seen as ap­peas­ing pro­test­ers and

has de­liv­ered piece­meal ini­tia­tives to ad­dress some con­cerns. It has cre­ated a com­mis­sion on bilin­gual­ism and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, set up a com­mon law sec­tion at the Ecole Na­tionale d’administration et de la Mag­i­s­tra­ture and launched the re­cruit­ment of 1,000 bilin­gual teach­ers. But the govern­ment’s hand is heavy. Ev­i­dence of its no-holds-barred ap­proach to snuff­ing out threats – real or per­ceived – can be seen in the April hand­ing down of a 10-year prison sen­tence for RFI jour­nal­ist Ahmed Abba for fail­ure to de­nounce acts of ter­ror­ism, and the same pun­ish­ment in Novem­ber for three young peo­ple who shared a joke via text mes­sage about Boko Haram. In re­sponse to the re­cent protests, the govern­ment cut off the re­gions’ in­ter­net from early Jan­uary un­til mid-april. For Re­becca Enon­chong, who helped run the cam­paign to force Yaoundé to switch it back on, it shows how out of touch the administration is. “Some peo­ple in the govern­ment be­lieved that the in­ter­net [it­self ] caused the demon­stra­tions,” she says. “But more wor­ry­ing, in­ter­na­tional in­vestors will now see Cameroon as a place that shuts down the in­ter­net. Our risk pro­file is au­to­mat­i­cally in­creased.” Be­yond their purely an­glo­phone pre­oc­cu­pa­tions, res­i­dents of Ba­menda crit­i­cise govern­ment in the same ways that can be heard in Yaoundé, Douala and other parts of the coun­try. Bryan, who sits on a stool next to a col­league and runs a cloth­ing shop a stone’s throw away from Com­mer­cial Av­enue, says that cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment are hurt­ing busi­ness: “We pay taxes and for what? Cor­rup­tion here is the worst, and po­lice and other of­fi­cials are here just to make money.”


How could the con­flict be re­solved? Sa­man­tha, who runs a small restau­rant near the cen­tre of town that serves eru and other tra­di­tional dishes, is cat­e­gor­i­cal: “Sep­a­ra­tion would be good for me. The fran­co­phones have stolen all of our re­sources and treat us like slaves.” Nev­er­the­less, though much of Cameroon’s oil is lo­cated in the Rio del Rey area of South West Re­gion, and the area has lit­tle to show for it, se­ces­sion re­mains a mi­nor­ity view. For now. Sa­man­tha adds: “The govern­ment sends peo­ple who only speak French to con­trol the bor­der with Nige­ria. I go there of­ten to buy prod­ucts to sell here. If they hear you speak English, they treat you badly. If they hear pid­gin, they go crazy.” Her sis­ter Cecile is work­ing with her now be­cause she could not fin­ish her last year of univer­sity cour­ses in eco­nom­ics due to the re­cent trou­bles. “We love her, so we kept her at home. They are cut­ting off the hands of peo­ple who go to school. You can see videos of it on the in­ter­net.” James, the taxi driver, says he is per­plexed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties : “I would just like every­one to work to­gether. I am con­fused about it but I do not think se­ces­sion would work.” He says that he wants to leave Ba­menda and go back to Yaoundé be­cause he is mak­ing less than half of the money he used to earn.

The prob­lems caused by the cri­sis are rip­pling through Ba­menda in vis­i­ble and less vis­i­ble ways. Sa­muel, a univer­sity pro­fes­sor, says: “What is hap­pen­ing in the hos­pi­tals is dev­as­tat­ing. Young girls who are not go­ing to school are get­ting preg­nant and end­ing up in hospi­tal when they try to get rid of it on their own.”


Other Ba­menda youth strug­gle to sur­vive. Two young boys dressed in light jack­ets look at the ground and back up against a car in need of re­pairs when ap­proached in a small pas­sage off of Nk­wen Street. “For one month now, we are panel beat­ers,” says a 13-year-old out-of-school boy. “I like study­ing math […] but there is no school be­cause of ghost town.” Many stu­dents in town are work­ing as hawk­ers and look­ing for other ways to make money. As The Africa Re­port went to press, it was still not clear if there would be classes in the next school year as the trou­bles in Ba­menda dragged on af­ter the 2016/2017 school year was a washout. The econ­omy of Ba­menda is also in a dire state. The food mar­ket, hit by one of the fires that have plagued the city in re­cent months, has more sell­ers than cus­tomers in the mid­dle of June. Clothes seller Bryan says that since last year “the mar­ket is very bad. Be­fore I could not go min­utes with­out some­one com­ing by to ask what I am do­ing here. Now I sit here for hours with noth­ing to do.” The re­cep­tion­ist at the mid-sized Clifton Ho­tel says that at this time of year, nor­mally the place would be booked out but it has just five guests. Sus­pi­cions are high and peo­ple talk­ing about the con­flict of­ten look around to see if any­one is lis­ten­ing. The fire at the Top Star Ho­tel in early June and an­other re­cent one at a bar on Nk­wen Street are seen as a sign that those or­gan­is­ing ghost towns will pun­ish those who do not re­spect the busi­ness boy­cott. At her restau­rant, Sa­man­tha says that she closes down on Mon­days. “No one knows who is set­ting the fires. They say they are in a group called Black Spi­der. They will threaten you first and give you a warn­ing or slip a note un­der the door. But then they will come back to burn it if you do not close down on a ghost town.” To fight the in­se­cu­rity, the red berets of sol­diers are now a com­mon sight at points through­out Ba­menda. Even a mem­ber of the elite Batail­lon d’in­ter­ven­tion Rapide was seen on a night in June sit­ting in a noisy bar near a cen­tral trans­port hub in the city, dressed in fa­tigues and BIR baseball cap, sur­vey­ing the crowd. Their pres­ence is set to con­tinue as the com­mu­nity’s re­solve seems un­weak­ened in its fight for an­glo­phone tra­di­tions, devel­op­ment and bet­ter gov­er­nance, in the face of the govern­ment’s game of hard­ball with any­thing that it sees as a threat to sta­bil­ity.

Fol­low­ing re­cent protests Ba­menda was cut off, in­ter­net in­cluded

Clock­wise from left: lack of investment has left Ba­menda’s roads in a poor state of re­pair; cus­tomers are in short sup­ply at the mar­ket; fires at a bar on Nk­wen Street and at the mar­ket are seen as a sign that those who do not re­spect the busi­ness...

In state-run schools pupils were forced to sit end-of-year ex­ams af­ter a year with­out teach­ing

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