Insider’s view: worrying situation in Anglophone Cameroon

– 1 February 2017.

Rising tensions in Cameroon have resulted in an Internet blackout in the English-speaking regions of Northwest and Southwest. The authorities ordered the country’s telecommunication providers to shut off Internet connections in response to continuing protests and strike actions against the perceived marginalization of English and the English-speaking regions.

It has been almost two weeks since citizens were cut off from the Internet and the continuing silence surrounding the situation in Cameroon is worrying.

Below, we share a blog written last December by an Anglophone Cameroonian barrister who took part in the first strike actions.

For more information on the Internet blackout see Al Jazeera and/ or listen to (Dutch) radio programme Bureau Buitenland (VPRO) featuring Mirjam de Bruijn. Read more about the strike actions on Mirjam de Bruijn’s blog Counter Voices in Africa.

See also the African Studies Centre literature list on the Anglophone crisis and Internet shutdown in Cameroon.


 

Silencing the voice of the voiceless: reflections on the strike actions of Cameroon common law lawyers and Anglophone teachers – between hope and despair

“The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded” – Charles de Louis.

Introduction

I vividly remember someone saying “Whether the Anglophone problem is considered a forgotten scar of our collective memory or an open sore of our collective survival, it will continue to prick the conscience of the Cameroonian body politic”. Indeed he was right. The strike actions of Common Law Lawyers and Anglophone teachers in Cameroon that provoked violent protests in the North West and South West regional capitals, Bamenda and Buea respectively comes to buttress this fact. The Yaounde regime’s lukewarm attitude towards solving some of the pertinent issues threatening Cameroon’s national unity has metamorphosed into a ruthless campaign of the Yaounde regime deploying troops to crack down on citizens clamoring for their rights.

Cameroon is party to a number of International Human Rights Treaties and Conventions including the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, and Inhuman and degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Cameroonian government has also made considerable efforts to promote the rule of law in the country. This includes constitutional and legislative guarantees for fair judicial processes. Nonetheless, the Cameroon government’s respond to the recent strike actions characterized by looting, rape, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, breaking into student’s residential hostels, teargasing lawyers and students, arbitrarily arresting and detaining civilians is the quintessence of a failed regime. A regime that disregards dialogue and oppresses its citizens.

Experience has shown that human rights, equality, freedom of speech and protest are vitally important to the way of life we enjoy today, and the battle to establish them in law was long and difficult. Where a country turns to avoid basic demands of its citizens, they are bound to resort to violence. Today, however, our society is at risk of becoming less equal, and our civil liberties are under threat like never before.

This paper provides an insider account of the ordeal my colleagues and I went through in the hands of the Cameroon government. My perspectives is largely informed by a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments that has only helped to produce in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisons fellow Southern Cameroonians. I am humbled to be part of this struggle, which I consider to be the repository of Anglophone hopes and aspirations.

Many have described the recent strike actions by Cameroon Common Law Lawyers and Anglophone teachers in the North and South West regions of Cameroon as the “wind of change” that comes to awaken the docile masses from an enslaved nation.

Personally, I took part in the strike actions and suffered victimization from the regime. I watched with dismay, anguish and sadness how a nation perceived in the eyes of the international community as a democratic nation unleashed its wrath by causing the forces of law and order to launch an indiscriminate attack on citizens exercising their fundamental right to protest against the egregious human rights violations occasioned on them. It is most pathetic to note that lawyers were molested, tortured, humiliated and their wigs and gowns seized whilst they were on a peaceful protest march over what many have considered to be the erosion and adulteration by the Biya regime of values intrinsic to and crucial for the survival of the Common Law system.

‘The Anglophone problem’

History reminds us that the Southern Cameroon question or what is generally termed the Anglophone problem is beyond the confines of the daily issues plaguing the Anglophones such as marginalization, lack of jobs, developmental projects, appointments etc. It is evident to deduce from history that it is a constitutional problem. Reason being that a group of people called Southern Cameroonians with a distinct way of life and culture voted to join another group of people called “La Republique du Cameroon”.

The reality we are bound to live in without hiding behind pseudo-nationalists and pseudo-patriots is the fact that our leaders came together on a table and agreed to unite us as one for a common objective; the unification of the two territories that had been divided between the two colonial powers as trusteeship territories by the United Nations. Today, almost 55 years since the constitutional talks held in Foumban, citizens in the English speaking regions of Cameroon feel “La Republique du Cameroon” has recolonized them. Southern Cameroonians continue to suffer from deprivation, marginalization and exploitation.

If my knowledge of history is right, then it reminds us that in 1972 our former president Ahmadou Ahidjo surreptitiously sailed through a new document that abolished the federal system of government agreed at Foumban and renamed the country the United Republic of Cameroon. His successor Paul Biya in a devious way revised the constitution in 1984 and changed the country’s name into the Republic of Cameroon and thereby realizing their objective of colonizing and assimilating the Southern Cameroons.

The recent strike is not a novelty in Cameroon. What makes it unique is that a group of people called Southern Cameroonians, which comprises of lawyers, teachers, students and a great part of the civil society, are clamoring for their lost rights and privileges. The government continues to use “divide and rule”, aided by some of our own who have compromised their virtues because of the privileges they benefit from our oppressor “La Republique”.

It is interesting to note that the Anglophone problem is unique and compared to no other problem in Cameroon. They are fundamental issues to be addressed that unfortunately fall on deaf ears. All the government does is to provide cosmetic solutions to the plight of Anglophones. As of this moment, the government has expressed no sincerity in solving the plethora of issues affecting Southern Cameroonians. The Yaounde regime has neither condemned the human rights violations occasioned on lawyers and students by the forces of law and order. Worse still, the Cameroon Bar Association, the National Commission for Human Rights sat aloof and watched the police, gendarme and the army assault common law lawyers and students with brazen impunity.

It is evident Southern Cameroonians don’t have a future in this nation Cameroon. Even as the prime minister, and head of government tried to find a negotiated settlement during his two-day visit in Bamenda, the resolutions arrived at during his meeting with Common Law Lawyers and Anglophone teachers leaves much to be desired. It is obvious he is not the right person to solve the Anglophone problem in Cameroon. The way he was ridiculed by his own ministers speaks volumes.

Our struggle

Against this background, today is more than half a century since the Republic of Cameroon and the UN trusteeship Southern Cameroons came together in 1961 to form a charade of a union in which the other party is perpetually subdued, victimized and traumatized with mishaps that characterizes the union. To be an Anglophone in Cameroon means that one is politicized from the moment of one’s birth whether one acknowledges it or not. The decision for Southern Cameroonians to emancipate themselves from the shackles of this unjust system rests solely on them. The duration of bondage and enslavement is immaterial as long as all Anglophones of Southern Cameroon extraction have decided to unify themselves and fight their oppressor.

It is evident that the only solution sustainable to the Anglophone plight is federalism or independence. Under the canopy of the Southern Cameroons rests different groups with different names. Let us not be distracted from our focus and cause. Our demands are meant to give reparation to all the plunder we have suffered. Southern Cameroonians cannot continue to limp with one leg on a nation whose foundation rests on injustice, discrimination and inequality of opportunity. The struggle is not a struggle between Anglophones and Francophones. It is about greed, mischief and lack of good faith between fellow Cameroonians. Perhaps it’s time for all Cameroonians to go back to the drawing board.

The mistakes of our parents have only helped us to define our future. It has helped us to become firm, resolute and determined to structure a better future for our children yet unborn. The bible reminds us that the glory of the latter house shall be greater than that of the former. The struggle continues. A lutta continua.

The second peaceful demonstration by Cameroon common law lawyers in Bamenda

More than 900 Common Law Lawyers appeared in their wigs and gowns as they staged peaceful protest marches through the cities of Bamenda and Buea. Prior to this event, Common law lawyers held meetings in Bamenda and Buea and came out with a memorandum addressed to the government with clear proposals on how this “so called unified country” could continue to forge ahead. There is no gainsaying of the fact that lawyers have from every indication exhausted all avenues open to dialogue to resolve some of the teething problems affecting not only their profession, but also the Anglophones and their cultural heritage in the Republic of Cameroon.

There is no gainsaying of the fact that it is typical of lawyers to stand up or speak for the deprived or marginalized. Their role as the voice of the voiceless is even more urgent when we witness the scale of injustice that has pervaded our society and relegated Anglophones to the fringes of our society. The causes of the strike are numerous and complex, and certainly cannot be attributed to one factor.

Today, the Common Law Lawyers wakes up to what they anticipate will be a more challenging human rights landscape. Police and gendarme assault on common law lawyers during the strike actions was conducted with brazen impunity, leading to the torture, humiliation and confiscation of lawyer’s wigs and gowns before the very eyes of the public they represent. The law assumes that lawyers and judges cannot possibly discharge their obligations to justice in its various ramifications-political justice, economic justice, social justice etc., unless they are progressive, courageous and forward-looking. It is not justice confined to the fortunate few on the apex of various pyramids of power in society, but justice that takes within its compass the large masses of the underprivileged segments of our society.

Today, the Cameroon Common Law lawyers have been personally and deeply outraged by the flamboyant oppression and torture that has been the hallmark of “La Republique’s” subjugation. At a point where the Cameroon Bar Association and the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms would have fought hard to protect, preserve the flagrant violation of the rights of the Common Law Lawyers, they have expressed nonchalant attitude and complacence with the empirical reality regarding the plight of those considered to be the voice of the voiceless in our society.

At a time when the regime in power has labeled common law advocates as “advocates without a sense of purpose” who will eventually call off the sit-in strike and return to their respective offices when they are hungry, the common law lawyer is more determined ever than before to speak out loudly against the profligacy and moral turpitude within the polity.