by Clotilde Asangna

In lieu of a brief history, Cameroonians from both the French and British colonies, started expressing interest in their political future at the end of Second World War. This period was marked by a nationalist wave that swept across Africa. The élite from East and West Cameroon was more interested in recreating a unified state, as had previously been under German rule, as such instead of pushing for an independent state, sought (re)unification which came in May 1972 (Ngoh 1979). Under this arrangement, West Cameroon functioned as an “informal” Federal state, with Ahmadou Ahidjo as president.

Wunsch and Olowu (1990) maintain that unitary system of government was the predominant choice of African leaders. It served as a furtherance of the colonial system of administration, in countries like Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Togo, to unite all ethno-regional groups under one centralized authority. The creation of the unitary system of government was projected by President Ahidjo as the ultimate solution for fostering socio-economic growth and preventing administrative disarray.

However, Konings and Nyamnjoh (2003) maintain that (re)unification of the two Cameroons resulted in extreme centralization of political power in East Cameroon and subsequent authoritarianism, at the expense of liberal democracy. First, it endorsed the design of an authoritarian social contract in which the head of state extended welfare and bribes, and in exchange, society settled for a reduced role in politics. Second, the unitary state evaded the necessity to build administrative capacity because of the absence of accountability, democratic control and legal limits on state officials. Besides the adoption of multiparty politics in 1990, the unitary state rendered little overall growth for West Cameroon. Cameroon, unlike Huntington’s (1991) claim, is stagnating in the first phase of democratization–liberalization.

Identity in Cameroon, as in some other parts of the world, has been evidenced by the organization and construction of historical ties and ethno-regional cultures (Zognong and Mouiche 1997). The creation of the federal state of West Cameroon laid the foundation for an anglophone identity. But the simple assertion of an anglophone identity was slackened when the development of West Cameroon was impeded by Ahidjo’s repressive government.[1] Consequently, the federal system was dissolved, giving the unitary state utmost power to utilize repressive politics as a tool to marginalize the anglophone minority.

Children and youths constitute at least two-thirds of the population of West Cameroon. For an area that produces critical sources of regional wealth, the rate of poverty, illiteracy and underemployment among this group is staggering. The state has failed for several years to provide basic services, and the repressive nature of the state rendered formal complaints impossible, if not suicidal. If we are to accept that societies comprised of human beings are in a state of steady growth and social change, then we are also to accept that civilian uprisings (like the October 1, 2017 strikes) indicate that the status quo is unsustainable.

Unfortunately, the anglophone problem developed into full blown unrests in the North and South West regions, as marginalized citizens have taken to the streets to protest the government’s discriminatory policies. While hundreds, if not thousands of anglophone Cameroonians are risking their lives to physically relocate to those areas of the world where authentic socio-economic covenants exist. People are escaping the general dissatisfaction, the silent despair of absent political, economic and social opportunities. It is the hopelessness that guides the marginalized societies, hence the migratory flows and constant strikes (“villes mortes”). Regardless of the crucial implications these refugee flows have on western societies, which have been tasked with accommodating them, there has been little, if any, attempt made by the Cameroon government to meaningfully resolve the anglophone problem and revamp socio-political structures and economic development.

Caring about the well-being of communities obligated to live under the oppressions familiar in the dark areas of politics means attempting to recognize coercive force, whether commissioned under authoritarian governments or by armed nonstate actors. For the last five years, pressure groups in West Cameroon have taken up arms and openly confronted the unitary government and military with demands for a return to the 1961-72 federal system of administration. It is about time the Anglophone problem is resolved and the repressive régime of Paul Biya cast aside for an honest attempt at democracy.

[1] On September 1, 1961, President Ahidjo “passed an annexation law claiming entitlement to British Southern Cameroons as part of its territory returned to it by the UN and the UK” (Anyangwe 2012).