By Julius Wamey
Any Anglophone parent who is not currently preparing his child(ren) to return to school in September is a very sorry excuse for a parent. Apart from making sure that our children return to school on schedule, we should apologize to them for weaponizing them and sending them to fight an adults’ war. We should apologize for letting a successful strike by their teachers to be hijacked by people who, it’s become clear, are out for their own selfish and delusional ends. While the legitimate strike leaders remain incarcerated under a government that’s hobbled by arrogance, confusion, corruption, prone to violent solutions and a distressing ineptitude, the future of our kids is being held hostage by unscrupulous glory-seeking Anglophones operating mostly from abroad and/or in the safe anonymity of the internet.
Let me make it very clear that I remain an ardent enthusiast of Federalism, which I see as the only feasible outcome. This is the one outcome that can possibly be achieved without sacrificing the lives of our young in a quixotic quest for separation from a union we were misled into, but which has the sanction of the international community. This is an outcome we have come close to achieving before, through peaceful civic action, when we still subscribed to the “force of argument, not the argument of force.” We can do that again.
I don’t for one minute believe that we can achieve complete statehood, mainly because the powers in Yaoundé, who have the military means and the will, would not let us get away with it without a fight. It would also entail the kind of bloodshed that not even those who swear, from the comfort of internet anonymity, that they would sacrifice their very lives to achieve it. Internet lives are cheap and easy to sacrifice. All you need is a move to a different website and you can start living a new alternate reality. In addition, our struggle, however justified and legitimate, has little or no support from the international community, never mind the fantastic promises of troops massing at the border or fictional UN resolutions trumpeted online by our dreaming “liberators”.
Few remember how close we came to achieving regional autonomy following the All Anglophone Conferences (AAC Buea, 1993) and Bamenda the following year. When it began to look as if we might succeed, a host of “Anglophone leaders” suddenly surfaced, and started jockeying for position in the potential federated state of West Cameroon. The knives came out for Dr. Simon Munzu, Barrister Ekontang Elad and Dr. Carlson Anyangwe, who, at great personal risk and sacrifice, convened these unprecedented Anglophone gatherings against fierce resistance from the government.
As success always has a thousand fathers (and failure is an orphan) the first AAC spawned countless Anglophone ‘liberation movements,’ each claiming to be the first, the authentic, and the original representation of Anglophone aspirations for independence. The leaders of these ‘movements,’ each of whom saw the future prime minister of West Cameroon in their mirror when shaving each morning, were mostly based abroad. They attempted to hijack the AAC for their own purposes and ended up killing it.
The same thing is happening again and the parallels here are glaring. Anglophone lawyers kicked things off when they hit the streets last October in a desperate bid to restore and maintain the Common Law system in our courts and safeguard the equality of Anglophone defendants before the law. The teachers followed suit in November, downing chalks not only in sympathy with their brethren in the law, but to protest the creeping francophonization of our cherished education system which had been overwhelmed by Francophone children and was turning some of the certificates awarded to our children into an international joke.
The teachers and lawyers’ strike was unbelievably successful.
The government panicked and went into its default mode in such situations: it deployed heavily armed troops in a violent response to a completely legitimate protest by its outraged citizenry. Copious amounts of blood were shed all over West Cameroon. When this failed, they tried to undermine the strike movement with bribes but there were few takers of any prominence. Then Prime Minister Philemon Yang himself got involved, with repeated visits to the area for what the government termed “negotiations,” which was actually about dictating the terms of surrender to the strikers. After these terms were rejected, the Yaounde regime returned to what has always worked for them: the mass arrests and incarceration of the strikers and their leaders, who were immediately transferred to Yaoundé’s notorious Kondengui prison.
Thus decapitated, the movement finally lost direction in the absence of its recognized leaders. The resulting leadership vacuum was exactly what the different Anglophone “liberation movements,” old and new, were waiting for and they rushed in to fill it with all manner of schemes, each more improbable than the last.
The alphabet soup of names and acronyms for the various organizations, from the better-known Ambazonia through SCAPO to SCACUF, is simply dizzying. They issue conflicting dictates on social media and the newly formed, South Africa-based television platform SCBC, on actions to be taken by the hapless West Cameroonians: what days for Ghost Towns, who and what to boycott, and most ominously, which principal’s house to be burnt or car destroyed, what stores to boycott or firebomb, etc. As anyone with a Facebook or WhatsApp account can tell you, the ideological fighting among these groups can be vicious, with charges of treason, corruption and grand larceny being tossed about with abandon. Their prodigious fundraising has one common characteristic; no accountability.
The only thing these “liberators” seem to agree on is that the education of our children should be put on hold until they get their way.
After a year of false promises, economic dislocation in the Anglophone regions and spurious claims of ‘winning bigly,’ Anglophone parents have nothing to show for depriving their children of their right to an education.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The schools strike was successful in its very first month and so was the lawyers’. The government caved to most of their demands and school could have resumed as early as January. But with their movement having been hijacked by these extremist external forces, the leaderless lawyers and teachers found that there was no one to give them the order to go back to work. The government bone headedly refuses to release the strike leaders, thereby depriving itself and the Anglophone community of the only voices that could end the standoff.
Anglophone parents especially are caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is definitely the government, whose obtuse response to what elsewhere would be a national emergency, shows that it doesn’t particularly care what happens to Anglophone children. We should accept this as a fact and go back to taking care of our children as we always have. But then, Anglophone parents are confronted by a hard place, arising from our own midst: the misguided, delusional ambitions of those of our brethren dreaming of a Southern Cameroons utopia that they will lead under a ‘constitution’ written by them and for them.
A perfect example of the confused idea of this new Southern Cameroons republic are the edicts now circulating on social media calling on parents either to continue the schools boycott until our strike leaders are released or to change the schools calendar to a January start, which they claim is the Anglophone way. Those calling for a continued boycott do not say what should happen if the government persists (as it’s likely to do) in its obdurate refusal to listen to reason. And those proposing the calendar change are blissfully unaware that the change was largely made by us to suit our own socio-economic needs. Our current long holidays coincide with the harvest season, when children can help their parents in the farms; in Europe it coincides with the summer, when families go on holidays to the beach. And if they change the calendar, will they also change the curriculum?
A Tactic is Not a Strategy
The striking teachers and lawyers extracted most of the changes they sought from the government. But the ‘liberation movements’ insistence on federation or statehood also had some positive results. Their activism brought about the first, explicit and painful acknowledgement by the Yaounde regime that there is indeed an “Anglophone Problem” in Cameroon. Awareness of this problem and its attendant evils of discrimination, injustices and second-class citizenship status of Anglophones were considerably raised among the Francophone population to a level never achieved before.
The Francophone press sympathized and stopped treating Anglophone stories as an afterthought. Police and gendarmes at check points suddenly started speaking some sort of English or at least Pidgin English to Anglophone drivers and passengers. Ministers and other high ranking officials suddenly started seeking out Anglophone reporters at events to make statements in often atrocious English, believing the effort counted for something. A few signboards were changed, with the English fonts being enlarged to size parity with the French ones.
But these gains have been wiped out by the belief among our “liberation movement” brethren that a successful tactic like a strike can replace a long term strategy. A successful tactic is like a weapon in a long term struggle, to be used sparingly, like a joker in a poker game. When it becomes open-ended, it quickly loses its potency and lethality.
Consequently, many of our young people have lost their futures to the open-ended school strike. Many shall never return to school. A gentleman of my acquaintance, a former ardent supporter of Southern Cameroons independence, has drastically revised his stance after his two boarding school student daughters turned up pregnant following eight months of idling at home. Bands of secondary school-age boys roam our village and city streets, idle, bored and looking for work – or for trouble. Criminality has skyrocketed. The ghost towns are bringing the economy of our regions to its knees. Businesses in the small towns whose survival depends on the functioning of institutions of learning are closing down. There’s an almost palpable atmosphere of fear pervading the region as merchants quaver by their stores, wondering if opening to sell some tablets of Paracetamol to a mother with a sick child would see their store burnt down by poor unemployed youth obeying dictates from faceless forces on the internet.
Our ‘liberators’ have empowered the government in its obstinacy. By rejecting compromise, they have empowered those in government who continue to make money from demonizing us by equating our struggle with the lethal terrorists of Boko Haram. They have weakened those who might have been inclined to discuss our regional autonomy. They refuse to take ‘Yes’ for an answer.
All Anglophones would dearly love to have a state of our own. But that ship sailed a long time ago with the advent of ‘unification.’ An autonomous federal state is still possible through peaceful civic action and political pressure.
In the meantime, LET OUR CHILDREN RETURN TO SCHOOL. We have absolutely no right to deprive them of their future, which would be the grossest abuse of human rights we are perpetuating against them.
Anglophone Parents, the future of our children, the future of a viable Anglophone Community and Culture is in your hands. It begins in September.
*Julius Wamey was one of the pioneer reporters and an anchorman at CRTV. Before immigrating to the United States in the mid 90s, he was editor-in-chief of the Cameroon Post.
He worked at the World Bank as an editor of several of the Bank’s publications from 1999 to 2015 when he left to pursue other interests. You can respond to his opinion piece via our email address.