Federation or separation: which path will Cameroon take?

The differences among civilisations are not only real, they are basic and are differentiated from each other by their history, language, culture, laws, government and religions. When public life becomes scripted with gestures and ‘newspeaks’[1] that politicians and interest groups use to signify the values of civilisations, it becomes harder for the public to distinguish between honesty, political stagecraft and falsified reality. Eventually it becomes the birthplace of conflict. There is a clash of civilisations and ideologies between the descendants of West Cameroon and those of East Cameroun united as the Republic of Cameroon today that has inspired a street belief, especially in the former British Southern Cameroon, that politics is value-free; that the present government under the leadership of President Paul Biya for more than 34 years has not only been allowing, but rewarding political, cultural and historical distortions with political appointments.

In West Cameroon, civil protest banners read, “Anglophones should stand up to save the Anglophone system of education from complete eradication. Only a two state federation or outright independence can save the common law and Anglophones”. Most West Cameroonians have come to the realisation that they are losing the value of their identity embedded in the English language, the common law and the English system of education. Above all they feel marginalised by a dominant French speaking population. What is the root cause of the present cries for a return to a federal state or a separation of the two Cameroons united in 1972 as the United Republic of Cameroon?

Decolonisation, self-determination and sovereignty are powerful currencies in international politics. In Africa, before the discourse on colonisation could recede, the talk about sovereignty and self-determination became the centre of attention in the political affairs of the continent. As a consequence, new and unsettling questions about the delayed problems of post-colonial African States raised once again the meaning of state legitimacy constructed on the ideas of territorial sovereignty and statehood that trapped some African countries in marriages of convenience, trying to recreate historical units as they existed before colonial balkanisation through ill-planned referendums in the haste to gain independence. In Cameroon, the referendum supervised by the United Nations on the 11th of February 1961 ignored a third possibility of independence and the self-determination of the people of Southern Cameroon. Instead the options were to join the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroon. This political history is the source of the violence in Cameroon today. British Southern Cameroon voted to join the Republic of Cameroon in a federation with a constitution distinguishing East Cameroon from West Cameroon but in 1972, President Ahidjo dissolved the federation and created the United Republic of Cameroon. As Konings posits, this move was made to centralise power and destroy all elements of the federal structure under the claim that it was costly to run a federation. Regarded as totalitarian and undemocratic because it increased the power of the president and executive, the referendum that led to the abolition of federal structure was considered a coup d’état in West Cameroon as Ahidjo abolished the Cameroon Federation and the State of West Cameroon, its government, its parliament and its House of Chiefs.

Cameroon is a culturally diverse, broad-based, multilingual and multi-religious principality with English and French as official languages. These are the reasons the United Nations granted independence to Southern Cameroons on the basis of federalism. Since the Federation and the State of West Cameroon was ended, the opinions of most Southern Cameroonians hold that they have been betrayed, that they have been sidelined and that they are “second class citizens” in their own homeland because they have been colonized by La Republique du Cameroun. Ngwana believes that to build a better and democratic Cameroon that manages differences sensitively, it is necessary to establish a legitimate government and return to the federation. He further declares that “the unitary government (centralization) is not acceptable to Southern Cameroonians (Anglophones) who believe in justice, transparency, freedom, democracy and accountability.” The “All Anglophone Conference (AAC) 1” held in Buea in April, 1993 endorsed a return to the Federal System. As if this was not enough, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) declared functional after the AAC2 Conference in Bamenda held on 29th April to 3rd May 1994 changed the theme song and preferred secession to a return to the federal system.

With resent human rights violations, common law problems, failing educational systems, West Cameroonians through nonviolent civil resistance that has met with violent suppression by government forces have put all options on the table with claims that West Cameroonians cannot accept to be a second class citizen in their own country or accept the propaganda, falsehood and lies that suggest all Cameroonians are happy and accept the value free politics of Cameroon. Pop artists and musicians have been singing inspirational song of liberation and freedom from oppression and youths have been sharing graphic images of police brutality massages of federation or freedom on social media closed and opened groups. With the tense political atmosphere, Cameroonians hope for peace and unity, but above all, for justice.

[1] Orwellian newspeaks here is language use intended to conceal not reveal the reality of a people as it is for fear of political compromise or to lose favour from the prince who has the knife and the yam in is hands.

About the author:
Ayenka Franklin studied History of International Relations at the University of Yaoundé 1, Cameroon. Ayenka has taken certification courses in Conflict Management and Peacebuilding in the United States Institute of Peace (Global Campus). He studied for a Masters in Social Science and International Relations in the Protestant University of Central Africa, as well as Programming for Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies at Connell University. 
Ayenka currently works as a Programme Assistant at Ecumenical Service for Peace.