Cameroon in conflict with itself

The use of a singular narrative to explain the divisions within Cameroon belies the reality that both anglophones and francophones are complicit in the conflict.

Cameroonian soldier. Image credit Sgt. Kyle Fisch via US Army Flickr CC.

Since the war in Southern Cameroon began, there has been a persistent narrative on social media that seeks to portray Southern Cameroonians as innocent victims caught in an unholy relationship with East Cameroon. This narrative becomes sharper every time there’s a massacre, like the recent one in Donga Mantung. However, Southern Cameroonians are not as innocent in this relationship as some appear to think. The elites of the region are especially complicit in creating this Cameroon which is now at war with itself.

Let me explain.

This crisis has been long in the making, but it has escalated into a war which is now being fought by the Cameroonian army and different secessionist groups scattered all over the anglophone Southern Cameroon. Partly due to the current war, a narrative has developed that paints francophone Cameroon as the main source of the catastrophe that is engulfing an otherwise innocent and victimized anglophone Cameroon; a narrative that clouds the fact that the current crisis has been created by government actions and does not reflect the attitude of francophones towards anglophones in the country. The innocence and victimization of anglophones in the country is also overstated. The Cameroon we have today, the Cameroon now in conflict with itself, is a Cameroon that was created by both English- and French-speaking Cameroonians.

The dominant narrative of the crisis is that since the reunification of British Southern Cameroon and French East Cameroon in 1961, the minority Southern Cameroonians have been systematically marginalized, with matters coming to a head in 2016 with the Biya regime’s brutal crackdown against those protesting the assimilation of Southern Cameroons’ educational and judiciary systems into French Cameroon’s system led to armed resistance. This narrative is only partly true. It is true, for example, that English is marginalized even though English and French are the official languages of the country. Official documents are required to be written in both English and French, yet official documents are often available only in French. When English versions are available, these are often poor translations of the French. English-speaking Cameroonians are expected to speak French in official circles while French-speaking Cameroonians are not expected to speak English. However, anglophones have also played active roles in the marginalization of many in both anglophone and francophone Cameroon.

For example, Southern Cameroonian elites played critical roles in consummating the union between anglophone and francophone Cameroon, especially through the process that led to the increasing assimilation of anglophones into the francophone system. As the historian of Southern Cameroons, Bongfen Chem-Langhëë, has noted, the process of assimilating Southern Cameroonians into the francophone system, from the period of the reunification, was certainly enhanced by the actions of some politicians from Southern Cameroons, such as Solomon Tandeng Muna, who advocated for “the creation of a single political party and a unitary system for the whole country.” Muna’s slogan to achieve this goal was “one country, one government, one flag, one currency.” For holding this position, Ahmadou Ahidjo, the first president of the reunified Cameroon, appointed Muna, first as Prime Minister of Southern Cameroons (1968), and later, as Vice President of the Federal Republic (1970). Successive Southern Cameroonians have since been appointed to the post of Prime Minister of Cameroon, including Simon Achidi Achu, Peter Mafany Musonge, Ephraim Inoni, Philemon Yang, and the current Prime Minister, Joseph Dion Ngute. While it is true that southern Cameroonians have been in the minority in high profile state offices, those who have been appointed to these offices have often used them to line their own pockets and pass on benefits to cronies. They have hardly protested the mistreatment of Southern Cameroonians.

The narrative of a homogenous marginalization of anglophone Cameroon, which is used to justify the current war by those fighting for separation is, in reality, propaganda. This narrative is amplified especially when there is a massacre, such as the one that happened in February 2020 in the village of Ngarbuh, where government forces and some armed Fulani people are believed to have murdered pregnant women and infants. We need to radically change this narrative to acknowledge anglophone Cameroonian complicity in fueling this conflict, in order to try and bring about its end.

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