President Paul Biya of Cameroon has been silent for long in relation to the on-going unrest in the country’s English speaking region. His silence has made matters worse and it is time he took decisive measure to resolve that crisis if he wants history to remember him after his nearly 40 years in power.
Over half a century ago, the Kerner Commission Report on the state of race relations in the US concluded that America was “Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal [[i]]”. Given the on-going crisis in Cameroon, and to paraphrase that study in another context it is possible to conclude that currently Cameroon “is moving towards two societies, one Francophone, one Anglophone—separate, hostile, and unequal.”
During the last two years, Cameroon has been engulfed in a brutal conflict. Known as the Anglophone Crisis, a peaceful strike began by teachers and lawyers quickly turned into a revolt against the marginalisation of the English-speaking regions of the country. In typical fashion, the government’s response included intimidation, arrests, jail, and torture [[ii]]. As a result, voices that called for complete secession of the Anglophone regions from the La République du Cameroun gained momentum, restored Gorji Dinka’s Ambazonia Republic idea, created an interim government in exile, and engaged in guerrilla war tactics. They formed a military wing, Ambazonia Defence Force, and have used it to hit back at government forces and fortifications [[iii]].
They have barricaded highways, destroyed property, kidnapped government officials, and dared the military to follow them into their hide-outs. Through protest activities such as “ghost town,” they have disrupted economic and social services in the Anglophone regions of the country. Massive casualties have been reported by both sides. Nationwide, the Anglophone Crisis has become a major topic of discussion, and despite the continuous presence of government forces in the region it remains unclear how the crisis will end. In fact, history could hardly have devised a more frustrating problem for Cameroon’s, and Africa’s longest ruling “strongman.”
It was for this reason, and against the advice of friends, colleagues, and family, that I went to Cameroon to more fully understand the on-going crisis, to contextualise the struggle, to learn and listen to ordinary voices. Why did things deteriorate so quickly, and what does the government need to do to turn the tide?