Anglophone crisis – Academics, students stand firm

Schools, universities and law courts remain shuttered in two provinces of Anglophone Cameroon as students, academics, school teachers and lawyers continue to paralyse activities in protest against what they perceive as linguistic, cultural and educational injustices and other forms of marginalisation by the Cameroonian government.

The Central African country has been the site of unrest since late last year when protests, led by civil society coalitions made up of a significant proportion of students, academics and lawyers, erupted in the country’s two Anglophone provinces – Northwest and Southwest.

The government’s response to what is commonly known as the 'Anglophone Crisis' has become increasingly violent resulting in the reported deaths of several protesters.

The country’s president, Paul Biya, has thus far resisted calls by human rights groups and other academics in the region for the release of more than 25 protestors – including university lecturer Fontem Neba and human rights lawyer Felix Agbor, who are currently facing trial by a military tribunal in the capital Yaoundé, accused of acts of sedition and attempts to foist secession on the country.

The sense of marginalisaton in Anglophone Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest provinces – which accounts for about 20% of Cameroon’s 23 million inhabitants – exists despite the fact that Cameroon’s constitution recognises the existence of political bilingualism and equal rights between the English and French speaking components of the country.

Protesters are calling for a return to a pre-1972 federal constitution under which the country’s western area was self-governing.

Civil society clampdown

Angered by the continued boycott of lectures and court proceedings over the past months, Biya ordered the immediate dissolution of the two key civil groups leading the protest – the Southern Cameroons National Council and the Anglophone Civil Society Consortium.

Biya also ordered the cessation of all internet services to the Anglophone regions so protesters could not make use of social media to intensify their campaigns for the establishment of two states in the same federation.

As a result of the 94-day internet shutdown, researchers and teachers in the universities of Buea and Bamenda had to travel some hundreds of kilometres to Yaoundé to make use of public cybercafés for urgent contact and links with their research partners overseas.

The ban was eventually lifted in April after international pressure and economic losses estimated at US$3 million by the NGO Access Now.

Meanwhile, international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Contra Nocendi, and academics from the region have called upon the Cameroonian authorities to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings of some protesters. They have argued that those arrested should either be released immediately, after investigations, or sent to appear before civil courts rather than military tribunals.

Academics' appeal

“The international community should put pressure on President Biya to release, without any preconditions, all those arrested during the peaceful demonstrations in Anglophone Cameroon. Moreover, they should make him realise that the beginning of the solution to the crisis in this region of the country is to put in place steps to ensure the creation of a genuine federation in which the Anglophones would have their own state in order to fulfil the aims and objectives of the inhabitants.

"This state creation would ensure the use of resources, including oil and gas and agricultural products, to transform the universities of Bamenda and Buea into first-class universities,” said Samuel Wara, a professor at Covenant University, Ota, South West Nigeria, who originates from Anglophone Cameroon and is a prominent member of Cameroon’s diaspora community in Nigeria.

Much of the protest action has centred around the universities of Buea and Bamenda, which are also the two major cities of Anglophone Cameroon, and is driven by current students and staff as well as alumni of the institutions who constitute the bulwark of a newly-formed association known as the Cameroon Common Law Bar Association.

They also operated before their dissolution by government as a think tank to the Southern Cameroons National Council and Anglophone Civil Society Consortium.

Lawyer demands

Over several months, Anglophone lawyers under the umbrella of Cameroon Common Law Bar Association formally wrote to the Ministry of Justice demanding the urgent introduction in Anglophone Cameroon of the common law system operational in all English-speaking countries of the world.

They also called for the replacement in Anglophone Cameroon of French-speaking magistrates and counsels and the translation of the business law text, OHADA, into English. This text represents a system of business laws and implementing institutions adopted by 16 West and Central African nations.

After the ministry turned a deaf ear to the appeals, on 6 October 2016 the lawyers carried out a peaceful demonstration in Buea and Bamenda to drive home what they consider as their legitimate demands. Students of Buea and Bamenda universities joined the protests.

The central government of Yaoundé, largely dominated by the Francophone elite, sent troops to quell the demonstrations, accusing protesters of instigating secession and the balkanisation of a united Cameroon.

Teaching demands

For their part, academics and teachers have compiled a list of demands which capture what they perceive as unfairness in the education system towards English speakers, which leads to inferior educational and employment outcomes. Signed by Wilfred Tassang, executive-secretary of Cameroon Teachers Trade Union, the complaints and-or demands include the following:
  • • Anglophones who pass the General Certificate of Education with high grades cannot be admitted into professional schools of their choice, while Francophone students with lesser marks are given access.
  • • Francophones outnumber Anglophones in the professional schools in the Anglophone universities of Buea and Bamenda by a ratio of 90%:10% in the Higher Technical Teachers' Training College Kumba; 90%:10% in the medical school at Buea; and 80%:20% in the Higher Technical Teachers' Training College Bamenda; whereas there are no Anglophones in these schools in Francophone universities.
  • • Anglophones who apply to read medicine are sent to Francophone universities where they face linguistic challenges and often drop out.
  • • The government refuses to train Anglophone technical teachers and deploys the few who are trained to work in Francophone areas.
  • • Government continues to send Francophones who have no mastery of English to teach in Anglophone schools, reducing the quality of education; and
  • • Admissions into key faculties at the universities of Buea and Bamenda have been taken to Yaoundé, leading to the doctoring of admission lists and the admission of greater numbers of Francophone students.
  • • Anglophones are compelled to write entrance examinations into technical and professional colleges in French, which results in mass failure for Anglophone candidates.
  • • Election and appointment of administrative officers in the Anglo-Saxon universities of Bamenda and Buea are not undertaken in strict compliance of Anglo-Saxon norms.
  • • The 1998 Law of Education, policy and orientation should be scrapped; and
  • • Separate boards should be created for Anglophone and Francophone education systems.
Despite offers by Education Minister Jean Ernest Ngalle Bibehe to commence the withdrawal of Francophone teachers posted to Anglophone regions and Anglophone teachers posted to Francophone regions and other measures aimed at assuaging the teachers, including the recruitment of 1,000 bilingual graduates in science and technology, the protesters have refused to end their strike until a roundtable negotiation process is in place to realise the objective of two states which cater for all social and educational needs.