President cracks down on, shuts Anglophone universities

The two main public universities in Anglophone Cameroon have been shut down by the country’s president. The indefinite closures – after months of partial closures – come amid allegations of unprecedented military force being used to suppress unrest by staff and students who are demanding greater independence for their English-speaking regions.

The order to close the universities of Bamenda in the northwest and Buea in the southwest was issued on 1 October by the country’s president, Paul Biya, who is also the Visitor of the universities, in response to a symbolic proclamation by students and lecturers of the Anglophone region as the 'Republic of Ambazonia'.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that some students and teachers were killed by soldiers during crackdowns at both universities. A 2 October statement by Amnesty International said at least 17 people had been killed by security forces following protests in several towns of the Anglophone regions.

The university communities in the Anglophone region are seeking a return to the pre-1961 system of federalism, in terms of which the Anglophone and Francophone regions were two separate and sovereign legal entities under the tutelage of the United Nations.

Army raid

According to Mesang Rosine Noutsa, a student at the University of Bamenda, government soldiers descended on the hostels and the residential quarters of the campus in the early hours of 1 October and brutalised students, lecturers and their family members.

“It was a scene of horrors. I have never witnessed such an ugly incident in my entire life,” she said from her bed at the General Hospital, Bamenda, where many students and teachers were receiving treatment for wounds inflicted on them by the soldiers.

The following day, Professor Horace Ngomo Manga, vice-chancellor of the University of Buea, and Professor Theresa Akenji Nkuo, vice-chancellor the University of Bamenda, were summoned to a short meeting in the capital of Yaoundé with Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo.

They were informed that the universities would remain shut until all secessionists were cleared from the campuses, according to a lecturer who was forced to flee Bamenda and take refuge in a Nigerian border town.

Role of intelligentsia

According to diplomatic sources, many of the ringleaders of the protest action, who led the attempts at the symbolic declaration of the 'Republic of Ambazonia', fled through the bush paths to neighbouring Nigeria to join an already large community of Cameroonian students and teachers seeking shelter in Nigerian university campuses.

In an interview with University World News, Professor Samuel Wara, head of the department of electrical engineering at Covenant University, Ota, Lagos, who is a native of Bamenda, said the Anglophone university community in Cameroon had consistently played a vital role in the “misfortunes and fortunes” of the English-speaking regions.

“It was the intellectuals who canvassed and supported the United Nation-sponsored referendum in 1961 in which our people massively accepted the idea that we [should] create a federation with Francophone Cameroon,” he said.

An internationally renowned scholar, Wara said the university community today continues to campaign for an end to what he called the “lopsided 1961 union” with Francophone Cameroon.

Wara said professors Bernard Nsokika Fonlon and Carlson Anyangwe as well as Fon Gorji Dinka, a renowned lawyer, produced a manifesto in 1984 called the New Social Order in which they argued that by reverting to the name 'French Cameroon', Biya as president had ‘seceded’ from the Union and so the English-speaking part of Cameroon also had the right to revert to its state of ‘independence’ before 1961.

Recognition of Ambazonia

“And in 2005, Anglophone Cameroon was registered and recognised as the Republic of Ambazonia with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, an international organisation affiliated to the United Nations,” he said.

Wara described the university communities of Bamenda and Buea as being at the forefront of the struggle for emancipation of the people of Anglophone Cameroon.

Among the instances of marginalisation of and discrimination against the Anglophones, against which the Anglophone intelligentsia are fighting, he listed the following:
  • • The national entrance examination into schools is set by the French sub-system of education. This makes it difficult for Anglophones and Francophones to compete on an equal playing field. The examination board members are all Francophone. Important examinations into professional schools are set in French only, sometimes even in an English-speaking region.
  • • There are five ministries in charge of education. None of them are Anglophone.
  • • State institutions issue documents and public notices in French with no English translations.
  • • Most of the heads of government offices only speak French, even in the English-speaking region.
  • • Most senior administrators and members of the forces of law and order in the Anglophone region are French-speaking and there is a lack of effort on their part to demonstrate an understanding of Anglophone culture.
  • • Members of inspection teams, missions and facilitators for seminars sent from the ministries in Yaoundé to Anglophone Cameroon are mostly French-speaking despite the fact that their audiences are English-speaking.
  • • Out of 36 ministers who defended the budget for the ministries last month, only one was Anglophone.
  • • Most of the military tribunals in Anglophone regions conduct their courts in French.
  • • International treaties and documents to which the country is a signatory, such as the Central African Banking Commission code, Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets code and the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa document are all in French.
  • • Magistrates in Anglophone Cameroon are disproportionately Francophone. In addition, other government-appointed officers, such as the senior divisional officers, commissioners and commandants are disproportionately Francophone.
  • • Francophones occupy most leadership positions in Anglophone schools, hospitals, banks and mobile telephone companies.
Professor Augustine Awasum, a veterinary surgeon based at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Northern Nigeria, who originally hails from Anglophone Cameroon, called for all universities to be reopened as soon as possible and for the establishment of “an enabling atmosphere for dialogue among all stakeholders”.

He said all students, teachers and other members of society in prison [for political activism] should be released unconditionally.

“This inevitable dialogue should be supervised by the African Union and the United Nations, with a view to ensuring that mutual agreements are legally binding on all parties. The minimum condition to guarantee peace, progress and meaningful development is to reinstate the October 1961 Constitution which guarantees true federalism where Anglophone and Francophone Regions are equal partners,” he said.