By Mwalimu George Ngwane*
In an interview granted me by The Rambler newspaper of November 28th 2016, I made the following observation:
“There is a need for constructive dialogue as recommended by the African Court on Human and Peoples rights which as far back as 2009 stated in Article 215 of the Banjul Declaration that the Cameroon government enters into constructive dialogue with Anglophone pressure groups. Lest I forget the Special Rapporteur for Minority Rights at the UN Rita Ndiaye made a country visit to Cameroon in 2010 and also issued a report which contains the Anglophone problem. And in all of these we have not even heard the President Biya’s voice like we did in the Eseka train crash. My conclusion is that it was time Mr Biya made a public statement on the Anglophone problem and urgently too.”
Biya’s 2016 end of year speech was close to addressing what has now escalated into an Anglophone spring or a West Cameroon Renaissance, but unfortunately fell short as deconstructed in the following five D factors of speaking to the historical and socio-political realities of our fifty-six years of coexistence.
“We should never forget that we are walking in the footsteps of our country’s founding fathers, our national heroes shed their blood to bequeath to posterity a nation that is united in diversity.” Paul Biya
History informs us that it was in recognition of our unity in diversity that our founding fathers lived the dream of laying this country’s edifice on the foundation of federalism in 1961. That dream was deferred by violating Article 47 of the Federal Constitution and imposing a unitary state on 20th May 1972, derailed by changing the name of the country to “Republic of Cameroun” on 4th February 1984 and disrupted by adopting a Unitary decentralized constitution on 18th January 1996.
Those clamoring for federalism are indeed “walking in the footsteps of our founding fathers”. They are the real patriots imbued with the transformative power to build rather than break the blocks of a unity in diversity nation; they are the genuine foot soldiers content with rewriting on the blackboard of our fifty-five years of uneasy coexistence, the erased memories of a fractured dream. Our national heroes like the youths who were recently killed in Bamenda and Kumba “shed their blood to bequeath to posterity a nation that is united in diversity”. Whoever silences the voices of Federalism only ends up amplifying the whispers of Independence. And the choice of one does not exclude the acceptance of the other.
The imminent creation of a “national entity which will be tasked with proposing solutions aimed at maintaining peace, consolidating our country’s unity and strengthening our resolve and our day-to-day experiences of living together” is welcome. Interpretations of this ‘national entity’ vary from the creation of a National Bilingual Commission to the convening of a National Restructuring Conference. Be that as it may, this entity needs to be a functional bottom-up national conclave where discussions about obstacles and reforms on our coexistence should be carried out. But for this to be effective, it is incumbent on the aggrieved party (Anglophone) to organize an All Anglophone Dialogue Forum (ADF) in which they shall discuss and adopt a consensual position and forward the names of its representatives to the national entity.
It is not late to reverse the nightmare of forced assimilation of Anglophones to the dream that our founding fathers set towards a bicultural, bilingual and bijural nation, and which owing to the present socio-political realities, can be transformed to a Federal decentralized system.
“Let me make this very clear; it is not forbidden to voice any concerns in the Republic.” Paul Biya
While appreciating this statement, one also doubts its sincerity because at the same breath President Biya says “we should remain open to constructive ideas to the exclusion however of those that would affect the form of our state”.
The Reunification debate in Cameroon has always been around the form of state; from the Two Alternatives during the Plebiscite in 1961, then the controversial Unitary form of State between 1961 to 1972, to the present problematic Unitary decentralized form of state adopted in 1996. Any debate therefore, that excludes the form of state is tantamount to the Anglophone problem delayed and the Anglophone problem denied. Unity is derived from consultation and consensus not by coercion and diktat.
The proximate cause of the corporate strikes by Common Law Lawyers and Anglophone Teachers is the erosion of the legal and educational systems cherished by Anglophones, but the root cause lies in the abolition of a form of state that guaranteed and protected these values. Therefore, resolving the grievances of Common Law Lawyers and Anglophone Teachers without discussing the form of state shall be synonymous to treating the symptoms rather than the disease. The debate on the form of state is a political choice of self-determination in the Declaration of the United Nations and which stretches from Unitary, Federal and Independence. No subject which seeks to provide solutions to our deep-seated and pent-up malaise can be considered taboo within that national entity.
Indeed, history informs us that the 1994 constitution of Ethiopia has a clause on secession if 63% of the population in any of the kilils (regions) so decide through a Referendum; Quebec subjects itself through a Referendum periodically on the question of integration in or secession from Canada; Catalans opted for secession(99%) from Spain in a non-binding Referendum they held in 2015; Scotland had a chance to decide their future within United Kingdom in 2015; Britain seceded from the European Union in 2016; Nigeria is continuously in search of a form of state that can accommodate the voices of the marginalised Niger Delta and the separatist clamors of Biafra Freedom Fighters. It would therefore be politically illogical and insensitive to put a lid on the Pandora box containing the form of state in Cameroon.
“Every citizen can rightfully opine on any aspect of national life including through duly declared peaceful strike action. This is a fundamental civil right as desired by the Cameroonian people given that it is enshrined in the constitution.” Paul Biya
One cannot fail to take exception to this statement given the fact that every 1st October Anglophones exercising their rights to peaceful assemblies are arbitrary arrested and detained. The cases of Maxwell Oben still languishing in jail since 2014 and the arbitrary arrest of 15 Anglophones on 16 July 2016 for gathering in a restaurant are still fresh. Lawyers were ruffled, beaten and wigs and gowns confiscated during their peaceful march in Bamenda and Buea in September 2016. Four youths were killed, close to eight feared dead in detention during the peaceful assemblies in Bamenda and Kumba in November 2016. The Lawyers and Teachers are still as a precondition for dialogue asking for the return of the corpses of the youths (if they are dead) to their families for decent burial and a state and non-state Commission of Investigation put in place immediately.
The word “violence” was repeatedly used in the President’s speech thereby giving me the opportunity to shed light on structural violence, institutional violence and physical violence. Structural violence occurs when laws, policies and other instruments are drafted and implemented against the wishes and interest of the governed. Slavery, Colonialism, Apartheid and Bad governance are cases of structural violence. Institutional violence occurs when buildings and emblems are torched as was the case by rioters in Bamenda and Kumba in the recent strikes. Physical violence is the confrontation of armed soldiers and unarmed civilians often resulting in rape, looting, arrest and deaths. It is clear that in conflict studies and preventive diplomacy, structural violence triggers institutional violence which in turn engenders physical violence. One can stretch the concept of structural violence to the horizontal inequalities between Anglophones and Francophones since 1961. The facts and figures of these human and infrastructural development inequalities are already captured in the Buea Declaration of 1993.
“I have enjoined the government to engage in frank dialogue with the various parties concerned to find appropriate solutions to the issues raised”. Paul Biya
The need for frank and fruitful dialogue between government and Anglophone teachers on the one hand, government and Common Law Lawyers on the other hand, and a holistic dialogue forum between Anglophone representatives and government cannot be overemphasized as a matter of urgency. Apart from the preconditions given by lawyers and teachers on the release of youths detained as a result of the strike, their legitimate concern to be the ones to choose their representatives and their apprehension on the venues of the talks, one can add to their menu the inclusion of the form of state.
Talks about talks or engaging in the dialogue of the deaf can be both time wasting and resource depleting. By admitting and committing to “frank dialogue”, President Biya has not only nullified previous dialogues with lawyers and teachers as botched attempts, he has resolved to pursue, if not personally engage in the dialogue trajectory. Indeed the gravity of the grievances by the Lawyers and Teachers as well as the radicalization of the Anglophone community call for President Biya’s intervention like he did in 1990 when his own party stalwarts marched against multi politics and when the fleet-footed Roger Milla was excluded from participating in the 1990 Football World Cup.
The time for President Paul Biya to abandon his leadership by proxy and embrace leadership by proximity is NOW.
“Like any human endeavor, our experience is not perfect. There are aspects that can be improved.” Paul Biya
The Reunification experience is indeed not perfect because endeavors to improve on it have met with deadlock. As far back as in August 1964, Dr. Bernard Fonlon had written a Memorandum stating the disparity of Reunification experience between the Kamerun National Democratic Party (West Cameroon) and Union Camerounaise (East Cameroon). Lone rangers like Fon Gorji Dinka and Albert Mukong had since the early seventies articulated the problems inherent in the Reunification experience without being heard. The All Anglophone Conferences of 1993 and 1994 made suggestions on how to improve the Reunification experience without success. On July 2009, the African Peoples and Human Rights Court in Banjul passed a ruling for the government to open up constructive dialogue with Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) and Southern Cameroon Peoples Origination (SCAPO). No dialogue has ensured since then.
Words like “extremists”, “manipulators” and “rioters” only make an already protracted deadlock more complicated. The patronizing and contemptuous attitude as well as ahistorical and provocative utterances from negotiating parties only fuel tensions. I believe that flexible positions but fixed goals can always break the stalemate. That is why I must reiterate that the present strikes by Common Law Lawyers and Anglophone Teachers are symptomatic of an overgrown abscess. The strikes therefore present our country with a golden opportunity to incise this abscess, expose it to the healing sun light of debate and break fifty-six years of deadlock around what has been legitimately and massively recognized today as the Southern Cameroon question, the West Cameroon equation or simply the Anglophone problem in Cameroon.
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is a Chevening conflict management Fellow, York, UK (2010), Rotary Peace Fellow, Bangkok, Thailand (2015), Commonwealth Professional Fellow, London, UK (2015), Minority Rights Fellow, Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner,Geneva,Switzerland (2016) writer and Author of a recent book “Diary of a Dismissed Delegate”.