In what could turn out to be a civil war, Cameroonian police have arrested over 100 protesters in the northwest city of Bamenda. This comes after reports of violence in the ongoing language protest in the city. The protest which started on Monday is being led by some lawyers. Locals are protesting the over domineering use of French as the official language and the relegation of English despite the fact that both languages are the official languages of Cameroon.
Lawyers in the troubled city of Bamenda are protesting the appointment of French-speaking Cameroonians as law enforcement and judicial workers in the state, stating that the judicial workers know little or nothing of the jurisdiction of the British law which is what operates in the city. Teachers and other artisans joined in the protest on Tuesday to fight the use of the French language in Anglophone area schools, and also the presence of French teachers in English speaking schools. The Cameroonian Teacher and Trade Union (CATTU) had, earlier on Tuesday November 22nd, declared a sitting strike in the northwest and southwest region of Cameroon which contain about 3.2 million of English speakers. The regions jointly make up the 20% of the English speaking Cameroonian population.
While speaking with IBTimes UK, the secretary general of CATTU, Tassang Wilfred explained their decision to join the protest: “The 1998 law on the orientation of education clearly says that the two sub-systems of education are independent and autonomous. The French system of education is the majority and has been trying to wipe out our system of education, and that means wiping out our own cultural heritage.
“We have been trying to resist that, but we have got to the point where they [government] are infiltrating Francophone teachers who cannot speak English and don’t even master our own system of education and sometimes they teach in a language that’s neither English nor French. We call it Franglais or Pidgin.
“Anglophone teachers want to teach in English and we want Anglophone children to be taught by teachers who know the English sub-education system of Cameroon.”
The four-day old protest has already claimed at least one life with at least ten others hospitalised, out of which four are in critical condition. According to one of the protesters, the protest is being used to send a clear message to France to stop meddling in the affairs of the country. He also stated that English speakers are often left without jobs and their communities largely rural and undeveloped with no road.
In a move reminiscent of the beginning of the 1961-63 insurrection, the call for self-determination might be on card for the English speaking Cameroonians. The French majority Republic of Cameroon was joined to the southern English speaking Cameroon following a UN-sponsored referendum in 1961. The country had since then been known as the Federal Republic Cameroon. The other part of the English speaking Cameroon, the northern part however voted to join the English-speaking Nigeria
The Federal Republic of Cameroon, formerly known as separate settlements of “Kamerun” and “NeuKamerun”, was colonised by the Germans prior to the First World War. Following the 1911 Fez Treaty signed to settle the Franco-German disputes of the territories of Morroco, France ceded the south and north of Cameroon to Germany. Thus “Neukameroon and Kamerun” were joined together. The two groups of people were separated in 1916 when the British and the French forces forced the Germans out of the territory. The London Declaration of 1919 formalised the division as it granted France 80 percent of the territory leaving the remaining 20 percent to Britain.
The French speaking Cameroon was granted self-government in 1958 and independence in 1960 under Prime Minister Ahmadou Ahidjo. A year later, in 1961, the Northern English-speaking Cameroon voted to join Nigeria in a referendum while the southern English speaking side voted to join the Republic of Cameroon. The decision was followed by large scale insurrection between 1961 and 1963 which could be likened to the civil war that ravaged Nigeria between 1966 and 1970. The insurrection was killed with the help of the French forces but at that, the line of division between the people has become visible and a demarcation which would later lead to discrimination of the 20 percent English speaking Cameroonians and the 80 percent French speaking ones.
Unlike Nigeria, the separate territories of Cameroon voted to unify, but just like Nigeria the aftermath of the erratic decision of the colonial masters and the damning effect of colonisation is still telling as the former colonies struggle with internal violence and civil destruction. The civil war Nigeria went into was the end result of the 1914 amalgamation that brought together the northern and southern protectorates which are different in every respect. This is still one of the reasons the country is loosely tied together with each region looking likely to break away at certain points in time.
We cannot say enough about the ills of the decision of the Britons and other white supremacist colonial masters to join two unrelated people together; one cannot fix what is not broken. But just as the effect of their decision lingers on, it is high time they stopped standing in the way of self-determination of the two opposites in each troubled African state.