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Do the Cameroon agitations spell the beginning of the end for Paul Biya?

Ventures Africa | The arrest of Patrice Nganang, a Cameroonian scholar, writer, and activist by Cameroonian security forces in Yaounde last week epitomized the repression and human rights abuse happening in Cameroon. The Cameroonian-American professor was arrested for writing a journal that seemingly criticized President Paul Biya’s handling of the Anglophone Cameroon agitation for secession. For a man whose major achievement as president is ‘keeping the peace’, this could signify the beginning of the closing set to Biya’s 35-year reign.

Along with the Iraqi Kurdistan, Catalonian, and Biafran agitations, Anglophone Cameroon’s (Ambazonia) quest for independence has generated much controversy in 2017. You might be wondering why a post-colonial African country like Cameroon, believed to be widely francophone, has two factions speaking different languages; English and French. Almost 20 percent of Cameroon’s mostly francophone population speak English, concentrated in the western part of the country, where it shares a border with Nigeria.

Why Cameroon is bi-lingual

Cameroon, unlike its current lingual makeup, was not majorly francophone when it was formed. In the beginning, it was served to Germany, becoming its protectorate in 1884 at the famous European ‘dining table,’ the Berlin conference. However, Cameroon was later divided between Britain and France after Germany lost the 1st World War, with the British part immediately joining the former British colony in Nigeria. After the creation of the United Nations, both British Cameroon and French Cameroon became UN territories.

While the French part of Cameroon gained independence in January 1960, its British part underwent a referendum in 1961 to choose if it wanted to reunite with Cameroon or remain part of neighbouring Nigeria. The result of the referendum showed the enormous wish of the British part of Cameroon to reunite with its French part, hence making Cameroon a federation. However, the federation was abandoned in 1971 for the United Republic of Cameroon, effectively reducing, even ending, political representation for the British Cameroonians. For many, this switch from a federation to a republic without concessions for minority groups like the British Cameroonians has created the problem.

Anglophone Cameroon’s agitation

Things haven’t gone according to plan, as it seems there’s a deliberate attempt to assimilate anglophone Cameroon by both Cameroonian and French authorities. Their plight is not helped by Cameroon’s president for life Paul Biya, who has been president for more than three decades, like most of his counterparts in Africa. The use of French in schools of learning, and in courts, necessitated in the latter by the appointment of francophone judges in Anglophone Cameroon recently, inadequate political representation where it mattered, and the deliberate repression by state security, resulting at times in death for some, are some of the state-sponsored agenda against the English speaking part of Cameroon.

The first demonstration of political repression happened when Paul Biya reinstated the multinational party system in the country in 1990. Fru Ndi, an anglophone Cameroonian contested in the presidential elections in 1992, but lost to Paul Biya, because of election irregularities and French interference according to one of Cameroon’s important religious leaders Cardinal Christian Tumi.

“Everybody knows that Fru Ndi won the election in 1992. Who organized the coup? It was Mitterrand and I am citing something [French President François] Mitterrand said to Biya, ‘jamais un anglophone a Etoudi’,” Tumi told Cameroonian tabloid Journal du Cameroon. The French phrase means ‘No anglophone should ever be allowed in Etoudi (the Cameroonian presidential palace).’ Not long after this, the agitation for independence or, to a lesser extent, more political representation and less marginalization for Anglophone Cameroon, began.

Paul Biya’s romance with France

Paul Biya represents everything the anglophone Cameroonians are fighting against; neo-colonialist rule and authoritarianism. Pressure is surely on Biya, Cameroon’s president for 35 years. Biya has largely remained president for more than three decades for many reasons. His own rationale for remaining president? People look to him to keep the peace. However, for people who know him, the reason he gave is far from it; the real truth is closer to western Europe.

Paul Biya became president through a ‘constitutional coup’ aided by France in 1984 and has largely held on to power with the help of France. This is probably the first time he is seemingly being tested for ‘keeping the peace’. Biya is one of France’s key African allies, a prominent member of the Francafrique, a coalition of former French colonies in Africa who are still at the beck and calling of France. That important colonial policy of assimilation, where the French told their colonies that by adopting the French language and culture, they would automatically be French citizens, has not stopped even after independence for most African countries. There’s a French imperial nostalgia, some type of African cultural inferiority. And then there is the economic oppression.

Presidents of African francophone countries store their countries’ wealth in France, up to $500 billion per year, as part of a pact made with France, thereby keeping African countries indebted to France. In return, France has overlooked the dictatorial tendencies of the presidents of many of the former colonies; only interfering in situations that would benefit France. And while the debate also rages on over the logic in anglophone Cameroon trying to protect an Anglo-Saxon heritage that was not theirs before colonization, one thing is clear; this is their way of life now, and so they probably feel the need to protect it against French imperialism.

Since protests began last year over the appointment of francophone judges in British Cameroon, things have escalated very quickly. Anglophone Cameroon had to cope with no internet for many months early this year, a clear violation of the United Nations right to internet access. The internet was shut down in January 2017 on the orders of the government, to disrupt demonstrations calling for the independence of English Cameroon. After the internet shutdown, the Cameroonian government tried to dialogue with the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), an organization of trade unions in anglophone Cameroon. Following an inability to resolve things, Paul Biya promptly banned the trade union group, calling them illegal while also arresting their leaders.

Another African spring?

After British Cameroon announced its independence from Cameroon this year, there’s been a refugee crisis as thousands of Anglophone Cameroonians have fled across the border into Nigeria due to a government crackdown on protesters. The protests have given rise to secessionist militants, some of who attacked security officials, killing about 6 of them. Fearing a counterattack from the government, about 7500 people in that part of Cameroon are currently in Nigeria. The United Nations refugee body UNHCR in Nigeria says it is preparing for up to 40,000 refugees.

People who have spoken out against Biya’s rule of oppression and the systemized marginalization have been arrested and sentenced to prison on arbitrary charges. The decision taken by Patrice Nganang, one of the many intelligentsia in Cameroon, to wade into this crisis has seemingly made him an enemy to Paul Biya. And it is evident many more of Cameroon’s intellectuals will still speak, much to the dismay of Paul Biya who is looking to contest again in presidential elections next year; defeating intellectualism has been known to aid propaganda in dictatorships.

Rocking the boat of the somewhat ‘internalized’ fear that has been cemented into the minds of Cameroonians due to Biya’s authoritarian rule, will result in him being deposed with the same wind that’s been blowing African dictators in recent times. There are already calls for him not to seek re-election, Will the rest of Cameroon stand and defend the rights of Anglophone Cameroonians and their own rights too, or will they stand aside to watch Paul Biya trample on those rights, and effectively on theirs too? Like a refugee in Nigeria told Reuters, “Even … God himself will not allow things to go (on) like that.”

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24 comments

  1. Of course, Bi Mvondo is finished.

    • Situation is worse. French Cameroun and Paul Biya are tied to France by treaty which seriously undermines local democracy and inculcates dependency. Treaty is the Cooperation Accords signed December 26, 1959 between Cameroun and France. Treaty ceded the sovereignty of French Cameroun to France. The coup d’etat took place in 1975 when Paul Biya was made Prime Minister on French insinuation, blatantly ousting ST Muna- an anglophone, from the No.2 slot. The 1961 arrangement of bi-cultural power sharing in the Cameroon Federation was vanquished and gave birth to Ambazonia as an idea. This powerful idea is now larger than France and Paul Biya, and is hard to annihilate militarily merely to expand Francafrique without challenging the principle of self-determination in international law.

  2. The francophones, have sat quiet and seen Anglophones as terrorist, dogs, Biafrans and
    you name it, only because they are still in the dark. What the heck is actually wrong with
    slave trade and slavery and why would anyone, dare want it stop in the first place?
    Mineral water that can be gotten from the rocks of mount Fako, taste sour in their
    mouths as compared, to water from home{ France} as they see and call it.
    So, why would Biya not be emperor for life, afterall?
    This is why the mainly francophone dominated military, is bent on sending a target group –
    youths of English speaking agitators to their untimely and early graves.
    They have challenged our God, who is omnipotent.
    And the slave driver – FRANCE, is bent on protecting the status-quo of this scourge
    called SLAVERY. It shall end.

    • you need to educate yourself. it is tiring to read such kind of high level stupidities. It can easily been diagnose, that your mental growth stopped when you were 10.
      Nganang who are now in prison while you, anglophon , slave as you call yourselves, are sitting somewhere in Europa or usa, eating eru, Patrice Nganang is he an anglophon or a francophon? Do you know how many francophons are supporting the struggle since the beginning?

      • Surprisingly, you refused to see the mamoth francophone gathering
        at the UN, when the lion king of Cameroon, visited to address the world
        body on a topic he did not reserch – climate change.
        Permit me stop here.

  3. Camerooniansfora new era

    Paul Biya has nowhere to hide anymore.The man is really evil and backed by his beti clan they commit impunity to the other Cameroonians (especially against Anglophones) and make themselves look like gods.Biya is a very bad dictator and he lies and manipulates information using his exprisoner minister of communication Issa Tchiroma.Biya has transformed Cameroon into a nation of evil by consolidating power and oppressing the people.This man will surely fall.

  4. These are facts we already know.but as a true anglophone/Ambazonian,after reading the above article and not feel the fire for liberation burn within you means that you are lost for ever.the french Cameroonians can bury their heads in the sand as they have been doing forever,but believe me the tears of the anglophones will be turned into dancing in the not so very near future.

  5. The rag-tagged LR army is celebrating conquering the Ambazonian Military HQ! Are you kidding me. This is sad. The LR army killing civilians and then celebrating is a sad chapter in the history of Cameroon and the worse part of this crisis is the exodus of Southern Cameroonians to Nigeria and from there i bet you, the liberation army would be formed and if i were LR, i would negotiate now and not later. The breeding ground for the recruitment of the liberation army is being indirectly planned by chasing southern Cameroonians from Mamfe rejoicing the fact that by chasing the young boys and girls to Nigeria they are winning. Wrong. Mr. Biya, negotiate now.

  6. This is a misleading article in more ways than one. First of all, former Prime Minister Inoni Ephraim pictured here with President Paul Biya is in prison and has been so for years!!!!!!! Why give the reader the false impression that some sort of dialogue is taking place between them?

    We all would choose to LIVE rather than to DIE if such a simple choice were on the table. However, these are not the options facing Cameroonians today,certainly not those of English expression, as enunciated so aptly by Prof. Carlson Anyangwe. The challenge is whether TO LIVE for a dying idea (subjugation) or TO DIE for a living idea (freedom).

    • Read before you write. This is a very good article well written. if you have not been tracking events in Cameroon, this gives you a very good summary and way forward. Fight the dictator.

    • There is NO military solution in Southern Cameroons because the territory created this failed federation. Having exited the Cameroon Federation and seeking to integrate with fellow French speaking ex-colonies of France in the central African basin, the decent and mature thing to do, in the presence of Anglophone protests is to conduct a REFERENDUM in Southern Cameroons like in Quebec and Scotland. Otherwise, it is WAR, both sides lose followed by the emergence of 2 separate countries as bitter enemies.

    • Ni Dinga, u lost me with ur comment. Are u referring to the article above or a different article Sir ? In my opinion this is one of the in-depth article touching the root cause of the crisis we are in today. By mention of the introduction of Paul Biya as PM shifting Muna to the side highlights when things really started going heywire not forgetting the change from Federal to LRC

      • @ Sawapikin
        Do not let me upset your enjoyment if you find no flaws, including the one cited about Epraim Inoni.

        I concede that we all cannot have the same level of perception. Let me just say every letter should EARN its place in a word and every word its place in a sentence. Once this basic rule is breached, the flaws are inescapable.

  7. Boycot all French products in AMBALAND.Brasseries,Orange,Total.etc

    • HouseKeeper!

      And the catholic Church until Pope Francis Ceases to guest-invite Biya to the Vatican as a custodian of catholic norms in the land. Francis spoke up angrily against Trump’s wall because it would keep away his fellow Latinos from seeking economic freedom in America. Let him show the same grace with problems and atrocities perpetrated and perpetuated by his former criminal seminarian. He should speak up in the same vain when it comes to Africa.

  8. Mbivondo days are numbered and Ambazonia will be free by force. The fight has just began

  9. Wusai Ras Metuge the political man dey?

  10. Norm Pikin Ndian

    Dictator Paul Biya hates Anglophones because they are outspoken.In Cameroon anyone who raises his or her voice to challenge Mr dictator Paul Biya is seen as an enemy and branded a terrorist..Paul Biya pull your soldiers away from our territory.Withdraw your thieves in uniform.And let me tell you Paul Biya ,you cannot use the force of arms to assimilate us to your wicked francafric scheme.On September 22nd and October 1st 2017 you massacred more than 400 Anglophones in cold blood.Now you bring your soldiers again to continue killing our people.Mr Biya you will not succeed.We will fight you to the last man.

  11. Biya can stay in power in LRC for another 30 years who care?? Southern Cameroons Independence was restored this year on October 1 so we are building our new Nation Ambazonia and so busy so much that we don’t care if the old man stayed in power for life Francophones are fools we have gone for ever

  12. Could be. Depends on how Cameroonians make this an opportunity to create a nationwide momentum to rid the country of the senile dictator. But I doubt the anglophone issue on its own can produce enough momentum for that. Its very definition as an “anglophone problem” gives it a regional character that limits its national reach. If it can be re-framed as a symptom of the national decay created by Biya’s dictatorship, it could garner support from the rest of the country. But this is going to require anglophones to change tone and reach out to our brothers on the other side. Can we? Will we? The fact is, getting rid of Biya is the one thing that unites most Cameroonians. There are already promising signs of such convergence from the other side. (beer is the other thing that unites us..hahaha)

  13. Bye Bye Paul Biya. Make yi go quick so that cameroonians Youths can Dream Again.