Members of the young but growing community in Canada have staged small protests across Canada pleading for peace and calm amidst turmoil in Cameroon
Like other newcomers to Canada, Cameroonian Hippolyte Asah came here eight years ago for a better future.The Brampton IT analyst has kept a low profile and worked hard to establish himself in his adopted country, and did not picture himself hoisting protest signs in public, until recently.
As unrest deepens in his homeland amid rising tension between Cameroon’s English-speaking minorities and the governing francophone administration, Asah and his fellow Cameroonian Canadians have come together to plead with their compatriots for peace and calm.
Since November, members of the young but growing community — mostly anglophone in Ontario and francophone in Quebec — have staged small rallies in Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal, hoping to draw attention to the worsening conflict under the regime of President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 35 years.
“The situation in Cameroon is getting worse by the day. The marginalization of the anglophone people has caused so much civil disturbances,” said Asah, 42, father of a boy and two girls, and one of the organizers in the community that numbers about 6,500 in the country, according to Statistics Canada.
“They feel like they are being colonized by the French. Lawyers and teachers (in English regions) go on protests and they are kicked, stoned, tear-gassed and manhandled.”
While the language divide has existed since the English-speaking Southern Cameroon and the French-speaking East Cameroon became one country in 1961 when they were decolonized by the British and French, the dictatorial regime’s recent attempt to expand the use of French in courts and schools has sparked widespread protests by language minorities.
According to media reports, in Bamenda, Cameroon’s largest anglophone city, at least four people were killed by security forces last month and local journalists have complained of a news blackout.
Like Asah, Destin Bujang, also comes from the English-speaking region in Cameroon and still has family back home.
“Acceptance is an issue for the anglophone. The government is forcing all these terms on the English community. There is no room for negotiation. People are getting angry because dialogues have not solved our differences,” said the 26-year-old former journalist, who moved to Toronto in 2012.
“There are no opportunities left for those speaking English staying in Cameroon. Those of us in Canada all know of somebody or are related to somebody back home. Very few of us are not affected by the problems there.”
With the news blackout, Bujang said the community here has been glued to their phones for information posted on social media by their compatriots in Cameroon.
“It’s just not a safe place to be,” noted Bujang, who said he attended an English university but courses were taught in French by francophone lecturers, who dominated the faculty and most institutions.
“Everyone in the world knows of President (Robert) Mugabe who has been in power in Zimbabwe for 37 years. In Cameroon, we have been under the same (type of) rule for 35 years.”
Cameroon officials in Ottawa blame the turmoil in the country on “political grievances and demands that are deemed to undermine the very constitutional foundations and unity of the state.”
“The government remains committed to seeking solutions to social problems through dialogues and peaceful means, even as it takes measures to restore law and order,” said Anu’a-Gheyle Solomon Azoh-Mbi, High Commissioner for the Republic of Cameroon in Ottawa, in a statement to the Star.
Youth activist Bertheline Nina Tchangoue, who grew up in the French part of Cameroon, said the language divide in Cameroon is clear as the francophone and anglophone communities hardly interact.
However, she said the problems go beyond language to the corrupt governance of the current regime.
“I am extremely disappointed by the regime in place. No word can even describe my level of disappointment. A peaceful demonstration has become a big issue. Citizens have been arrested, some raped and others killed,” said Tchangoue, 25, who has lived in Toronto for two years.
“Instead of dialogue, the regime has decided to use intimidation, torture and weapons on innocent citizens.”
Although Biya was endorsed by both the French and English parts of the country when he was first elected in 1982, Tchangoue said people feel betrayed when the regime continues to ignore the interests of those outside of his tribe.
“I left my family in Cameroon to come to Canada and I am so worried not only about them, but about all the compatriots from Southern Cameroon who have been tortured, arrested and killed by the armed forces,” said Tchangoue, who took part in two of the recent peaceful protests in Toronto.
“The struggle my compatriots from Southern Cameroon have started will benefit all Cameroonians in one way or the other.”