The Anglophone crisis has been on for about three years now with massive changes in the political dynamics from peaceful protests to a shift in military strategies in a crisis that would have been solved on the table long before it even started.
The crisis that began early in October 2016 from a peaceful protest by Common Law Lawyers later followed by Anglophone Teachers would then see the birth of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium. The consortium was banned on January 17, 2017 with some of its leaders arrested and jailed. We have since been witnesses to numerous transformations from both the Cameroon Government and the aggrieve Anglophone leaders.
It cannot be disputed that ever since the crisis started, the government of Cameroon has spared no efforts in making sure that the crisis is effectively resolved on their terms so that activities can move on normally in these troubled regions.
The government of President Paul Biya started by forming an inter-ministerial ad-hoc committee through the Prime Minister of the Republic of Cameroon Philemon Yang in Bamenda headed by Prof. Paul Ghogomo. The committee was charged with seeing into it that the demands of the teachers are met. The Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Justice held similar meetings with Common Law Lawyers.
The government of Cameroon even went as far as recruiting 1,000 bilingual science teachers and created the National Commission on the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism so as to promote both official languages in Cameroon.
Interestingly, both committees according to the banned Anglophone Civil Society Consortium provided what they termed “cosmetic solutions”. Pundits say the committees to look into the core of their demands which at the time had metamorphosed into a return of a federal system of Government so as to protect the Anglophone socio-cultural, political, economic and legal culture.
The government of President Paul Biya provided the sum of FCFA 2 billion to lay private schools, and ordered for the redeployment of Anglophone teachers to their regions and divisions, and equally ordered the full translation of the OHADA laws into English and transferred some magistrates to jurisdictions where they could better fit.
To the government, these moves would have addressed the Anglophone crisis but just as the government was trying to address the crisis with their left hand, her right hand through some ministers and spokespersons went on a provocative mission.
By telling the lawyers that when they will be hungry, they will go back to court, some misguided ministers missed the point. They even went as far as saying that the Anglophones are two cubes of sugar in a basin of water, while others stated that Anglophones are insignificant minorities who cannot do anything.
Other loose-tongue ministers went ahead and stated that there is no Anglophone problem and that the Anglophones are the most privileged people in Cameroon, enjoying the office of Prime Ministers since the early 1990s. One went as far as saying that some top directors who control huge sums of money are Anglophones.
Cameroon being a land of honour, and a land after God’s heart saw the hand of God amidst the crisis as God provided the state with a political prophet and a messiah who used his high and legitimate office to call the government to order and warned against any use of force in trying to solve the crisis.
Honorable Wirba Joseph, opposition MP for Jakiri constituency in Bui Division, North West Region was that prophet God spoke with to caution the government of Cameroon about the use of force in resolving the crisis.
Hon. Wirba was given a deaf ear when he stood up in Parliament to point out the marginalization of Anglophones and how the state should solve the crisis. He begged the parliament to look into the Anglophone crisis and to provide meaningful solutions in resolving the crisis.
But the speaker of the house of assembly gave a deaf ear and ordered Wirba to stop talking about the crisis. But Hon. Wirba insisted that: “Mr. Speaker, my people are suffering, the people of West Cameroon are suffering.”
“Mr. Speaker you will listen to me and listen to the end. If you like you can bring your brutal Gendarmes here to come and take me out of here. When the people will rise, even if you took the whole of the French army and added to yours, you can never bring them down.
“When the people will rise, you will not know Cameroon as it is in a few months or in a few years.
“When the people have had pent-up anger, you can never bring them down and we have no need for that.
“I am wondering whether the President of the Republic knows that the Senior Divisional Officers and DO’s are out there behaving like colonial masters.”
But as defiant as the devil, the CPDM controlled House of Assembly refused to listen to the prophetic words of Hon. Wirba, and even when he came back for the second time to talk about the same prophecy, he was given a deaf ear by the speaker of the house of assembly.
The Social Democratic Front (SDF), where Hon. Wirba militates, even tried to raise up the issue to the point of singing: “oh! dem go kill we tire, oh! dem go kill we tire, oh! dem go kill we tire, how many people Paul Biya go kill?”
On the contrary, the CPDM dominated Parliament responded in singing, “ce le SDF va marl” meaning “it is the SDF that is sick.”
As the drama was unfolding in the House of Assembly, unfasten tongue Ministers went on calling for military deployment in the Anglophone Regions and stated that all those calling into question national unity are terrorists and should face the law.
September 22, 2017 was a litmus test for democracy and freedom of expression of both the Anglophone agitators and the government of Cameroon, and they both failed the test and some protesters went on destroying public structures, as well as some security officials gunned down peaceful protesters.
The bottom line is that they both did not respect the rules of engagement in exhibiting their constitutional rights of peaceful protest and in protecting citizens and property; a similar situation occurred on 1st October 2017, when protesters stormed the streets with peace plant demanding for the independence of Southern Cameroon and were gunned down by security forces as some protesters tried to vandalized public and private properties. In other areas, the protests were peaceful but turned violent after security forces started firing life bullets at unarmed civilians.
From since 2016 till this day, lots of water has gone down the bridge and there are no signs of the crisis ending any time soon. The government seems to have adapted the Boko Haram strategy in fighting the Anglophone crisis with the emergence of Anglophone armed groups specialised in killing security officials and Anglophones alike.
The reason why I took out time to sketchily give a run down as to how the Anglophone crisis started and how far things have gone is for you to have an understanding that it is very different from BOKO HARAM. Now let me give you reasons why using Boko Haram solutions to solve Anglophone crisis will not work.
Why Military Options Worked On Boko Haram
The Anglophone crisis might have some elements of terrorism as pointed out by the Cameroon Government and Anglophone agitators but it is different from Boko Haram in many aspects and ways of operation.
Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, the group is being led by Abubakar Shekau since 2009. When Boko Haram first formed, their actions were nonviolent. Their main goal was to “purify Islam in northern Nigeria.” From March 2015 to August 2016, the group was aligned with the ISIS and Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced 2.3 million people from their homes and was ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group by the Global Terrorism Index in 2015.
Its unexpected resurgence, following a mass prison break in September 2010, was accompanied by increasingly sophisticated attacks, initially against soft targets but progressing in 2011 to include suicide bombings of police buildings and the UN office in Abuja.
Of the 2.3 million people displaced by the conflict since May 2013, at least 250,000 have left Nigeria and fled into Cameroon or Niger. Boko Haram killed over 6,600 in 2014.The group have carried out mass abductions including the Kidnapping of 276 school girls.
While the Anglophone crisis is an internal crisis which owes its historical history to Southern Cameroons in 1948, to West Cameroon under a federal system in 1961, and now the North West and South West Regions in the Republic of Cameroon in 2018.
Boko Haram was an invasion of a territory because they did not limit their activities only to Nigeria but extended it to Cameroon while the Anglophone crisis is not an invasion but a local uprising.
This Is Why Boko Haram Solutions Will Not Work In Handling The Anglophone crisis
The reason why military strategies worked in the Northern Region of Cameroon in the fight against Boko Haram is because it was an invasion of an external body into a country and their ideology was bent on forcing people to change their way of life and to follow a particular life style which was contrary to that of the state of Cameroon.
But Anglophone crisis is not an external invasion; it is merely the reawakening of the people’s consciousness to advocate for better living conditions in a way that they used to live before, when they were a separate entity.
Hence, it is a crisis which has some historical, economic, geographical and legal backing according to International Law. So, using a military strategy will just be like refusing to give a child food and yet accusing your neighbour for making the child to complain that he/she is hungry.
Boko Haram was not only forcing the people to change their ideologies but was killing the people and kidnapping them for not respecting their ideology. And when these happened, the people had no means than to cooperate with security forces to flush out the invaders.
The people gave the military intelligence and formed vigilante groups to push back the invaders. This favoured the Cameroon Military as the people guided them to all the hideouts of Boko Haram.
But in the Anglophone crisis, forming vigilante groups to provide adequate intelligence to crush out the Anglophone Separatist fighters will be a pipe dream because the people turn to see the separatist fighters as a necessary evil which is coming to put the government to task to do more so as to stop marginalization of the English-Speaking minorities.
The truth is, even the so called Anglophone Elites deep within their minds will tell you that Anglophones are being marginalized. They will tell you that once upon a time there used to be a territory called Southern Cameroons. They will tell you that there once existed West Cameroon under a Federal System. They will tell you that during the Federal system, West Cameroon had strong economic, political, educational, social and legal institutions and lost all when it was swallowed by the Republic of Cameroon.
They will tell you that somehow, the guys agitating for better living conditions of Anglophones have good reasons. And honestly speaking, if you talk to them on a one on one basis, as brothers and sisters, they will tell you that their hands are tight.
And in every 10 Anglophones you meet in the North West and South West Regions, nine will tell you that they are being marginalized and will tell you they are not happy with the Biya-led government. They will tell you that they want to see a fair treatment of Anglophones in the union.
Hence, they believe that co-operating to provide military intelligence to a government that is not treating you fairly, to most of them is like being happy with your father’s killers and saving them from the hands of an enemy which you should allow to revenge on your behalf.
That is why the military finds it difficult to get local support from both regions to fight unskilled fighters who just have Dane guns to push back on what they termed invaders and see any one cooperating with the military as a sell out and treats them as enemies.
And the inadequate cooperation on the ground between the locals and the security forces in fighting against the separatist fighters can be seen in the massive burning down of villages as pointed out by Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla, President of the banned Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium in one of his publications in the late 2018.
You can see that the Anglophone separatist fighters have just their dane guns and some few AK47 but are able to resist a conventional army for almost two years now in a war whose military victory is far fetch owing to the inadequate collaboration from the people on the ground as opposed to the case in the Far North of Cameroon were they were able to crush Boko Haram despite the fact that Boko Haram were well armed.
To worsen things, the brutality, illegal arrests, burning of homes, killing of unarmed civilians has erased any form of collaboration between the locals and the military. However, the military in some areas have been able to enjoy the cooperation of some locals especially in areas where some Anglophone Elites have money and some key position to throw to the people like chiefs and some opinion leaders.
Interestingly, such collaboration only occurs in the Major towns and chiefdoms controlled by Elites, but rare in villages within the North West and South West Regions. This is because the Elites have lost grassroots support.
At the level of intelligence and coordination, the Anglophone separatist fighters maybe having dane guns and fighting among themselves but they are more intelligent than the Boko Haram terrorist despite being heavily sophisticated with military equipment.
This explains why the military have had difficult moments in defeating them and as each day passes by, the war becomes more complicated to win using military options.
Boko Haram was internationally declared as a terrorist group by the global terrorism index and could not enjoy international protection; this explains why other countries opted to help Cameroon and Nigerian government to fight against them.
But with Anglophone crisis, the international community has not yet declared them as a terrorist group. Their founders and activists enjoy maximum freedom from the international community and can organize their activities freely without any legal implications from the international community. This is because their case somehow is legitimate under international law although their method of fighting may not be good from different angles.
This explains why only the Cameroon government is battling with the separatist fighters and may only receive covert support from partner countries to crush the rebellion whose victory seems impossible.
The Anglophones activists have freedom to move from one country to another and can only be arrested illegally from friendly nations which do not respect international laws like Nigeria did to some activists on January 5, 2017 when they arrested some leaders and illegally sent them to Cameroon as described by a Nigerian Lawyer Femi Fala.
On the other hand, leaders of Boko Haram cannot move freely not to even talk of organizing events in the open. That is why they were easily defeated in the Far North thanks to combined efforts Cameroon, Chad, Nigerian and US intelligence supports. The locals were also collaborative.
The topographic factor played a lot in defeating Boko Haram. The Far North Region does not have Forest like the South West and parts of the North West. The Far North is an arid region with a low land topography that made it easy for military surveillance. It is however difficult to carry out surveillances in the North West and South West Regions which are highly mountainous and contain huge forests.
All in all, if the government continues with the military strategy in combating the Anglophone crisis, she will fail and may end up pushing the ball to the “devils” yard instead of keeping the ball.
The only way for the government of Cameroon to win the war is to go back to the table and try to provide some solutions that will satisfy the ordinary Anglophone Cameroonian who just wants to see positive changes in the republic of Cameroon – who just want to see that Anglophone Marginalization becomes an issue of the past.
If care is not taken, the military strategy will instead be a push factor for separation than a pull factor for unity.
What Cameroonians need to know regardless of their political affiliation is that we are stronger together as a nation and as a people than divided. We are a country whose diversity will be limping and may not end up guaranteeing the future of our children if we continue to fight.
Let us be wise and safe our nation Cameroon for people will come and go, but Cameroon will still remain Cameroon.