Political tensions are growing in Cameroon’s troubled English-speaking regions

Taking to the streets in Bamenda, Cameroon.
Taking to the streets in Bamenda, Cameroon.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Yaoundé, Cameroon

It has been nearly five months since political protests erupted in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. And there seems no end in sight. The government has launched a crackdown on what it sees as agitations.

The troubles stem from Anglophone citizens protesting against what they say is the long-term marginalization by the French-speaking dominated government of president Paul Biya. Modern-day Cameroon was formed in the early sixties from a former British colony and the former French-run colony. The Francophone regions include the two big cities Yaoundé and Douala and some 80% of the country’s population.

Biya, who has been in power for 34 years, is facing increasing pressure even as the 84-year looks likely to run for office again in 2018. The government had likely calculated that the protests would peter out after a few weeks as they have in the past but instead tensions have been mounting since October.

In a bid to stifle protest organizers, the government shut down the Internet in the Anglophone-speaking regions more than two months ago. The shutdown sparked the #BringBackOurInternet campaign from within Cameroon and has ended up bringing more unwanted global attention to Biya’s recalcitrant government.

Protest shutdown

Over the years the former French and former British colonies have maintained their respective versions of Francophone and Anglophone governmental and legal systems, meaning the country has been split based on its colonial history. While many Cameroonians celebrate the bilingual nature of the country, an increasing number of people in Anglophone Cameroon have grown frustrated with what they see as being sidelined by their own country.

Many of the activists involved are being led by lawyers, teachers and journalists, professions which are at the forefront of what they see as the assault on the Anglophone way of life. The English-speaking regions have for the most part maintained a version of the British court systems and an English-language education. But increasingly lawyers and teachers in particular have complained the systems are being undermined and under-resourced by the government.

Back in January, Cameroon outlawed two pressure groups—the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and the Southern Cameroons National Council—as well as others groups with similar activities. Shortly after the ban was made public, Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla and Dr. Fontem A. Neba, respectively president and secretary general of the Consortium, were arrested in Buea, southwest of the country. They were later airlifted to Yaoundé and are still in detention, while on trial at the Yaoundé Military Court.

The Consortium leaders, alongside another Anglophone protestor, Mancho Bibixy, may face the death penalty if found guilty of inciting the public to revolt, rebellion, terrorism, propagation of false information, amongst others.

Going underground

Following the arrest of Nkongho and Fontem, many other activists have gone underground. Amongst them are Tassang Wilfred, a teacher trade unionist, Hon. Wirba Joseph, a lawmaker, Akoson A. Raymond, an opposition politician and Bobga Harmony, an attorney-at-law.

According to Bobga Harmony, the lawyer who fronted the Common Law lawyer’s strike which has since Oct. 11, paralyzed courts in the Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions, had to flee the country to the United States via Nigeria, after being warned he would be picked up by security forces.

Besides the activists, other outspoken journalists have also had to leave the country.

In a recent request for information from Cameroon Government’s spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary, the Committee to Protect Journalists said “the government has taken increasingly drastic steps to suppress the rights to transmit and receive information in Cameroon, particularly in predominantly Anglophone regions.”