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Buea, Cameroon


I. Introduction

Since October 2016, protests around sectoral demands have degenerated into a political crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. This crisis has led to the re-emergence of the Anglophone question and highlighted the limits of the Cameroonian governance model, based on centralisation and co-optation of elites.

The Anglophone area consists of two of the country’s ten regions, the Northwest and the Southwest. It covers 16,364 sq km of the country’s total area of 475,442 sq km and has about 5 million of Cameroon’s 24 million inhabitants. It is the stronghold of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and plays an important role in the economy, especially its dynamic agricultural and commercial sectors. Most of Cameroon’s oil, which accounts for one twelfth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), is located off the coast of the Anglophone region.

The politicization of the crisis and the radicalization of its protagonists is mainly due to the government’s response (denial, disregard, intimidation and repression), the diminishing trust between the Anglophone population and the government and the exploitation of the identity question by political actors who have aggravated the population’s resentment to the point that probably most Anglophones now see a return to federalism or even secession as the only feasible ways out of the crisis.

What is the Anglophone crisis about? Who are the protagonists? How is it perceived by Francophones? What is the government’s response? How has the international community reacted? What role are the Anglophone diaspora and religious actors playing? In order to reply to these questions, Crisis Group has relied on documentary research and conducted around a hundred interviews during several visits to the Anglophone regions, Yaoundé and Douala, between December 2016 and May 2017. The report analyses the structural factors that caused the crisis in the Anglophone regions, the strategies and motivations of the actors, and the political and economic consequences. It formulates recommendations aimed at breaking the deadlock and rebuilding trust, with a view to facilitating a genuine dialogue and identifying sustainable solutions.


II. The Roots of the Anglophone Crisis

The German government and the traditional Douala chiefs signed a treaty in July 1884, establishing a protectorate called Kamerun. Its territories were shared out after the German defeat at the end of the First World War. The League of Nations appointed France and the UK as joint trustees of Kamerun. The Anglophone problem and a number of other weaknesses in present-day Cameroon have their roots in the colonial period.

During the period of the mandate and the trusteeship, each colonial power shaped their territories in their own image.This resulted in major differences in political culture. English was the official language in the territory under British administration. The justice system (Common Law), the education system, the currency and social norms followed the British model. The system of indirect rule allowed traditional chiefdoms to remain in place and promoted the emergence of a form of self-government to the extent that freedom of the press, political pluralism and democratic change in power existed in Anglophone Cameroon prior to independence. The territory was administered as though it were part of Nigeria and several members of British Cameroon’s Anglophone elite were ministers in the Nigerian government in the 1950s.

In contrast, the Francophone territory was directly administered by France following the assimilationist model, although colonizers and the traditional elites also practiced a form of indirect government, especially in the north of the country. French was spoken and France’s social, legal and political norms shaped the centralist political system of successive regimes. Bogged down in a total war against the nationalist movement (Union des populations du Cameroun – UPC), which challenged French presence, the Francophone territory was less democratic.


The process leading to the reunification of the two Cameroons is at the heart of the Anglophone problem. The Francophone territory gained independence on 1 January 1960, becoming the Republic of Cameroon. The British territory comprised Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroon. In the referendum held on 11 February 1961, Northern Cameroon chose to join Nigeria and Southern Cameroons chose to join the Republic of Cameroon. Southern Cameroons became independent on 1 October 1961 when it joined the Republic of Cameroon.

At the time of the 1961 referendum, the political landscape in Southern Cameroons was already dynamic. According to reputed historians, the majority of the population aspired to independence. But the UK and some developing countries were against it on the grounds that Southern Cameroons would not be economically viable and that it was best to avoid the creation of micro-states. They advocated a vote in favor of joining Nigeria. The UN therefore excluded the independence option and limited the referendum to a choice between joining Nigeria and reunification with the Republic of Cameroon.

The main figures among the Anglophone political elites, Emmanuel Mbella Lifafa Endeley, John Ngu Foncha, Solomon Tandeng Muna and Agustine Ngom Jua, pleaded at the UN for an independent state of Southern Cameroons, or alternatively for temporary independence during which time it would negotiate the terms of unification from a better position. The UN’s rejection of the independence option left two opposing camps during the referendum. Endeley, the leader of the Kamerun National Congress (KNC), campaigned in favour of joining Nigeria. Foncha, the leader of the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP), who left the KNC in 1955, Muna and Jua campaigned in favor of reunification with the Republic of Cameroon. Influenced by these prominent political leaders and by a certain fear of being absorbed by the Nigerian giant, the vote went in favor of reunification.

Representatives of Southern Cameroons and the president of the Republic of Cameroon, Amadou Ahidjo, met at Foumban in the west of Francophone territory from 17 until 21 July 1961 to negotiate the terms of reunification. Even today, the failure to keep the promises made at the Foumban conference, which did not produce a written agreement, is among the grievances of Anglophone militants. The Anglophone representatives thought they were participating in a constituent assembly that would draft a constitution guaranteeing an egalitarian federalism and a large degree of autonomy to federated states,but Ahidjo imposed a ready-made constitution that gave broad powers to the executive of the federal state to the detriment of the two federated states (West Cameroon and East Cameroon).The Anglophones, who were in a weak position, accepted Ahidjo’s constitution and only obtained a blocking minority by way of concession.

The National Assembly of the Republic of Cameroon approved the federal constitution in August 1961 and Ahidjo promulgated it on 1 September, while Southern Cameroons was still under British trusteeship. The constitutional process for reunification and abandonment by the British left Anglophones with the impression of having been deceived by the Francophones, and also explains the bitterness of Anglophone militants toward the UK.


Since 1961, unification and centralization have been the political dogmas of the Ahidjo (1960-1982) and Paul Biya (1982-) regimes. After reunification on 1 October 1961, Cameroon became a federal republic, but in practice inherited a shaky federalism with an unequal distribution of power between the two federated states in the federal assembly and in the government.

Amadou Ahidjo was the federal president and John Ngu Foncha was both vice president of the country and prime minister of West Cameroon, in line with the constitutional provision according to which the vice president must be from West Cameroon if the federal president comes from East Cameroon, and vice versa. At the time of reunification, Ahidjo already had a near political monopoly in East Cameroon. Only West Cameroon represented a serious obstacle to his hegemonic ambitions. In 1961, he set about bringing West Cameroon under control through a mixture of repression and exploitation of divisions among Anglophones.At the federal level, despite the constitutional guarantee that English and French would both be official languages, French was the administration’s language of preference.

On 20 October 1961, Ahidjo signed a decree reorganising federal territory into six administrative regions, including West Cameroon, and appointed a federal inspector for each region, who was to report to the federal president. That provoked discontent among Anglophones, because West Cameroon could not at the same time be a federated state according to the constitution and an administrative region by decree. The federal inspector had more power than the elected prime minister of West Cameroon and showed it on a daily basis by humiliating members of the federated government and parliament.

With the war against the UPC still at its height in East Cameroon, the arbitrary arrest and detention of opponents and trade unionists accused of subversion became common.

In 1962, Ahidjo signed several orders limiting public freedoms. With the war against the UPC still at its height in East Cameroon, the arbitrary arrest and detention of opponents and trade unionists accused of subversion became common. Although these arrests took place mainly in the Francophone part of the country, Anglophone leaders became concerned about the repressive direction that the federal executive was taking.Other measures, such as the introduction of driving on the right-hand side of the road, the imposition of the metric system and the FCFA as currency took place during the 1960s. The change in currency entailed a reduction in the purchasing power of the Anglophone population by at least 10 per cent. Ahidjo also demanded that West Cameroon cut all links with the UK with the result that it lost several export duty advantages afforded to Commonwealth countries.

The federated states did not have financial autonomy and depended on grants from the federal state. Understanding where the real power was located, the Anglophone elites competed with each other for positions in the federal government, spending more time trying to please Ahidjo than defending the Anglophone population. Ahidjo took advantage and manipulated the rivalries among the elites and the ethnic and cultural divisions between Grassfields in the north, which had cultural and linguistic links with the Bamilékés of the west Francophone region, and the Sawa in the south, who had cultural and linguistic links with the Francophone coast.The result was political chaos in West Cameroon, including a split between Foncha and Muna, who left the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) in 1965 to form the Cameroon United Congress (CUC).

In 1965, in order to further weaken Foncha, who he believed to be less accommodating on the Anglophone question, Ahidjo tried to use his constitutional powers to appoint Muna as prime minister rather than Ngom Jua, Foncha’s heir apparent in the KNDP, the majority party in the West Cameroon parliament. He was unsuccessful in this because of strong opposition from the federated parliament. But one year later, taking advantage of divisions among the Anglophones, Ahidjo called for the creation of a single party in the two Cameroons, in the name of national unity. Strengthened by the support of some Anglophone leaders, such as Endeley and Muna, who saw an opportunity to dethrone Foncha, he succeeded in his objective. The Cameroon National Union (CNU) was formed in 1966 and the other parties were dissolved. Foncha, Jua and Bernard Fonlon (assistant general secretary at the presidency) were initially opposed but changed their views for fear of losing their positions in the federal government. The single party resulted in the Anglophones losing all their institutional leverage to plead their cause. In 1968, Ahidjo was able to appoint his new ally, Muna, as prime minister, replacing Jua.

Once the single party was formed, Ahidjo intensified centralization, going so far as to suppress federalism on 20 May 1972, when Cameroon became the United Republic of Cameroon, following a referendum. Anglophones continued to challenge the legality of this change on the grounds that the 1961 constitution did not provide for any alteration in the form of state and stipulated that only parliament could amend the constitution.Anglophone militants also consider that the referendum should not have taken place throughout the country and should have been limited to West Cameroon, which had the most to lose. Finally, they claim that it was not possible to hold a free and transparent referendum in the context of the time and that the ballot was marred by serious irregularities.

It was also in 1972 that Anglophones really began to challenge their marginalization. At the CNU National Congress in 1972, Bernard Fonlon publicly criticized the creation of the unitary republic. Other prominent Anglophones, such as Albert Mukong and Gorji Dinka were also fiercely opposed. Foncha and Jua wrote privately to Ahidjo and expressed their opposition in the official media.

When Paul Biya succeeded Ahidjo in November 1982, he further centralised power. On 22 August 1983, he divided the Anglophone region into two provinces: Northwest and Southwest. In 1984, he changed the country’s official name to the Republic of Cameroon (the name of the former Francophone territory) and removed the second star from the flag, which represented the Anglophone part of the country.

Anglophones formed movements and associations to resist their assimilation.

Anglophones formed movements and associations to resist their assimilation. In 1994, they protested in vain when the government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announced the privatization of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), which played a major economic and social role in the Anglophone part of the country. In that same year, the government’s move to standardize the Anglophone and Francophone education systems provoked strong resistance from teachers’ unions and the parents of pupils and it finally had to create an independent General Certificate of Education (GCE) Board by presidential decree.

Unification left Anglophones with a sense that their territory was in economic decline, because it entailed the centralization and/or dismantling of West Cameroon’s economic structures, such as the West Cameroon Marketing Board, the Cameroon Bank and Powercam, as well as the abandonment of several projects, including the port of Limbé, and airports at Bamenda and Tiko, with investments in the Francophone part of the country winning out.

In particular, unification left the impression of a democratic setback, cultural assimilation and a downgrading of political status.Many Anglophones are convinced that the Francophone part of the country followed a strategy to marginalize Southern Cameroons and are still not sufficiently aware of the disastrous impact the economic crisis of the 1980s also had on several Francophone regions. When the multiparty system was restored in the 1990s, the Anglophones seized the opportunity to make their grievances heard. On 26 May 1990, the Social Democratic Front, a new pro-federalism opposition party, with a national vocation but with a strong contingent of Anglophones, was formed in Bamenda. It gained ground in the Anglophone part of the country before extending its influence into Francophone provinces. It then participated in the October 1992 presidential elections and came close to winning it.

With the prospect of a review of the constitution to adapt it to the multiparty system, the Anglophones organized the All Anglophone Conference (AAC) in 1993 and called for a return to federalism.The Consultative Committee for Review of the Constitution rejected this option in favor of decentralization. Meanwhile, after resigning in 1990 from the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), the name adopted by the single party in 1985, Foncha and Muna, yesterday’s rivals, resigned from the consultative committee in 1994 and openly criticized the assimilation of Anglophones.In that same year, a second All Anglophone Conference (AAC2) was organized in Bamenda and some of the participants called for a two-state federal system or secession.

During this period, Muna and Foncha launched diplomatic offensives at the UN to demand independence for Southern Cameroons. The position of the Social Democratic Front, which rejected secession and proposed, in the context of Francophone opposition to a two-state federal system, a four-state federal system, was judged to be ambiguous by some Anglophone militants, who in 1995, formed movements calling for two-state federalism or secession:the most well-known was the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), the youth wing of which, Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), resorted to low-intensity violence. Since 1996, the SCNC has taken further diplomatic initiatives at the UN, the African Court of Banjul, the Commonwealth and national embassies.

Despite the emergence of Anglophone movements, centralization continued and Anglophones lost even more political strength at the national level.

After the golden age of the 1990s, dissent weakened and the focus switched to the Anglophone diaspora’s advocacy in the international community and the creation of an Anglophone consciousness through the education system, writings of Anglophone intellectuals, the churches, associations and the local media. However, SCNC militants continued to organize protests in the Anglophone regions every 1 October and spectacular actions such as the proclamation of independence by the Ambazonia Republic on radio Buea in 1999 and in 2009. Despite the emergence of Anglophone movements, centralization continued and Anglophones lost even more political strength at the national level. In 2017, there was only one Anglophone among 36 ministers with portfolio.

The roots of the Anglophone problem lie in a badly-organized reunification that was based on centralization and assimilation, and in economic and administrative marginalization.Personal and ethnic ambitions and rivalries among the elites did not help matters. They have not always been able to present a common front to defend an increasingly heterogeneous Anglophone cause. Since the 2000s, the Anglophone question has deeply divided society. It finds expression in the mutually negative perceptions of the Anglophone and Francophone populations and the occasional reciprocal stigmatization. The current crisis represents an especially worrying resurgence of this old problem. Never before has the Anglophone question manifested itself with such intensity.


III. The Political Consequences

The current crisis has increased support to federalism among the Anglophones population – which most probably was already high – and reinforced support for secessionism.This new configuration shows the depth of the Anglophone problem. Ghost Town operations and school closures could not have continued for nine months without the adherence of a large proportion of the population.As the population becomes more frustrated and disappointed, its desire for fair integration and willingness to coexist with Francophones is eclipsed by aspirations for autonomy.

Although most Anglophones want federalism, there is no consensus about the number of states in a future federation. A two-state federation, as before unification, or a four or six-state federation to better reflect the sociological composition of the country and make the idea of federalism acceptable to Francophones, or ten states to copy the current pattern of Cameroon’s ten regions? Some people insist that however many federated states are created, the federal capital Yaoundé should not be included in any of them.For some Anglophone activists, federalism seems to be a maximalist negotiating strategy. They raise the bar high in order to obtain at least an effective decentralization, with genuine autonomy for the country’s ten regions, starting with improvements to and the full application of current laws on decentralization.

The debate on the shape of the federation also reveals divisions that often undermine the Anglophone movement – between the Northwest where the “Grassfields” ethnic groups, close to the Bamiléké, are in the majority, and the Southwest, dominated by Sawa ethnic groups.Most Anglophones in the Northwest favor a two-state federation, as in 1961. The southern elites and indigenous groups have always denounced the demographic, political and economic domination and monopolization of their lands by Northern migrants, and therefore tend to prefer a ten-state federation in order to preserve their autonomy. Some of them, notably the Bakweri minority, would even form a federated state with the coastal Sawas (the Douala) rather than with the Grafis of the Northwest. Other southerners propose a federation with several states or a two-state federation with genuine decentralization within the two regions of the Anglophone federated state.

The Anglophone protest movement has tried, with some success, to go beyond these old divisions, partly because several members of the Consortium are southerners.However, when, at the end of January, the traditional chiefs of the Northwest wrote to the president of the republic to ask him to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture, the traditional chiefs of the Southwest responded by sending a motion of support to the government and calling on the youth of the Southwest to break with the disorder caused by northerners.However, the public has not shown itself to be very divided. Although Ghost Town operations are reducing in intensity, they are also observed in the Southwest and are sometimes stronger in towns like Kumba, where young people have denounced the ethnic rhetoric of their elites.

The crisis has revealed the gap between the concerns of the Anglophone population and the Anglophone elite.

The crisis has revealed the gap between the concerns of the Anglophone population and the Anglophone elite, which has for a very long time tried to mediate between them and Yaoundé and sometimes even supported a firmer repressive position.In fact, the prime minister and the Anglophone elite, which tried to mediate at the start of the crisis, have been jeered by crowds.

The lack of legitimacy of Anglophone leaders is also true, to a lesser degree, of opposition leaders. In November 2016, the president of the Social Democratic Front was booed in Bamenda when he tried to calm an angry crowd. The crisis caused tension in the SDF between a more radical group that, like the deputy Wirba, calls for a two-state federation or for secession, and a more traditional group that wants a four-state federation or, for the most moderates, effective decentralization.To better reflect opinion in its electoral base, the SDF strengthened its commitment to a four-state federation in 2017, while also taking symbolic steps such as not attending the 20 May march in solidarity with Anglophone detainees. Even in the governing party, the CPDM, Anglophone deputies have expressed their concerns to the government. In March 2017, they begged the head of state to at least restore internet access and release Anglophone political detainees.

The Anglophone crisis is a classic case of a dissatisfied minority while at the same time the result of structural problems. First, it reveals major governance failures, with a lack of decision-making capacity accentuated by the all-powerful president’s prolonged absences from the country, a false decentralization, the lack of legitimacy of local elites, tension between generations, a political system that relies on co-opting traditional chiefs and local elites, and a policy of regional balance that has been hijacked to their own advantage by families close to the regime.

Second, the crisis is prolonging restrictions on civil liberties which have become more pronounced since 2013: a ban on demonstrations, the arrest and beating up of political party militants, journalists and researchers. It has even served as a pretext for greater repression, with the use of anti-terrorist legislation for political ends, greater control over social media and threats against journalists.Finally, the regime’s refusal to negotiate on fundamental questions and its sometimes brutal response highlight its authoritarian nature.

The crisis could have an impact on the 2018 elections and even on the African Cup of Nations football competition in 2019.If the present situation persists, it will be difficult to organise peaceful elections in the two Anglophone regions. But when elections take place, the stance of Anglophone militants who have gained in popularity during this crisis will be crucial. Anything seems possible at the moment: a boycott, support for the SDF or the emergence of new movements.In 2016, the SDF appointed a Francophone secretary general for the first time in an attempt to start rebuilding a national base, but then immediately radicalized and moved closer to the Anglophone position because of the crisis. Will it again moderate its positions and try to gain support among Francophones, which it has not managed to do since 1997, or will it priorities the Anglophone zone, in the hope of improving on its performance in the last elections?Whatever happens to the SDF, the CPDM and the Francophone parties are henceforth in a weak position in the Anglophone regions.


IV. The Economic Consequences

Economic marginalization has played a major role in provoking discontent among Anglophones. Even though the two Anglophone regions are suffering no more than some Francophone regions from the prolonged economic crisis, Anglophones feel their potential is not being realized (or is being deliberately wasted) and feel abandoned.

No serious economic study has been published on the economic impact of the crisis, but there is no doubt that the isolation for several months of these two regions, which contribute around 20 per cent of Cameroon’s GDP, has had an impact on them as well as on the national economy.In 2016, the Anglophone regions were among the most digitally connected in Cameroon, just behind Douala and Yaoundé. Shutting down the internet paralysed several sectors of the local economy, notably banking and microfinance. The local economy is based on the oil sector (9 per cent of GDP), timber (4.5 per cent), intensive agriculture, including large plantations owned by the Cameroon Development Corporation and other smaller plantations that supply Douala and the countries of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, as well as cocoa, rubber, etc.

Anglophones and Southerners in particular often complain about the low proportion of Anglophones in the workforce and in decision-making posts in state oil companies, such as the National Refining Company (Société nationale de raffinage, Sonara), based in the Southwest, and the National Hydrocarbons Corporation (Société nationale des hydrocarbures, SNH).The crisis has hit all sectors of the local economy, except for hydrocarbons and forestry, which has had an impact on some commercial sectors and industries in the Francophone regions. Several estimates put the direct cost of cutting access to internet alone at CFA2 billion (€3 million).


V. The Social Consequences

The crisis has revealed the divisions between Francophones and Anglophones in Cameroon. Francophones are generally unaware of the reasons for the Anglophone problem and view Anglophones who are calling for federalism or secession with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion and even make fun of them. Anglophones are critical of Francophones for their lack of solidarity. While many Francophones say they support the Anglophones’ demands,the latter believe that this support is in word only and that Francophones do not really understand the problems that stem from being a minority. In fact, very few representatives of Francophone civil society organizations and political parties have visited the Northwest and the Southwest since October 2016. Francophone teachers did not come out in support for their ill-treated Anglophone colleagues. When Anglophone lawyers were beaten up and illegally arrested, support from the Bar was tardy and limited, leading some Anglophone lawyers to call for the creation of their own Bar.

Another stumbling block is that most Francophones are opposed to federalism and prefer effective decentralization.Some Francophones also criticize Anglophones for “tribalising” issues and making it sound like they are the only ones affected by problems that are, in fact, national. They point out that some Francophone regions are less well off than Anglophone regions.Francophone teachers in the Anglophone zone complain about discrimination in the universities, while Francophone citizens complain about their stigmatisation and the calls for violence against them issued since January 2017.Some Francophones make fun of Anglophones and support government repression. There are of course exceptions, such as Abouem Atchoyi, former higher education minister and former governor of the Southwest and the Northwest, who published a long article in January 2017 asserting the legitimacy of Anglophone demands.

However, the crisis has also raised awareness. Some Anglophones said that public services in Yaoundé treat them better and that official communications pay greater attention to bilingualism.The crisis has highlighted the economic resilience of the Anglophones, which is essentially based on the solidarity of Anglophones living in the Francophone zone and abroad.However, it has also caused social problems that were not anticipated by the strikers: for example, the boycott of schools has entailed extra childcare demands, which falls mainly on women, and increases in juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancies and school dropout.


VI. Ending the Crisis: Resume Dialogue and Deal with the Real Problems

Even though the violence, which raged from November 2016 to till date: radicalization of the diaspora and a segment of the population, a loss of confidence in the government and targeted social violence. The trial of Anglophone militants is flawed in ways that illustrate persistent problems: it has been repeatedly postponed and conducted in French, with only rough translations provided if at all, and this for offences committed by Anglophones in Anglophone regions.

If a lasting solution is not found, the next resurgence of the Anglophone problem could be violent. The haughty attitude and cynicism of senior government officials, notably when they say that “as long as the Anglophones do not take up arms, the current strike does not worry [us] unduly”, could promote instability. “What can the Anglophones do? If they don’t want to go to school, so much the worse for them”, added a senior official. They are mistakenly relying on the strike losing impetus and the emergence of divisions among strikers, because although the campaign has weakened since May and even if it fizzles out, the fundamental problem will remain and people will continue to feel dissatisfied.

Within the secessionist movement, although the official objective remains independence through non-violence, there are growing calls for violence. Messages calling for the armed struggle circulate among WhatsApp groups and instances of targeted social violence have been recorded (intimidations, arson, beatings). On Facebook and YouTube, the Southern Cameroons Defense Forces regularly announce their imminent arrival to liberate Ambazonia. In July 2017, an Ambazonia Governing Council made its appearance online and Sisiku Ayuk Tabe was elected prime minister in an online vote. All this needs to be taken seriously, all the more so as some secessionist groups have circulated videos encouraging violence, for example, explaining how to make Molotov cocktails.

Partisans of armed violence have not yet put their ideas into practice because they do not have either the resources or enough support from abroad. They are still a small minority, even among those in favor of secession. But questioning of the central principle of non-violence, inherited from the SCNC, gives cause for concern. The reason why the crisis has not descended into armed violence is also that the main actors have not wanted it to. Neither did they expect a crisis of such scale and duration.

A lasting solution to the Anglophone problem requires measures to calm the situation and rebuild trust between the government and Anglophone actors, coherent measures to respond to sectoral demands and institutional reforms to address the national governance problem of which the Anglophone issue is symptomatic. It is unlikely that any of these measures will be taken without international pressure.

It is difficult to envisage a credible dialogue unless the government takes conciliatory measures and until trust is rebuilt between the parties. A discourse of tolerance, openness to dialogue and recognition of the Anglophone problem by the head of state would constitute a first important gesture. This should be immediately followed by several measures to calm the situation: release members of the Consortium; invite exiles to return to the country; halt legal proceedings against Anglophone clergy; open legal proceedings against security forces responsible for abuses; reshuffle the government and senior officials to increase the political representation of Anglophones and replace the senior officials whose actions have exacerbated tensions; and restructure and reconstitute the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism. Finally, the President of the Republic should visit the Anglophone regions.

The government could then go on to reconstitute the ad hoc inter-ministerial committee, this time with parity for senior Anglophone officials, and broaden its remit beyond dealing with sectoral demands. This would require decriminalizing the political debate, including on federalism, and considering recourse to a third party (Catholic Church or an international partner) to mediate.

Once negotiations have begun, the government should make concessions with a view to improving the political and administrative representation of Anglophones. The government should also increase public and economic investment in the Anglophone zone and ensure that the majority of the security forces and administrative and legal authorities deployed there are Anglophones. Finally, it should apply the measures it has announced or that were decided with the Consortium and take additional measures to strengthen the semi-autonomous character of Anglophone educational and legal systems.

The Anglophone crisis has showed the limits presidential centralism and a governance system that depends on co-optation. Implementation of effective decentralization could mitigate this problem at the national level. It appears to be the only alternative to federalism and has the advantage of being able to satisfy Francophones, the vast majority of whom reject a two-state federal system and, at the same time, moderate Anglophones, who are open to the idea of a ten-state federation or decentralization.

The executive and the senior levels of the administration are the only real opponents of decentralization. That is understandable: it would take away the presidency’s complete control over the regions and could – by opening the way for local democratic experiences with possible national impact – threaten the regime’s absolute power. But there is a serious risk that the crisis could deteriorate and, in time, destabilize the country. A government-backed decentralization could provide a more consensual and peaceable future. A genuine decentralization could even encourage a healthy process of renewal within the CPDM. Several Francophone leaders and some senior government officials are favorable to such a development.

Decentralization could take place on the basis of the ten current regions. It would require full application and the improvement of existing laws. At the moment, decentralization is deficient: government-appointed representatives run the big cities, play the role of super mayor and only report to the President of the Republic, rendering town councils inoperative. The latter have to wait for their budgets to be allocated by the government representatives, which provokes discontent among both opposition mayors and those belonging to the ruling party. The transfer of financial resources (the percentage of which is not detailed in legal texts) has only increased from 4 to 7 per cent in 13 years, while it is 20 per cent in other decentralized unitary states like Kenya and Ghana. Other powers are not always transferred and remain in the hands of authorities appointed by Yaoundé.

If a new attempt at decentralization is going to be acceptable and effective, it must reduce the powers of administrators appointed by Yaoundé by creating regional councils, introducing elected regional presidents, transferring significant financial resources and powers, and implementing measures that are already provided for in law. It should also take legal measures specific to Anglophone regions in the areas of education, justice and culture (not currently covered by legislation).

A firmer response from the international community could help to avoid the conflict from deteriorating and threatening the stability of this pivotal Central African country. It could begin by emphasizing the right of Anglophones to discuss their future and that of their country, to better political representation and to expect greater official willingness to take into account cultural and linguistic differences. Public condemnation of the use of anti-terrorism laws for political ends would also be an important first step.

The UN, the UK, the U.S., France and the African Union should speak up on behalf of the international community. The UK and the UN are historic actors in this process. France is a strategic partner for Cameroon, and the biggest aid donor in Anglophone Cameroon. But Anglophones believe that it acts as a brake on the international community’s response, even though it has sought to promote multilingualism and multiculturalism within Francophonie. The Cameroon government does listen to the U.S., Cameroon’s most important security partner and home of the largest part of the Anglophone Cameroon diaspora. The first major international actor to react to this crisis, it should keep up the pressure. These countries and organizations should encourage the Cameroonian government to take measures to calm the situation, engage in a genuine dialogue and reform the governance model, including the implementation of decentralization. It should also make itself available to mediate if necessary during negotiations, if the parties so desire.


VII. Conclusion

The violence that was rife between November 2016 to till date in Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions and the support for the Operation Ghost Town that followed, showed that the Anglophone problem is deep-rooted. It will not be resolved by denying it exists or by repression, but by dialogue and institutional reform. In the context of pressure from the government and the financial difficulties of continuing the strike, some people have disassociated themselves from the movement and more would do so if it were not for the threats of secessionists. However, they are still dissatisfied. After sacrificing an academic year and resisting pressure from the government and secessionist militants, the risk is that they will become increasingly bitter if no reasonable progress is made, especially on educational reform and governance.

The government is wrong to bet on the crisis running out of steam. The threat of a second year of school closures hangs over the beginning of the next academic year. With a year to go before the next presidential and general elections, it would not be politically sensible to ignore the dissatisfaction and anger of a fifth of its population, especially as Francophones share some Anglophone grievances. Above and beyond the electoral question, the sporadic violence of the last few months and the use of social networks have shown that some secessionists are ready for the armed struggle. The opening of a front in the West could prove to be dramatic for Cameroon, which already faces Boko Haram in the Far North and militias from the Central African Republic to the East.