“Talibanisation” and “Bokoharamisation” are not words available in the English Oxford dictionary, yet these coined expressions conjure up genuine words such as “intolerance”, “mindlessness”, “intimidation” and “terror”, as did with the image of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Comprehensive College, Nkwen being consumed by fire.
Applying a 5-Whys to the problem, the first why was answered thus: the school has been burned down to keep students away from school and serve as a warning to others. Next question in queue – why pupils were being prevented from going to school? Students, it was answered, were being prevented from going to school because many considered education a political tool, which could be pawned and bargained with in the agitation for an independent state. So, why are activists calling for a separation? Activists are calling for a separation because in their view, they feel the region’s current situation is beyond salvage re: the marginalisation, the mistreatment and the colonisation. Colonisation. Why colonisation? Because Ahmadou Ahidjo the former President repealed the federal status of the country and this current regime annulled the United Republic. The activists argue that it is like phagocytosis and Anglophones are being airbrushed out of the country’s history. Why was Cameroon a Federated state? The federated state came about because of a referendum held by the UN in which one part of West Cameroon, the North, decided to join Northern Nigeria and the South opted to join La Republic du Cameroon. Previously, Southern Cameroon between 1918-1945 was a League Of Nations Mandated territory which became a UN Trusted Territory run by the British between 1945-1961 – but before we delve into another why it is worth remembering that both territories East and West of the Mungo were unified in a German colony called Kamerun from 1884 to 1916.
There you have it. The colonial lines which arbitrarily divided the African continent could not have done a worse job and more than half a century from decolonisation, some countries are still ill at ease with themselves, with secessionist tendencies rife. Today cursory glance at the African map would show no less than 17 other territories where active secessionist groups are seeking a divorce from their current countries.
Yet, it is also a fact that in each of these countries, people continue fending for themselves and their families and yes, children go to school. This is important to note because secessions are more often than not, not peaceful or brief affairs. Out of some two dozen live secessionist movements currently in the world, the median length of time they have been going on is 38 years and median deaths stand at about 10,000 people. A potent reminder to activists urging for a school boycott, that children could be out of school for a very long time indeed because data tells that a quick, painless and cost-free road to independence (in a few months or weeks as some would have it) is simply pie in the sky.
A similar meal would be on the sky-menu without admitting that Cameroon past and present has not been exempted from some of the injustices inherent in many African countries and of recent these have been grossly amplified as the authorities grappled with retaining law and order in the country. Looking around the country and continent at large, the intractable conflicts which have instituted lawlessness and insecurity in the neighbourhood are a reminder how high the stakes are. Therefore, from that perspective, the regime’s nervousness can be understood.
But what is nevertheless difficult to understand are the reported arbitrary arrests, the mass detentions, the recorded cases of disappearances and accounts of mistreatment in detention. If advice were sought by the regime, it would be two words “Soft Power” by which an aggressive over-par program of socio-economic, rural and urban development is unfurled in the aggrieved regions to apply a soothing balm to the sprained joint between the East and West of the Mungo.
The stakes could not be higher because the image of a burning school on Facebook stirs passions and a sense of outrage perhaps only rivalled by the fiery intensity to which the school burned. This sad incident is not isolated because earlier in the year, the Administrative block of a Government School in Mutengene suffered a similar fate.
But this lends the question, what’s next? A Nazi style book burning?
If eyebrows are raised at this extrapolation, it cannot be because it is flippant or farfetched. Those clamouring for a divorce from The Republic are keen to see pupils stay home because the school system, as one commentator and secessionist put it, has been rigged by “La Republic to perfect its colonisation of Southern Cameroons”. Therefore, the secessionists’ calling for a boycott of schools are declaring the existing academic system in the Anglophone regions void. This encompasses all the schools, their administration, their curriculum, and their texts. Thus, if lecturers and administrators are threatened to stay at home and schools are being put to the torch as exemplified by Mutengene, Nkwen or Kumbo, it’s no stretch of imagination then to think that books falling foul of the secessionists’ ideology may soon be targeted next.
Notwithstanding, it is worth reminding those whose rhetoric of intolerance empowers actors and agents to arson and other anti-social acts of intimidation and terror, that intolerance has never ended well for its proponents. It is simply lamentable that education has become a battering ram and a pawn in a political dispute which risks turning ugly with even worse consequences for all.
Conversely, there are others who claim the arsonists are actually agents of a Machiavellian and desperate government seeking to discredit the secessionists’ cause – such a view can only be called what it is – horse ordure, because there is not only no evidence for it but the only rhetoric for school closures is coming from the secessionist camp.
In all, it is a rather selfish and sad story to tell, that most if not all of the secessionists received a firm grounding in their primary, secondary and high school education in the country and have gone further to become professionals in Cameroon and the world over. These same people, are now “scorning the base degrees by which they did ascend” through their call for a boycott of schools in the SW and NW regions. Lest it is forgotten, schools in the other eight regions would continue as normal, as well as for the children of secessionists living abroad.
This article does not refute anyone’s right to hold secessionist views. But what it does condemn is the coercion, the intimidation and the rhetoric that looks at anyone with an alternate view as a traitor and drives simple-minded individuals to arson or other acts of terror. Today, an unoccupied school is game, but there are other places around the world where a populated classroom means little, and men have been dehumanised by the inhumanities of war. When that dice is rolled, it can no longer be recalled and you cannot predict what number turns up.
Given the current rhetoric, there’s no mistaking it, this is how wars are born and those who think this is just to shake up the regime are underestimating the magnitude this is having on the nation’s foundations. The secessionists too are also insincere (or delusional) because they not only play down the effort that is required to achieve their desired outcome but they also talk up the ways and means at their disposal.
If truth be told, there are no shortage of countries, organisations or individuals willing to supply munitions to any determined and well financed group. The recent announcement of the capture of a mercenary with munitions and bomb making material is troubling. Most troubling, because the country is about to become another location on the planet where natural resources would be offered in exchange for ammunition. There are plenty of willing and waiting market participants for that barter of title-deeds to the nation’s resources. They mill around about like vultures around a dying beast, willing the actors, egging them on to the showdown.
Like Squealer in Animal Farm, the separatists’ propaganda cry of “We are winning” is almost as if they would simply walk into the United Nations, demand and be granted independence. But, they (secessionists) would shy away from recounting case history which makes it less so cut and dried. Historically, the UN is slow to act in such matters having only come to hold referenda in the cases of South Sudan, East Timor and Eritrea after the wars being fought had lasted 20 years, 24 years and 30 years respectively. During this time approximately 2 Million people had died in South Sudan, 102,000 in East Timor and 230,000 souls had perished in Eritrea.
This is not scaremongering. It is simply what always happens when the path to conflict is chosen as a means to resolve differences. Those thinking of secession have to understand the choice they are about make because at the heart of it all a country does not just say goodbye without a fight to a sizeable chunk of its export capacity from crude oil, cocoa, coffee, timber, rubber, palm oil, tea and banana. Yet is a war what we want? To destroy all the little we have toiled for and gained despite the odds? To be the site of yet another African nation’s descent into chaos? To have our daughters taken as tools of war or our boys trained as child soldiers? When many separatists swear to make the country ungovernable, do they think of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya? Where the wars have gone on for so long that no one now seems to know what anyone’s fighting for? Do they realise once you go down that rabbit hole it is a descent into ever darker tunnels with little chance seeing the light once again? Because, once that genie is out, it’s out.
But, when the question, why, is asked, they (the separatists) throw up their hands and ask for alternatives to the current stance and descend into a tirade on the high-handed way the Federation was swept aside firstly in the abrogation of the Federation in Feb 1972 by the former President A. Ahijo and its finalisation in 1984 when “United” was dropped from the country’s name. By that, they argue that it was “La Republic” which had walked away from the marriage and that like a supplicant wife they had believed for the best and were willing to consider staying on in a Federation but now they say they have been radicalised by the regime into Separatists.
It is a truism that Makane or Manka waking in the morning would care less about whether they are in a Federal Republic or United Republic. Apart from fussing about the needs of their families, what they would care about is having to travel to Yaoundé to chase this or that documentation. To wait for decisions on key things affecting theirs and the lives of their compatriots to arrive from Yaoundé or that their detained loved ones have been transferred to Yaoundé. This centralisation of the state has become a self-perpetuating machine in which the actors, their subordinates and those they recruit have in their primary instincts the retention of all power, creating a system that has metastasised into what can be likened to a freak ten-legged octopus which serves to control from Yaoundé, the far reaches of the regional cardinal points.
Add to these the frustrations firstly, the disparity in the share of the national cake despite being a key contributor – some estimates attribute as much as 60% of the nation’s GDP from the NW and SW regions . And secondly the exclusion of citizens West of the Mungo from certain key cabinet positions, as well as a deliberate preference for French in the supposedly bilingual country, therein the makings of the Anglophone marginalisation problem.
But, there is a school of thought that some of these frustrations are not unique to Anglophone regions because the man in Bafoussam who has to go chase documents in Yaoundé is as piqued as the man in Bertoua or Buea. Also, that the woman in Adamaoua who has to go follow up at the Ministry in Yaoundé some pay arrears is just as frustrated as another from Ebolowa or Bamenda. Likewise, the 56% of the country’s poor who hail from the North of the country (according to the World Bank) can be no fans of the centralised Yaoundé regime either.
In a nation of 243 ethnic groupings – there is a growing theory that rather than being an Anglophone / Francophone problem, inherited from the English v. French rivalry which has lasted through history on the European continent, the problem in Cameroon some would argue is more of an ethnic problem akin to what is seen elsewhere in many other African states. The messy addiction to pork-barrel politics and with 243 national groups in Cameroon, there will never be enough pork to go round. Competition and rivalries would always be fierce. It is therefore a worry that should the nation’s onion be peeled, we could be left the sorrier as the fault lines and fissures between different ethnicities in the country would come to the fore with fractious consequences for all.
Case in point. In South Sudan, the North was the bogeyman and so long as the South had the Northern Sudan to blame for all its ills, the rivalries between the different ethnicities in the South were masked. After a long war and the lives of about 2 million people, South Sudan got its independence but then soon afterwards, all their ethnic rivalries rose to the fore resulting in another civil war fought this time amongst the South Sudanese and with the war well into its fourth year, 300 thousand have been killed and many lives have been disrupted with refugees paradoxically fleeing from the south back into the north (Sudan) for sanctuary. Things falling apart in South Sudan are in sharp contrast to the Orwellian “sugar candy mountain” promised after their divorce with the north.
Of course, many separatists would dub this article as “Project Fear”. Agreed. It is an article borne out of fear – not from right-thinking people amenable to dialogue, but rather the fear of extremists on both sides who have dug in for a fight and are ratchetting up the rhetoric to the point where they tip the country into a conflict. Be it a chat-show host et al who pronounce others not of their ilk “Rats”, overzealous officials violating fundamental human rights in pursuance of their duties , or separatists eschewing any overtures to dialogue, burning flags at embassies and swearing to make the country ungovernable as elsewhere on the continent.
The African Initiative Agenda 2063 in its aspirations for African Citizenery, would oblige all the stakeholders to resolve the current impasse without creating another fracture or fragment on the continent. In reality, African continent does not need another war or indeed many other wars because with the new campaigns for a re-secession of Biafra, the unsettled Niger Delta region and the volatile settlement on the Bakassi penisula may conflate into a major war zone akin to that in Syria and Iraq, benefitting none, other than the vendors of munitions. Such an eventuality would be a retrogressive socio-economic and humanitarian disaster for the region.
The following non-exhaustive recommendations may go some way to demonstrating the goodwill by all participants and may help break the impasse.
1) Dialogue. Talking now rather than later after the death of many innocent souls is a choice that must be made. If we are to learn anything from ETA – Basque Separatists or Irish Nationalists, it is that no group or persons are beyond the pale. Dialogue can and does work. Violence, death and destruction has no strategic effectiveness.
2) All participants can learn to be magnanimous from any or all of the following – the British with respect to Northern Ireland post the Good Friday Agreement; the South Africans post-Apartheid and the Rwandans post the genocidal conflict. A reconciliation commission headed by a respectable judge may boost confidence.
3) All participants must dial-down their rhetoric and posturing. The possible appointment of an independent negotiator may go some way to improving trust.
4) Education must remain inviolate from any groups or parties seeking to get the attention of the government. The school year must run without disruptions arising from any political disagreement.
5) Devolution of powers to the ten regions in a Federation where people would engage in regional assemblies endowed with powers to decide on local matters may not pacify the firebrand separatists and others spoiling for a showdown but would go some distance to demonstrate to moderates (and there are many) that the government also has an interest and a willingness to keep the country together.
In conclusion, the trigger for this article was the sight of a school in flames. There was the need to understand the reasons for this arson, and why education had become embroiled in the political tussle going on in the country, putting forward the point as it did that “education was inviolate”. The current imbroglio which has led some Anglophones to call for secession was discussed in terms of the war it most certainly would initiate, affecting not only the territories East and West of the Mungo but potentially destabilising Eastern Nigeria where the talk of a re-secession is taking root. The article ends by looking at some levers the government could pull as circuit breakers to the secessionists’ runaway engine. The rejection of the secessionist idea in this article is not only because of the subsequent war it would invite but also because secessionists are seeking to reinforce not reverse the cultural and geographical fragmentation that colonialists imposed on Africans. But colonialism is history and ahead is the future of Africa which lies more in the dissolution rather than erection of more economic and political boundaries.
Lloney Eyole Monono, UK