I’m Cameroonian. I say that with the deepest pride, and yet these days it seems my patriotism is fleeting. Why, you ask?
As of this morning (Nov. 21 2016), there are serious protests happening in the North-Western part of the country. Bamenda is the largest hub of English Cameroon, the birthplace of the only opposition party – Social Democratic Front (SDF), that has come slightly close to making any kind of political statement. You would think their popularity with the English masses would impart some change or at least enable their grievances to be acknowledged by the ruling government. However, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has made sure that by any means possible – including but not limited to bribing officials, they silence the people.
Protester stands in a coffin symbolic of his preparedness to die for the cause. Photo credit; Tapang Ivo.
Today, the people are tired of being silenced! They are tired of being marginalized, being led by officials who sell their positions for money and leave their constituents in poverty, unemployment and economic instability. Today, the people are in the streets with coffins, ready to die in protest against a government that has ignored the over three point two million English-speaking Cameroonians for far too long. Cameroon Concord journalist; Tapang Ivo interviewed a protester who said; “We are ready for death. The solution to end these more than 50 years of marginalization is inclusive dialogue and nothing else”.
This has been a longtime coming. For many years, English-speaking Cameroonians have been denied jobs solely on the basis of being anglophones. Many positions of leadership are reserved for the francophone indgens. Anglophone cities are at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to socio-economic development. Corruption plagues the country. According to Africa Ranking, Cameroon is the 18th most corrupt country in Africa, with a Corruption Perceptions Index score of 27, calculated by Transparency International.
Flag of the Federal Republic of Southern Cameroons
The Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) was formed in protest of this unfair treatment, and is seeking independence from the French part. Reporting for Vice, Oscar Rickett says he met a citizen living in exile in London because of his affiliations with the SCNC. His wife was raped and killed, and on several occasions, he spent weeks at a time in jail, before successfully fleeing to London on asylum.
It all started with the French and British colonial rule. French Cameroon gained independence in 1960 and in 1961, Britain was ready to leave West Africa too. Northern British territory chose to join Nigeria, and the small portion of today’s Southern Cameroon- for a varied number of reasons, joined French Cameroon. Their condition was that they would operate as an autonomy under the French government. That did not last because Ahmadou Ahidjo (the nation’s first President) made sure to flush out this autonomy in an effort to “unite” the country. In light of recent events, notice the irony?
President Paul Biya took office in 1982 following what many believe was a guerrilla-fueled coup d’etat that fooled late President Ahmadou Ahidjo out of the Unity Palace (Cameroon’s presidential residence) and into exile. For a few years after he assumed power, it is safe to say that the development that had come with the British and French rule, and partially maintained by Ahidjo, dwindled over the years.
Derailed train in Central Cameroon, Oct. 2016. Photo credit; Mahamat Mazou Aboubakar/Reuters
1982 was 10 years before I was born. We’re in 2016 and Biya is still President at 83 years of age. Many of the roads constructed back then are the same ones used today, with little to – in some cases, no renovations. Just last month (Oct. 2016), a bridge collapsed on the main highway connecting the Capital city; Yaounde to the economic capital; Douala. This incident forced many to board the only existing rail transport system in the area. As a result, a train that could carry a maximum of 600 people had 13 hundred people in it and subsequently derailed, killing 70 and injuring hundreds more.
Youth unemployment rates reported by the National Institute of Statistics are soaring at 36.5 percent. According to the CIA World Factbook, 48 percent of the population was living in poverty as of 2014. With increased national unrest resulting from Boko Haram incidents, civil conflict between French and English Cameroons, and dropping GDP as reported by the World Bank, it wouldn’t be unfathomable if the poverty margin has increased.
What makes this even sadder is that the country has so much potential. It’s not for no reason that we were dubbed “Africa in miniature.” We have Sahara desert lands in the north, a coast line in the south, naturally formed plateaus, a tropical rain forest that is habitat to some impressive wildlife, a really high (the highest in west Africa) active volcanic mountain, natural oil and gas, timbre, rubber plantations, and so much more. This should attract tourists and investors from all over the world, and it does, somewhat. But to what extent do we even really benefit from it?
Our government officials (a good majority) do not serve the people, they serve their own political and financial interests. Thus, the country – for many years, has and is still suffering from this bad governance.
Will the protests help solve some of the problems that this country faces? Some doubt it will. Many are uncertain whether the change they so desperately need is even possible. Most youth who graduate university are living on the hope that someday they can emigrate to America or Europe or anywhere that isn’t Cameroon, so that they can have a chance at a better future.
To be continued…