By Michelle Tchokote
One thing that makes Cameroun stand out among other African countries, in my opinion, is its bilingual and bi-jural nature. The country has two official languages—French and English—and practices both civil and common law. But, recently, these have become the roots of disagreements and conflicts.
Cameroun was a British and French colony in the 1900s. Eight of its ten regions are francophone, practice civil law, and comprise 83% of the population while the other two regions are anglophone, practice common law, and comprise 17% of the population. Cameroun has been referred to as Africa in miniature because of this diversity, its rich culture, and its natural resources. Unfortunately, the country has been in a politically stagnant situation for a while now. It’s president, Paul Biya, who has been in power for 36 years, was recently re-elected for a seventh term.
The elections which bestowed power on Paul Biya for another seven-year term were unsurprisingly marred by numerous allegations of electoral fraud many of which were backed with video evidence published on several social media. Interestingly, however, the Electoral Tribunal dismissed these reports and refused to annul the elections. I do, however, believe that Paul Biya would have won the elections anyway, irregularities or not. Some people have described the past 36 years of Paul Biya’s reign as ‘political stability’ while others simply fear change.
Political stability, however, does not erase the fact that the country has real problems and that the president spends more time in Switzerland than in Cameroun, usually on health grounds. I am not terribly concerned by any of these—his election or his sojourns in Switzerland—because of the Anglophone problem. The English-speaking part of Cameroun is asking to be an independent country; this has turned violent in recent times. In fact, I was surprised when Paul Biya announced that he was contesting to be president again because the Anglophones have been angry at not being adequately involved in governance: pupils in the English region have not been going to school; buildings have been burnt down; people have lost their lives and their businesses, and there was nothing to show that Paul Biya had a solution.
I love Cameroun as it is. I have a history with the English part of Cameroun and, in fact, I do not take Cameroun to be two.
The problem is multifaceted—French judges sent to English courts, the government’s response to grievances of political actors in the south, marginalisation etc—and people have tried several solutions. In my own research, I try to find ways for more peaceful solutions, and peaceful solutions are indeed possible! Perhaps the government can do more in terms of creating more representation for anglophone Cameroun in government or making them feel less marginalised.
I love Cameroun as it is. I have a history with the English part of Cameroun and, in fact, I do not take Cameroun to be two. Although I am from French Cameroun, I studied in the English part. I am actually in love with the English culture. There is something special about the way they do things—it’s a lot cleaner, a lot more organised than the French part. But they feel marginalised and I can perfectly understand that because I have lived there. For example, if you say you are from Bamenda, other Cameroonians might laugh at you. If you are called a Bamenda girl, it is like an insult—it means you are local.
I do not want the country to divide. It matters more to me that the country remains one than having Paul Biya as president for the next 100 years.
Michelle Tchokote is a Cameroonian lawyer and PhD researcher at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston.
Featured image by J Stimp