On this day forty-seven years ago, Cameroon ceased to be a federal republic and became instead a unitary state, essentially scrapping our 1961 constitution. As a result, the federated states of West Cameroon (Anglophone) and East Cameroon (Francophone) ceased to exist and the United Republic of Cameroon, with ten distinct provinces, came into being. In 1984, the last hint of Cameroon being the product of the unification of two territories was fully discarded when the United Republic of Cameroon became the Republic of Cameroon. Indeed, the country thus reverted to its original name, established in 1960, when it was only a Francophone state. The relegation of Cameroon’s Anglophone community was thereby consecrated, laying the path for the tumult and violent discord we have experienced to this day.
May 20 is consequently a time in which Anglophones are reminded of this tragedy – the overall ruse that was employed to institutionalize the marginalization of their people. During the subsequent decades, bad and misguided governance—as exhibited in the management of Cameroon’s economy and corporate and social sectors—the violent stifling of democratic aspirations, and the erosion of the rule of law has served to fast-track Cameroon down the road of social unrest and oppression. In this cloud of chaos, state corruption, nepotism and favoritism, as well as tribalism, have grown to levels previously unknown. And within this toxic environment, excellence and merit are no longer a consideration, thus perpetuating the mediocrity that now prevails in our public sector.
With a government that does not listen to, or care about, its people, Cameroon is thrust in a turbulence that will either make or further break the country. As it stands today, the Anglophone provinces are in a state of all-out war. There are an estimated 530,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). This situation is described by the United Nations as the world’s fastest growing population of IDPs – a woefully under covered and largely unknown catastrophe with regional implications. The general numbers and the individual tragedies are staggering: 50,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Nigeria; close to 200 villages have been burnt to the ground by the military and security forces; over 2,000 people have been wantonly and arbitrarily killed; and many more thousands wounded, maimed and likely traumatized for life. In this atmosphere, banditry has increased, and the fleeing population is caught between an army that uses collective punishment as its modus operandi and secessionist fighters who claim to be acting in self-defense.
This mass of violence and lack of respect for the sanctity of human life has taken an untold toll on Cameroon’s future generations, sapping this vital constituency of hope and real prospects of one day living in peace and prosperity. Indeed, three million of my fellow citizens are food insecure, with over 200,000—mainly young children—suffering from malnutrition. Over two million more are out of school. And one million are in desperate need of health assistance.
To save this republic, to save Cameroon from this evident tailspin, the government needs to take a hard look at the freefall. All political prisoners must be freed. Genuinely inclusive dialogue must begin. The nature of the state must be revisited and the institutions that guarantee democratic processes reviewed, fully secured and made transparent. This is the only course of action that might just give May 20 a new meaning going forward, and potentially provide a joyful ending for this unfolding Tale of Two States.
Akere Muna is a British trained barrister, formerly President of the Cameroon Bar Association and the Pan-African Lawyers Union. He is most recently the Founder of the NOW! Movement, a non-partisan movement in Cameroon that seeks to advance social change through dialogue and community engagement.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Vanguard Africa or the Vanguard Africa Foundation.