By Jean-Germain Gros [Culled from « Preface » Cameroon: Politics and Society in Critical Perspectives. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America: 2003]
Rightly or wrongly, Anglophones in Cameroon today, or at least their elite, feel that they are second-class citizens of a country dominated by Francophones… I believe tat Anglophone nationalists (or at least the more ardent among them) miss several points about the Francophone-Anglophone divide.
First the division of Cameroon between “Francophones” and “Anglophones” is more historical and geographic than linguistic. A Mbororo (a member of the Peul ethnic group) cattle raiser, who has difficulties communicating even with her fellow Foulbe brethren in Fulfulde, might be quite surprised that she is “Francophone”.
The label simply has no meaning at the grassroots level. Indeed, I suspect that a majority of Cameroonians on either side of the Mungo are completely fluent I neither the tongue of Moliere nor that of Shakespeare. For the average Cameroonian, ethnicity is of much greater currency than identification with this or that colonial experience. The cleavage is sustained mainly by intellectuals and politicians and does not correspond to reality on the ground, but then again myths and distortions are stuff of politics. The intervention and (or) sharpening of differences is the first step toward legitimizing claims and gaining followers. It is also important in the creation of a culture of “victims,” especially when claims go unheeded by the dominant elite.
Secondly, Francophones in Cameroon are not a monolith nor are Anglophones. What does a Toupouri in Kousseri (extreme-north province) and a pygmy in Bertoua (eastern province) have in common, other than their “Francophoneness?” Does anybody believe Francophone means anything either? What of Bamilekes and Bassas, who straddle between Francophonie and “Anglophone,” which side of their identity should be given currency, the linguistic or ethnic?
Third, nationalist Anglophone writers have exaggerated how much Francophones have benefited from the Ahidjo-Biya dyad. The Biya regime in particular is a corrupt, manipulative, equal-opportunity violator of the public trust hell-bent in remaining in power, even if this means driving the country into abject penury. Cameroonians of all stripes have suffered from its malfeasance. Anglophones do not have the right of way in the maze of misdeeds drawn up by Biya and his acolytes, which is not to say that they have no valid claims. Cameroon is overcentralized and in dire need of honest government. Decentralization, as a return to federalism would make manifest, and better management of public resources would benefit everyone, not just Anglophones. On the other hand outright secession as advocated by some Anglophones, would likely contribute to the further Balkanization of the continent without any apparent benefit that could not be had from a less drastic measure and with much risk of further secession claims possibly inside the Anglophone community itself 9southwest vs. northwest). Biya has not even been all that benevolent toward his “home” province of the center-south, which may explain why symbolic opposition to him there may be on the rise.
Fourth, Anglophone nationalists have idealized West Cameroon’s experience under colonial rule, when in fact the region was far from pristine. So little the British apparently thought of West Cameroon – or so much that they thought of the administrative skills of Lord Luggard – that they did not bother to send in a governor, preferring instead to rule the territory as an appendage of Nigeria. This may well explain why in 1961 independence for West Cameroon was not on the referendum menu. In the current atmosphere glorification of the colonial past may make for good political strategy but it is bad history. In addition, Anglophones are not being consistent when they mock their counterparts across the Mungo for claiming Gauls as their ancestors when they themselves base their identity on the British colonial experience to argue for changes in the architecture of state power and allocation of resources.
In the end, however, it matters not whether Anglophone feelings of marginalization in contemporary Cameroon and, by contrast, how good they had it under British rule, are rooted in myth or reality. The point is, such feelings may give (and have given) way to political action (such as the call by the Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, for secession) that could potentially alter the Cameroon landscape and (or) lead to violence. The “Anglophone problem” is the most burning issue in Cameroon politics today, not the least because it is articulated by talented counter elite intellectuals, and how well (or poorly) it is handled by the ruling elite may well determine whether Cameroon continues to be an oasis of stability in an unstable region or joins the maelstrom of state disintegration in Central Africa.