During the just ended Peace Summit in France, Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya declared there were key differences between French- and English-speaking Cameroonians because of their contrasting experiences under colonial rule: “My country is complex. … After the First World War, … Some were under British colonization and others under French colonization. The result has been a juxtaposition of culture and civilization that makes things quite difficult. Well, we have done everything we can to put the two languages, English and French, on an equal footing but, the mindsets, as well as the judicial systems, are different…” Paul Biya explained.
During his speech, Paul Biya also revealed that the plan had been to assimilate the Anglophone minority into the French system “We had the possibility of integrating the English speakers [Anglophones] directly into the Francophone system, which was predominantly used by 80% of our people but, I believe that countries are now concerned about affirming their identity and that is why we are setting up a special status that recognizes the specificity of the English-speaking area…”
Based on our knowledge of the country’s colonial and post-independence history and the overwhelming documentary and vivid evidence of marginalization and assimilation of the people, institutions and culture of the English minority, these declarations are indeed true.
While the anglophone minority went through an inclusive and more tolerant experience with the British, the francophone majority were subjected to a repressive assimilation by the French. English and French are the country’s two official languages. The country has lived what many term a fake ‘union’, post-independence, with the anglophone minority decrying assimilation and marginalization from the francophone-dominated government. The situation finally escalated in 2016 with the government’s crackdown on peaceful protests by Anglophone lawyers and teachers for the reinstatement of English legal and educational institutions and practices. The English-speaking parts of the country also known as Southern Cameroons, have been in turmoil since then. The root causes of the Anglophone Crisis, Ambazonia War or Cameroon Civil War are intricately linked to linguistic and cultural differences stemming from colonization, as well as a fight for freedom. The general bad governance as reflected in the government’s crackdown was only a catalyst. Cameroon has been a time bomb. The blurry journey from the independence of the two hitherto, separate nations to today’s Cameroon, under the watchful eyes of the UN speaks for itself:
- Francophone’ Cameroon became independent in 1960 as “la Republique du Cameroun” or the Republic of Cameroon;
- Anglophone’ Cameroon federated with it in 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon (with a 2-star flag) through a controversial Plebiscite disputed till this date;
- The Federation was unilaterally dissolved in 1972 and the country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon; leading to the disappearance of one of the stars on the flag;
- In 1984, the name was changed to the Republic of Cameroon…
The situation reaffirms the interesting relationship between language, culture and identity. For more on our perspective on the role of language and culture in the ongoing conflict in Cameroon, please read a blog post we wrote on the same subject in September 2018: A Culturo-linguistic Perspective of the Separatist Movement in Cameroon.