afrol News, 21 May - The Cameroonian government had planned for its citizens to show their patriotism and their attachment to unity yesterday, marking the 30th anniversary of the 1972 merger of English- and French-speaking Cameroonian federated states. In stead, the Anglophone capital Buea demonstrated its secessionist desires.
Between 1961 and 20 May 1972, there were two Cameroons - a big French-speaking part and the small south-western English-speaking part - together forming a federation. According to official numbers, 99.97 percent of Cameroonian voters had accepted the 1972 referendum abolishing the federation and creating a unified Cameroon under former President Ahmadou Ahidjo. 20 May - Unity Day - is a more important occasion than Independence Day and is celebrated under the theme "Peace and National Integrity."
- The 30th anniversary of a Unitary State should be celebrated with fanfare and solemnity, according to a government release. That was also what happened yesterday in the (Francophone) capital Yaoundé in presence of President Paul Biya. This is also the official version in the state press on how 20 May was celebrated all over the country.
Reports from Buea - the beautiful capital of German Kamerun and now of the Anglophone South West Province - however indicate that the official celebrations held there were dwarfed by secessionist banners and posters observed all over. Also in Bamenda - capital of the second Anglophone province, North West - several protesters hoisted the old, federal flag yesterday. The visible secessionist propaganda against Cameroonian unity became an embarrassing notion for the government on 20 May.
The outlawed Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) - main organiser of the protests - never has accepted the 1972 referendum, claiming Anglophones were tricked into a unity they soon lost control over. SCNC Chairman Henry Fossung in a statement described the celebrations as a non-event, because "20 May was the day Anglophones became slaves to Francophones."
SCNC calls for the establishment of the Federal Republic of Southern Cameroons or Ambazonia, as the imagined new country also is called. SCNC leader Justice Alobwede Ebony on 30 December 1999 in a radio speech even proclaimed himself President of the non-existent republic and was subsequently arrested along with five aides. Another group, the Southern Cameroun Peoples Organisation (SCAPO), is following the legal channels of international courts to prove the illegitimacy of not having had a referendum of independence in 1961. "Southern Cameroons" this year sued the Nigerian government because Abuja is negotiating "its" borders with Yaoundé.
These groups at first sight may give the impression of hopeless dreamers, but anti-Yaoundé resentments are strong among Anglophone Cameroonians. The Anglophone population might be split on the issue of wanting a separate state, but mostly agree that they have become marginalized within the unified state.
A simple example is the theoretic bilingual structure of Cameroon that never has been implemented in practical terms. In Francophone Cameroon, English is mostly not understood at all. In Buea and Bamenda government offices, French however has become a must. Anglophones for this and other reasons are absent from vital decision-making organs of the country and have a higher unemployment rate.
Outright secession is however not the only option favoured by Anglophones. Many hold a thorough decentralisation would be sufficient to secure the development of their zone. Cameroon, following a French state model, remains highly centralised and most revenues of local resources are drained towards Yaoundé.
The Cameroonian government categorically denies Anglophone Cameroon is marginalized. The secessionist matter remains taboo in the capital and in the state-controlled media. Only brief mention is occasionally made by the generally intimidated independent press.
In such circumstances, the "Southern Cameroons" secessionists however seem to thrive. The groups grew significantly in size and action during the 1990s. While earlier actions were directed from exile, SCNC managed to organise two prohibited demonstrations on 1 October 2001 in Bamenda and Kumbo (North West Province). Harsh attacks by security forces however left three demonstrators dead and several injured.
Yesterday's peaceful and popular protest in Buea and Bamenda on Unity Day further demonstrates the growing popularity of the secessionist idea. Among the widespread leaflets circulated by SCNC yesterday, many called the Buea population to prevent the holding of the parliamentary poll planned for 23 June.
According to the government statement on yesterday's celebrations, "Cameroon has been blessed to be one of the rare countries [in Africa] that has remained attached to peace. It has seen the need to come together in the same Republic, under the same flag for the same destiny. This unity has gone for 30 years now." At this stage, not everyone wants it to last, however.