President Paul Biya shamed his detractors who claim he does not speak and has never spoken English. He spoke English, off-the-cuff, impromptu during the TV panel discussion moderated by billionaire Mo Ibrahim in Paris last week to say he was “completely embarrassed” because he came thinking he had to read a speech. He was rather faced with a barrage of questions and comments from the Sudanese Africa governance watchman, Mo Ibrahim and his panel of civil society actors whom Ibrahim said have no qualms equating themselves with heads of state when they came to their platforms. His organisation bearing his name, awards lifetime grants in billions to former African heads of state who quit power honourably.
Well, the wider public has witnessed Biya read speeches in English; often on visits to the Anglophone regions. They have not witnessed him speak it off script, though presidential correspondents can testify he often exchanges opening courtesies in English with English speaking dignitaries before returning to his French language comfort zone during business discussions. But that says its own about how much esteem – little or none – Biya has for his other official language, should he be able to speak but so disregards it.
Besides Biya’s curious use of English, the Mo Ibrahim show incident revealed or confirmed a little more about the man: he is more at ease reading than speaking; he was ill-prepared for the show (was not duly briefed) which tells how he governs or how the people around him relate with him. I haven’t seen a bigger public embarrassment for the president, in a video now gone viral for that matter. Mo Ibrahim’s tone speaking to Biya, also spoke volumes and left little to any guessing that Biya is not one of the presidents he respects the most.
In Biya’s place, I would sack my Director of Cabinet and/or whoever else was supposed to have done the necessary due diligence and advised him about whether to go on the show, its character, its format and its tone.
The Mo Ibrahim show was an utter disaster for Biya!
Failed Assimilation, Specific Status
Biya said on the Mo Ibrahim show that THEY – you know who that refers to – had the option of integrating Anglophones into the dominant Francophone system but… (his explanation is irrelevant now). What matters is that THEIR – you know who that refers to – integration (assimilation intentions, actually) did not find fertile ground. It failed. The two cubes of sugar became stones in the basin of water. Seeing how much they have tried to do; seeing how much they are still trying to do; seeing how much they still scheme to do to subjugate Anglophones even amidst this deadlocked crisis, even amidst pipedream expectations from recommendations of the half-baked “Major National Dialogue”, you understand non-assimilation was not an act of magnanimity like Biya wanted to make it sound, but a monumental failure of their diabolic plans. Not as if we did not know. Bit thanks for putting it on record, Mr Biya!
Having thus failed, he claims they now plan to grant a “specific status” to Anglophones. He said “statut specifique”, not “statut special”. Linguists and legal experts may explain to us whether “special” and specific” imply the same thing.
Now, at face value, that looked like letting the cat out of the bag, implying viewers were privileged to watch the leak of Yaounde’s plans drop off the horse’s own mouth. Take note that did not come out of a speech, nor was Biya aware he was going to be asked that question, though political communication experts can guess he should have expected it. Take note that when Biya read his five-minute speech, breaching the two-minute window awarded him exceptionally by Mo Ibrahim, he nowhere mentioned the Special Status, This meaning he had not planned to say it. What should be understood in this is that, had Ibrahim not asked Biya about the Ambazonia crisis (which he erroneously called “crisis in the North”), it is improbable Biya would have spoken about it.
So, can there be any real hope that any kind of Special Status is around the corner for Anglophones? What genuine good can it bring and what remedial impact can it have in a crisis whose guns (main reason for Yaounde’s desperation) speaks “restoration of independence”, no longer federation, in whichever form. And looking at the proposals from the “Anglophone Working Group”, simply their inclusion of a Yaounde representative in the administrative set up betrays an unacceptable concession which will not be less harmful than Yaounde’s Federal Inspector who curtailed the powers of the elected Prime Minister of autonomous federated state of West Cameroon (1961-1972) and the obstructive appointed Governors, SDOs and DOs under the present unitary state.
Sen. Nkeze avoids “Anglophone”
It has to be seen whose politics Senator Emilia Nkeze is playing. When she and her fellow SDF Senators walked out of the Senate at its November opening to protest Yaounde’s silence over recommendations of MND, she spoke to the press, mentioning the Ambazonia crisis but avoiding pronouncing even the word “Anglophone” like a plague. Obviously choosing her words carefully, she only talked about “crisis in the North West and South West regions”. That is some kind of political correctness and it tells its story. It hints on who the speaker means to be understood and appreciated. (Let me point out that I believe the fashionable coinage of Noso or NOSO for Nord Ouest-Sud Ouest or North West-South West, whatever its origin, serves the malicious purpose of limiting frequent use of “Anglophone, Southern Cameroon or Ambazonia” which show the bonding of the two regions, and rather leaves them looking like separate, distinct entities for divide and rule.) Watch Nkeze going… going… SDF watch her!
Nkeze is selling after the market. She is out of tune. She is three-four years behind even regime barons who, failing in their denial, have since come to terms with the reality of the Anglophone/Ambazonia problem and loosed their tongue to call a spade a spade. Even Francophone Biya has made more concessions than Anglophone Nkeze. Under pressure and forced to face reality, regime hardliners are drifting forward, however reluctantly and grudgingly, while SDF’s Emilia Nkeze, its Vice speaker in the Senate, is sliding backward. She won’t say “Anglophone”!
That interview was not a slip of the tongue. I have been watching and listening to Nkeze. She is basking in some newfound insider excitement. Ahead of MND, she gave a spirited interview to CRTV’s Cameroon Calling in which she tongue-lashed foreign powers and “colonial masters” for undermining Cameron’s sovereignty through the Ambazonia conflict. She sang the pre-Amba popular song about the shame of Cameroonians allowing themselves to be divided by European cultures. I hope she listened to Dr Simon Munzu explain on Cameroon Calling last Sunday that the different specificities are nothing to do with anyone romancing with European ways, but rather facing the reality of different ways of conducting the business of conducting public affairs, which is applicable all over Africa, not just in Cameroon.
Within hours of Biya telling the world in English that THEY have shamefully surrendered to the reality that Anglophones are different and deserve their space to do their things their way, SDF’s Emilia Nkeze could not as much as describe herself as an “Anglophone”. Watch her going!
Yaounde looks set to declare another “secession” after the February 1984 abolition of “United Republic of Cameroon” to just “Republic of Cameroon”, its pre-reunification appellation. When voters in eight Francophone regions vote on February 9, 2020 to choose members of the National Assembly and Municipal Councillors to the exclusion of voters in the two Anglophone regions, won’t that be a tacit recognition that Ambazonia is no longer a part of Cameroon and that Yaounde would have come to terms with it?
The Constitutional Council will certainly proclaim some results of the National Assembly elections sometime in March 2020. (Municipal elections results are released at local level.) Whether there will be voting in all 58 divisions of the ten regions seems to be of little concern to those in charge.
How can there be voting in the Anglophone regions. With most of the non-urban centres now abandoned, how shall candidates compile required documents at local administrative offices? How shall candidates submit their “complete” files to local ELECAM services when most ELECAM offices have been abandoned for months and years now? How many voters have registered to vote and how many can register beginning January 2020 even if they mean to bear the risk to? And, as these are local elections with as many constituencies as administrative divisions and special constituencies – not the single national constituency as in the presidential election when votes anywhere counted everywhere – how shall voters cast their ballots in safety? Even in the Senatorial elections of 2018 with just one polling station per division, the Lebialem Electoral College (municipal councillors) had to be airlifted to Dschang to cast ballots. How many voters from dispersed polling stations shall be airlifted to vote in safety?
There can be no denying that many militant Anglophones would have wished to run for local office were the war not raging. They would have wanted to take seats in Parliament and deny the ruling CPDM the overwhelming dominance it enjoys in decision-making, especially at these crucial times when the final bend in the destination of former Kamerun has to be decided through dialogue/negotiation and legislation. But who can also deny the combatants the right to deny access to zones under their control, lest they are infiltrated by forces that would kill them?
Hong Kong “rubbergun” revolution like Amba
“Special Status” protesters in Hong Kong (a former British dependent territory of China that reverted to partial Chinese rule in 1997) demanding veritable autonomy from China are now using catapults, bows and arrows and petrol bombs to discomfort security forces. This is reminiscent of the use of a giant catapult by Anglophone protesters in 2016 against security forces. But that may also signal a resort by protesters in Hong Kong to use of arms the way the Cameroon Anglophone protests snowballed into an armed conflict. Bottom-line is, the peaceful Hong Kong protests (identical with the peaceful Cameroon Anglophone protests) are turning violent as hitherto peaceful protesters are brutalised by security forces. They are now returning fire for fire like in the Ambazonia conflict.
This turn of events followed the death on November 8 of a 22-year-old student following his fall from a car park elevation during police quelling of a demonstration. Both this first death and the plight of the first wounded protester days earlier, made big international headlines. So, in sum, in five months of Hong Kong protests, similar to Cameroon Anglophones’, there have only been two injuries, just one fatal. Even China, viewed in certain quarters as ruthlessly brutal and considered supportive of Yaounde’s brutality on Anglophone protesters, is “pampering” and respecting its Hong Kong protesters. Cameroon Anglophone protesters, reportedly fell in hundreds during initial peaceful protests, must be jealous of their Hong Kong comrades.
Hong Kong like West Cameroon
My article in this column of The Sun No. 0546 of Monday, June 24, 2019
It is curious how the world recognises former British Dependent Territory of Hong Kong’s difference from China but not that of former British Southern Cameroon (Ambazonia) from Cameroon. In contradiction of the argument that everyone on both sides of the River Mungo is Cameroonian or that certain ethnic groups are the same people simply broken apart by the Mungo and should not feel different along colonial-imposed lines (English and French), here we have Hong Kong, fully ethnic Chinese, only different than the rest of China because of their “Anglo-saxon” values of democracy, freedoms, market economy, and the “free world” is fully in support of their divide line and their martyred striving to protect their acquired values! Yes, it is about the values. Values are the new tribe. Everywhere around the world, peoples have bonded around the values they uphold.
Reading the Hong Kong story sounds like reading EML Endeley’s warning to British Southern Cameroonians ahead of the 1961 plebiscite that mixing acquired values would be disastrous. Endeley was a “Sawa man” with Sawa cousins across the Mungo. He was proudly “Sawa” but he knew that nations are not born of ethnicity; they are based on values and belief systems.
Any effort towards nation-building should be guided by the resolve to embrace good values or failing which, better allow those who uphold them to practice them apart in their protected space like Hong Kong. Else, blame not those who opt out; blame those who push them out by trying to embrace them too close in order to suffocate them.