Battle lines have been drawn between the French-speaking Cameroonians and the English-speaking Cameroonians for some time now but things have certainly gotten more serious.
Cameroon was once divided between France and Britain which left them with what should be two dominant colonial languages. Over the years, however, French became the dominant colonial language being used in four-fifths of the central African country.
English-speaking Cameroonians do not appreciate the dominance of French in a country whose constitution declares that both English and French are official languages with “the same status.” And that “The State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country.”
The English-speaking regions of Cameroon have therefore been protesting the dominance of French and this week the protest reached new levels as residents of the Anglophone cities stayed home from work and school as part of a strike.
This is after a rough time at the end of 2016 which saw mass protests in November and December leaving a lot of people dead, missing and an undisclosed number locked up for protesting. The English-speaking Cameroonians account for only 20% of Cameroon’s 23 million people.
Paul Biya, Cameroon’s President, does not help with alleviating the feelings of exclusivity considering the President who has ruled since 1982, rarely makes statements in English.
There is also the fact that a good number of official documents, public exams, and news from the state broadcaster are delivered in French.
When you add the fact that residents of English-speaking regions claim to be excluded from civil service jobs and complain that judges and administrators sent to manage court systems in their region often come without any knowledge of the English language, their frustration becomes easier to understand.
President Paul Biya had addressed the problem in his year-end address to the nation where he voiced out that he was open to talks with the protesters but would strongly resist threats to the country’s unity. Unfortunately, the speech had been given completely in French.