The earliest of the strike actions in Cameroon was that of the Common Law lawyers, which has been ongoing for about two months now since October 2016. They clearly articulated their concerns, after noting that previous cries have been apparently ignored by the government. The striking lawyers raised an issue about the absence of an English translation of Organisation pour l’Harmonisation en Afrique du Droit des Affaires (OHADA) with the possibility of applying it according to Common Law practice; they complained about the gradual eradication of Common Law courses from the curricula of the University of Buea and the University of Bamenda, as well as the deployment of Civil Law practitioners in English speaking areas of the country where Common Law is practiced. These issues and others, they said, downplay the legal heritage of the English speaking parts of Cameroon, and lead to the gradual blotting out of the Common Law legal system. The lawyers argued that Common Law is more equitable, flexible and justiciable. Accordingly, they called for a redress of the situation, indicating the need for the amendment of the law organizing the Bar in order to create Common Law schools.
Then came the sit-in strike of the All Anglophone Teacher Trade Unions. The notification of the union of October 26, 2016, recalled previous efforts that had been made without satisfactory results. It highlighted requests that had been previously tabled in the face of many problems, which requests had included the following: the redeployment of Anglophone teachers sent to Francophone schools; the immediate halt of the practice of sending Francophone student-teachers to train on Anglophone students; the immediate stoppage of CAP, Probatoire Technique and Baccalaureat Technique (which are compulsory in technical education) from the English sub-system of education – in effect an all Anglo-Saxon system where the General Certificate of Education Examination is mandatory; a significant increase in funding for the GCE Board; the creation of the Cameroon National Education Council and Le Conseil National de l’Education du Cameroon (CNEC); and the institution of a mandatory one year industrial attachment programme for trainees of the Higher Technical Teacher Training Colleges of Bambili and Kumba. According to the Union, these requests have not been given any response for years. Therefore, they declared an indefinite sit-in strike which did begin Monday November 21, 2016.
The appearance of the pidgin news caster and comedian popularly known as Mancho BBC on the Commercial Avenue in the city of Bamenda had every semblance of an independent activity, even if it coincided with the beginning of the teachers’ sit-in strike November 21, 2016. Note must be taken that the call for support from the lawyers and teachers did not include any public demonstrations from any person(s) or group(s). Nonetheless, in a popular style, Mancho BBC aired his own grievances. He spoke about a general under-development in the English speaking part of Cameroon, manifested in several aspects, and indicated the marginalization of the area by the government. He bemoaned the fact that after the digging of trenches for water pipes or other purposes in Bamenda, the trenches were not being refilled. He reported having approached one of the companies concerned, and the said company had indicated that the matter be addressed to the Government Delegate of the City. Judging from the response and following he got, his grief was representative of the problem faced by the masses in Bamenda, and as would later be learnt from other demonstrations, by many people in the English speaking part of the country and even out of the country.
This demonstration in Commercial Avenue, appears to have triggered a multiplier effect in other areas of Bamenda, the capital city of the North West Region of Cameroon. Apprehensiveness was possibly raised by the use of tear gas and the sound of gun shots from the forces of Law and Order. As can be the case in any uncoordinated demonstration, people on the watch for such opportunities stepped in with the destruction of property. The intervention of the forces of Law and Order to curb the violence generated a vicious cycle, culminating in the raising of public awareness following the use of fire arms at the residence of John Fru Ndi, the chairman of the leading opposition party in Cameroon, the Social Democratic Front. This was followed by the press release and march by the Senators, Parliamentarians, Mayors and other members of the party together with the chairman. There have been reports of injuries and even death in Bamenda. Uneasy calm returned to Bamenda until the protest of November 30, 2016 following the detention of a youth who had been by Mancho BBC during his protest. The youth in question was released, following intense pressure from protesting masses.
The situation in the University of Buea as from Monday November 28 does not even seem to be a chapter in the same book. The grievances of the students were school-related, the semblance with the Bamenda situation being the harmful spiral of violence. But the difference is that, according to reports, all the students wanted was to be listened to by Dr Nalova Lyonga, the Vice Chancellor of the University: they were requesting the payment of the fifty thousand francs (50,000frs) CFA from the presidential grant to all students who were due; the abrogation of the penalty of ten thousand francs (10,000frs) CFA for late registration, the uplifting of the ban on the University of Buea Students Union (UBSU), which was banned by the same Vice Chancellor back in 2012 among other things. It is highly probable that many of the students who were later rounded up were only present on campus following the release of a timetable for continuous assessment. This would mean that ordinarily in the context of the sit-in strike, and possibly for security reasons too, they would have been away from campus.
VC Lyonga invited the riot police, a habit she is reported by some online news sites to have had during her term of office. The pictures and videos of events in Buea have called for attention nationally and internationally: police brutality on students, beating of some, asking others to lie down and roll in mud, breaking into students’ hostels, arbitrary arrests, reported rape and reported torture. There are likewise reports of destruction of University property by students. Sources say students are now asking for the resignation of the Vice Chancellor of Buea, who was due retirement since February of 2016, as one of the conditions for resuming school, in addition to the release of all the students who are reported to have been detained.
All these events put together, especially the incidents in Buea, raised eyebrows internationally. Cameroonians abroad, largely from the English speaking part, have carried out demonstrations in London, Brussels, Washington DC and other places. They say they stand in solidarity with the lawyers and teachers; they decry the treatment given to students of the University of Buea in their crises; the inefficiency of government structures, underdevelopment especially in the English speaking part of the country etc. The situation also caught the attention of the United States of America, and led to the press statement of John Kirby, Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs, November 28, 2016. The U.S.A. Department of State raised concerns over human rights and fundamental freedoms, and called on the Cameroonian government to exercise restraint.
In the midst of all these, there has been growing awareness of the lack of respect by government for the bi-educational, bi-jural, and bi-lingual heritages of the country, following the independence of La Republique du Cameroun in 1960 and British Southern Cameroons in 1961. It is this disrespect that some have called the Anglophone Problem in Cameroon, an idea that has been rejected by some members of government, even some from English extraction. Well, the Prime Minister, who hails from the North West Region of Cameroon, acknowledge it. Contrary to what some have been writing on social media, the problem is not Anglophones against Francophones, but a supposed failure of government to neatly integrate the two sub-systems, without ruining any. The complaints from the union of some teachers’ unions in the French speaking part of the country on November 17, 2016 attests to this. This failed integration has allowed many to think that a federated state can be a proper solution, while others think complete separation would do much good.
The multiple meetings that have been held show that the powers that should hear the worries, have heard. Notable among such is the coming of Prime Minister Philemon Yang to Bamenda for dialogue. The boycotts of some meetings by some complaining parties still indicates dissatisfaction. That the strike is still going on means the presented problems are yet to be attended to. And given that the union of lawyers and that of teachers that are on strike are now giving multiple conditions with an all-or-nothing bait, the outcome is pretty uncertain.
And this meanwhile anyone could take advantage of the current situation, given that there is no evidence of a common leadership for the strike action. More room is being made for this by the circulation of anonymous messages on social media, or communiqués that call for action, but lack any form of authentication.
From the foregone, opinions that tend to band the current events in Cameroon and beyond as one concerted effort do not seem to enjoy any foundation on the real situations. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that all the actions could tend to move towards convergence. However close the intended outcomes may be, the methods being used by the various stake holders are clearly diverse, as the use of violence either by demonstrators or by forces of Law and Order have been condemned by both the union of lawyers and that of teachers, who had initially and independently given official notifications of their strike actions.
By Nsaikila W. E. Njong