We are a group of concerned Cameroonians — Canadian citizens and residents living in the GTA, and Hamilton in particular. We are very troubled by the prevailing human right abuses by the government of Cameroon on the population of the north and southwest regions of that country. Cameroon has English and French as the two official languages, just like Canada, except that there are eight French regions and two English regions. So with the English region being a minority, the French want to assimilate them and make French the only official language.
The Northwest and Southwest regions make up the English part, which are suffering from marginalization, discrimination, neglect, arbitrary arrests, and assimilation of their Anglo-Saxon system of education and judiciary, from the French-dominated government, since independence in 1961.
Prior to independence, Cameroon was colonized and administered as two separate territories by Britain and France under the UN with the mandate to lead them to independence. The French sector acceded to independence in 1960 as La République du Cameroon. The British sector or Southern Cameroon at independence had the option to either join Nigeria or their ‘brothers’ to the east — Cameroun. They elected to join their ‘brothers’ as equal partners in a federation.
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Unfortunately, over the years, all the relics of the federation have been wiped out and the identity of the people of Southern Cameroon diluted by the regime of President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 34 years. In the wake of these atrocities, neglect and assimilation, the people of Southern Cameroon are today demanding a return to the status quo ante or a separation from the rest of Cameroun, through peaceful protests.
The response of the Cameroon government has been arbitrary arrests, summary trials in a military tribunal, militarization of the area, killing of unarmed civilians, a shutdown of the Internet in the region and gross human rights abuse. This has forced many southern Cameroonians to flee and seek refugee status elsewhere. Some of us ran from the oppression and ended up here in Hamilton. The situation has gotten worse within the last four months and Southern Cameroonians in the diaspora are concerned as we have family there and some have disappeared, and some we cannot reach or render assistance to. Children are not going to school and businesses have been closed. In fact, life has come to a standstill in this part of the country. Banks in this area cannot function because there is no Internet connection, but if you travel to the French speaking part of Cameroon, they have all these amenities.
Cameroonians living in Canada wish the ruling government in Cameroon could copy only a fraction of the way the government of Canada governs its people, especially with the current Prime Minister Philemon Yang being the former Cameroonian consulate general in Ottawa. We know Canada is a big advocate in the respect of human rights and equality so we urge the government to look into the situation there. Canada and Cameroon signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) in March 2014, which Canada has ratified. We think with their involvement with Cameroon already, Canada can intervene before the people of southern Cameroon are wiped out of the map.
Cameroonians in the diaspora have held protest marches all over the world in front of French and British Embassies, United Nations offices, contacted human rights groups and followed up with local MPs to bring awareness to the issue before it turns into a genocide. Cameroonians in Hamilton and Ontario held a peaceful protest and met with a United Nations representative in Ottawa last month to plead our case. We do not want to go back sometime to Cameroon and not be able to meet anyone.
We believe, creating awareness of the situation will bring pressure to bear on the Cameroonian government in Yaoundé to stop the abuses and engage in meaningful dialogue with the leaders of Southern Cameroon.
Gabsia Nyoungkam writes on behalf of Cameroonians in Hamilton