World, Africa

Arrests will not deter Cameroon's separatism: Experts

Demonstrators in English-speaking Cameroon regions are calling for independence from Central African state

12.01.2018
Arrests will not deter Cameroon's separatism: Experts FILE PHOTO

By Felix Nkambeh Tih and Hassan Isilow

ANKARA

The arrest of the leader of Cameroon's separatist movement will not dissuade protesters from continuing to seek their demands, experts have told Anadolu Agency.

At least 10 Cameroonian separatists, including their leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, were arrested in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, the activists said in a statement last week.

Tabe was arrested on allegations he was involved in underground meetings against the Republic of Cameroon.

In December 2017 Nigerian authorities had said they did not support the separatist movement in anglophone Cameroon.

“His arrest to a large extent will not quell the protests but will instead increase its momentum,” said Faith Mabera, a researcher at the Institute of Global Dialogue in South Africa’s capital Pretoria.

She said it is yet to be seen if regional blocs such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) would send mediators to Cameroon because the crisis is now spilling into the region.

Cameroon has been marred with protests for over a year, with residents in English-speaking regions saying they have been marginalized for decades by the central government and the French-speaking majority. 

 'Colonial legacy'

The protesters are calling for a return to federalism or independence of English-speaking Cameroon, which the demonstrators refer to as the "Republic of Ambazonia".

English-speakers frequently complain of exclusion from top civil service jobs and the use of French in government institutions, although the constitution gives both languages official status.

“Cameroon needs to urgently start a national dialogue to address grievances of its citizens,” political analyst Shadrack Gutto said.

Gutto, the former director of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa, also suggested that Cameroon should return to a federal state system which was dissolved in 1972.

Ebelle Onana, a lecturer at the University of Yaounde said: "Cameroon is now held hostage by an explosive colonial legacy.”

"I do not like to use the term English-speaking, which I find discriminating. This crisis is the result of the colonial legacy,’’ he said.

The academic adds: “The first thing to consider is history, because there was no such thing as Anglophones and Francophones in any village in Cameroon. This conflict comes from elsewhere."


Excessive force

French Cameroon gained its independence from France in 1960. In 1961, a federal state was set up when British Cameroon gained its independence from Great Britain and joined French Cameroon.

The federal state was however dissolved in favor of a unitary state in 1972.

Since then anglophones say they are being marginalized and forced to use French in public institutions and schools and also use the French-Cameroon legal system in courts.

‘‘In my view, the situation in Cameroon is very volatile and might continue to get worse. The state will not continue to operate normally unless it divides the country or reorganizes itself through dialogue,” Gutto said.

Rights groups have accused the country’s security forces of arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters and using excessive force in the past months to disperse gatherings in the North West and South West Regions, leading to several injuries and civilian deaths.

The violence has left dozens of protesters dead and over 100 injured on Oct. 1 after tens of thousands of people began a peaceful march to proclaim the independence of the region, which the protesters call the Republic of Ambazonia, according to the International Crisis Group (IGC).

‘‘The Cameroonian president must go beyond superficial measures and take responsibility in order to find political solutions to the crisis,” IGC said in a report last October.

At least 40,000 have fled and crossed into neighboring Nigeria, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Meanwhile, dozens of military and police officers have also been killed since the protests started in Oct. 2016.

This triggered President Paul Biya to break his silence for the first time in several months.

He said: ‘‘Cameroon is the victim of repeated attacks by a band of terrorists claiming to be part a secessionist movement.’’

‘‘Confronted by these acts of aggression, I wish to reassure the people of Cameroon that all steps are being taken to incapacitate these criminals and to make sure that peace and security are safeguarded throughout the national territory,” he added.

The government had also shut down the internet in the two English-speaking regions in the Central African state.

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