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Charles Charlo

Cameroon is an Orwellian Animal Farm where the English-speaking minority is brutally subjugated by the Francophones. The Cameroon Anglophone Problem raises pertinent questions about shared governance, participatory democracy, national identity and language policy. But the 35-year-old dictatorship of Biya pays no attention to these questions.


The recent civil disobedience that transpired in the Republic of Cameroon during the latter part of 2016 and spilled over into 2017 has caused a ripple effect in the two English-speaking regions of the nation, namely the Northwest and Southwest. What follows is a reproduction of the declaration made by the consortium of teachers’ trade unions and associations in Cameroon on 26 October 2016 prior to embarking on the strike action:

“We the teachers’ trade unions and associations of Anglophone extraction – SYNES-UB, CATTU, TAC, PEATTU, CEWOTU, BATTUC - and parents, under the banner of UPTA hereby declare an indefinite strike action beginning on Monday 21 November 2016. During this strike, there shall be a definite shut down of all schools, public, private and confessional; from the nursery, primary, secondary to the university under the English sub-system until definite steps are taken by the government to stop the plunder of Anglophone education.” [1]

The teachers were angered by the arrogance of the Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Jacques Fame Ndongo (French-speaking Cameroonian), who had ignored repeated requests from English-speaking teachers to effect changes in the Anglophone educational system.  The teachers had tabled a series of demands, a synopsis of which is re-captured verbatim below:

  • The withdrawal and re-posting of all French-speaking teachers from Anglophone classrooms with the exception of bilingual teachers.
  • The withdrawal of Francophone lecturers and administrators from Anglophone universities of Bamenda and Buea and their colleges of education.
  • The recruitment of competent Anglophones to teach in various departments in colleges and faculties of the University of Bamenda.
  • The withdrawal and re-orientation of all Francophones reading English modern letters in the Higher Teachers’ Training College in Bambili and other schools of education in Cameroon to departments where they have an academic background.
  • The deployment of Anglophone teachers sent to Francophone colleges.
  • The immediate halt to the practice of sending Francophone student teachers to practice on Anglophone students.
  • The immediate stoppage of CAP, PROBATOIRE TECHNIQUE and BACCALAUREAT TECHNIQUE from the English sub-system.
  •  The creation of the Cameroon National Council and Le Conseil National de L’éducation du Cameroun (CNC/CNEC).
  • The institution of a mandatory one-year industrial attachment program for trainees of the Higher Technical Teacher’s Training College Bambili and Kumba. [2]

When government officials refused to respond to the aforementioned grievances, teachers backed by disgruntled unemployed youths, many of them university graduates, engaged in running battles with the military protesting what they called the overbearing influence of French in the country, which has English and French as official languages. The call to strike initiated by English-speaking teachers is the effusion of pent-up emotions stemming from unresolved Anglophone problems. The main grievance of English-speaking teachers who walked out of classes in November 2016 was that Francophone teachers with no smattering of the English language have been sent by the regime of Paul Biya to teach in schools in Anglophone Cameroon, thus creating cultural/linguistic dissonance between teachers and learners. English-speaking teachers asked the government to stop sending teachers who speak only French or Pidgin English to schools in the Northwest and Southwest regions. 

It should be noted that Cameroon’s official bilingualism, which is high-sounding, is flawed in its implementation. The revised constitution of 1996 (Sec.1.1.3) is explicit on the equality of the two languages inherited from French and British colonizers. It stipulates: “The official languages of the country shall be English and French, both having the same status. The State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country. It shall endeavor to promote and protect national languages.”

Interestingly enough, this is a far cry from the reality in Cameroon. Anchimbe (2006: 96) notes that in “promoting its bilingual language education policy, the government has largely disregarded the multilingual makeup of the country. Indigenous languages play only a secondary role…”

Not surprisingly, the majority of official documents disseminated throughout the national territory by government officials are written solely in French. Some ministers deliver speeches only in French, even in English-speaking regions. Thus, the ongoing unrest translates the dystopia with which Anglophone Cameroonians have lived under the callous regime of President Paul Biya from 1982 to date. As Teachers’ Trade Union President, Wilfred Tassang, put it,

"For over 50 years Anglophone students have not been able to have a headway in Cameroon in those disciplines that will bring about development like science and technology because they have refused to train teachers for our schools”. [3]

It should be noted that Tassang has since fled Bamenda to seek refuge in one of the Western embassies in Yaoundé in order to evade arrest by Paul Biya’s gestapo.

English-speaking lawyers who also objected to the imposition of French on English-speaking lawyers, notably in courtrooms by officials who do not understand the spirit and letter of British common law, joined the strike shortly after it started. They refused to go to work until the government had taken steps aimed at putting an end to the use of French in courtrooms in Anglophone regions of Cameroon. They pointed out that the government is sending French-educated civil law judges who do not understand English common law to courts in English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

Mr. Harmony Bogda, a lawyer and one of the organizers of the protest by lawyers, stated that the lawyers wanted all French-speaking judges who cannot speak, write or understand the English language, removed from courts in English-speaking regions of Cameroon. As he put it,” We are gentlemen. We are peaceful and we have never meant any violence. It is now more than a month that we have been on strike after having notified the government about our dissatisfaction with the erosion of the common law”.[4]

It is noteworthy that Cameroon has two legal systems. One is based on French civil law, while the other is based on English common law. The striking lawyers point out the system in Yaoundé is giving the French legal system leeway over the Anglo-Saxon legal system. A case in point is the Supreme Court which since independence in 1960 has had only French-speaking chief justices even though the country is supposed to be bilingual. Consequently, the striking lawyers asked for the creation of a separate section for common law in the nation that would train magistrates and judges.

This, in a nutshell, is the genesis of the Anglophone Question in Cameroon which lies at the bottom of the ongoing strike action masterminded by teachers and lawyers last year. The Anglophone Problem that saw the light of day as linguistic malaise shortly after the reunification of Southern Cameroons and La République du Cameroun has gained momentum and has now reached the proportion of a time bomb that will explode any time soon if nothing is done to defuse it in a timely manner. Anglophones in the country have long complained that they face discrimination of all sorts in hands of their French-speaking compatriots. They have complained repeatedly that they are often excluded from state jobs as a result of limited proficiency in the French language. In typical French repressive modus operandi, Paul Biya’s reaction to the peaceful protest has been brutal and inhumane.

Governmental high-handedness

Without addressing the nation even once on the subject matter, Mr. Biya simply sent thousands of French-speaking soldiers from Yaoundé, the national capital, to the English-speaking regions of Cameroon in combat gear to brutalize protesters. University campuses in Buea and Bamenda were raided. Hundreds of students were arrested, savagely beaten and raped. Uncountable numbers of female students lost their lives after being gang raped by sex starved, illiterate soldiers. Okada boys (motorcycle riders) who took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the wanton killings by the military were rounded up and transported in vans to unknown destinations. Hundreds were taken to the maximum security prison in Yaoundé, infamously called Kondengui, where they are chaffing to date.  According to media reports, an undetermined number of English-speaking Cameroonians have been killed by members of the armed forces who did not refrain from using teargas and live bullets to disperse crowds.

Executive high-handedness was also noticeable in the manner in which leaders of the civil unrest were treated by some members of President Biya’s cabinet, notably the Prime Minister, Mr. Philemon Yang (ironically an Anglophone from Oku in Bui Division). After lengthy deliberations between the prime minister and strike leaders in Ayaba Hotel in Bamenda, Harmony Bogda, spokesperson for the striking lawyers, came out and said that attorneys had the impression that the government was negotiating in bad faith and was not really interested in listening to them. Consequently, Bogda reiterated the fact that the strike would continue. As he put it:

“We are not going to work. He [Yang] has opened up the channel for dialogue with the government in complement with what the parliamentarians need. He has even insisted that we should approach our minister of justice, but since the minister of justice is under him, we are hoping that he will be able to deconstruct the wall the minister has built so that we can have an across-the-board dialogue for the interest of this country.” [5]

Dismayed at the way strike leaders were shabbily treated, Barrister Ben Muna, former president of the Cameroon Bar Association, had this to say:

“Any lawyer is free as a citizen to make a demand, even if it is political. So there can be no excuse to ignore them. I say, it is not because they want secession that they should be vandalized and beaten. The way forward is that the minister of justice should go to Buea. Speak to them. A Cameroonian is a Cameroonian.” [6]

Minister of Communications, Mr. Issa Tchiroma, a Francophone, was not conciliatory in his remarks. He simply blamed the strikers and likened them to outlaws as evident in the following remarks:

“Those who are responsible for such abuses must know that nowhere in the world, disorder has ever led to anything constructive. We, therefore, call on all our compatriots to show proof of reserve, self-control, high sense of responsibility and citizenship in a spirit of dialogue” [7]

It should be noted that at the time of going to press, one of the strike leaders, Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla remains behind bars in Cameroon. Nkongho is a human rights lawyer educated in the United States of America. He is African Bar Association (AFBA) Vice-President for Central Africa. He is also the Fako Lawyers’Association (FAKLA) President, and President of the now outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC). Nkongho is founder and current Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa. He has worked consistently in defense of the rights of citizens of the English-speaking regions in Cameroon.

Arrested in Buea in January 2017, together with his Secretary General, Dr. Fontem Neba, Barrister Nkongho was transferred to Yaoundé by a security hit-squad. In Yaoundé, both men were subjected to long hours of interrogation before being thrown into a detention cell at the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie known by its French acronym as SED.  On June 7, 2017, the Military Tribunal in Yaoundé upheld the decision to deny bail to Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla. He has been charged with eight counts, some of which carry a death penalty sentence in conformity with the 2014 anti-terrorism law in Cameroon.

In retrospect, it should be noted that on December 5, 2016, Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla formed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) in order to address the human rights issues raised in ongoing protests in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Primarily, CACSC was founded to do research and to propose policy alternatives to improve human rights conditions in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. On December 27, 2016, Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla participated in a group dialogue with government officials to discuss the protests, and to request the release of students who had been arrested and detained during the uprising. As no concrete changes were implemented following the meeting, CACSC called for a peaceful civil disobedience where people were asked to stay at home, refrain from protesting in the streets or engaging in any business transactions. They called the strike “Operation Ghost Town”. 

Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla is not alone in being scape-goated by the Biya regime. Another high-profile personality of Anglophone extraction in the radar of the Francophone-led government in Yaoundé is Joseph Wirba, a member of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF). Wirba hails from Bui Division, a hot spot of political militancy in Cameroon. Irked by the reality of Anglophone marginalization under the regime of President Biya, Wirba mounted the podium during a parliamentary session in Yaoundé in December 2016 and denounced the oppression of Anglophones who constitute a numerical minority in Cameroon. He lambasted the Biya regime for turning a blind eye to the brutal mistreatment of unarmed protesters in the Southwest and Northwest regions. Wirba said Francophone administrators sent to English-speaking regions of Cameroon comported themselves like ‘armies of occupation’. He referred to the Francophone-led administration and military as oppressors and described them as part of a “master plan to finish our culture, our people”. [8]

Wirba’s speech was fiery and whipped up strong anti-Francophone sentiments throughout the Anglophone community. The MP’s choice of words was tantamount to a show of defiance and an endorsement of recent calls for a return to the pre-1972 federation by some Anglophones. Wirba was very blunt in his call for an end to tyranny by the Francophone majority in Cameroon. He had recourse to expressions such as “oppression”, “armies of occupation”, “slaves” and “colonial masters” to convey Anglophone aversion for subservience and servitude. As he put it,

“The people of West Cameroon cannot be your slaves. The people of West Cameroon are not. You did not conquer them in war. If this is what you are saying we should live in, I say no. It would not work.” [9]

Wirba’s speech was a response to clashes between protesters and armed security forces in the Southwest and Northwest regions in which several people, including university students died. Many others were either injured or arrested. Wirba was very blunt in his call for secession:

“I was one of the believers in a unified Cameroon and I want to tell this House that what has happened to those children in Buea and Bamenda has convinced me that the people who say we should go in two parts are correct. And, there are more and more of us out there who now believe that it is the ultimate end [10]

At one point during his historic address, Wirba turned to address the Minister of Territorial Administration who was in, as follows: “Mr. Minister, I said here in December that the reign of terror over West Cameroon is bringing down this country and nobody seemed to be listening and then I come here and am told that we cannot talk on behalf of those people?” [11]

Wirba underscored the fact that the uprising in the Southwest and Northwest was a result of years of oppression and the refusal of the central government in Yaoundé to address the Anglophone Question. Citing an expression often attributed to American politician Thomas Jefferson, he said: “When injustice becomes law; resistance becomes a duty.” [12]

Wirba then went on to emphasize the fact that the people of West Cameroon had a duty to resist Francophone oppression. In the summation of his speech, he said: “We the people of West Cameroon will resist you and if you want to take that territory by force, you will kill to the last man before you take it. And, you can start with me.” [13][i]  Wirba’s speech encapsulates the unresolved Anglophone Question.

The Anglophone Question

You may remember Animal Farm, the 1945 classic written by George Orwell. Many in my generation had to read this book in order to take the London-based General Certificate of Education (GCE O/Level) examination. Over the years, I have continued to see the relevance of the message enshrined in this novel even more as I ponder the Cameroon Anglophone Question. The plot of the book is centered on the dissatisfaction of farm animals who felt they were being mistreated by Farmer Jones. Led by the pigs, the animals revolted against their oppressive master. After their victory they decided to run the farm themselves on egalitarian principles. However, the pigs became corrupted by power and a new tyranny was established. The famous line: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (92) still rings true to date.

The socio-political status quo in Cameroon is a parody of Animal Farm. The plot of the novel is a replica of what I have labeled ‘tyranny of the majority in Cameroon’ in this article, an epithet carefully chosen to depict the brutal subjugation of the Anglophone minority by the Francophones who happen to have the numerical advantage in Cameroon. The Cameroon Anglophone Problem manifests itself in the form of complaints from English-speaking Cameroonians about the absence of transparency and accountability in matters relating to language policy, official bilingualism, and appointments in the public service. In sum, the Anglophone Problem raises pertinent questions about shared governance, participatory democracy, national identity, language policy and official bilingualism in the Republic of Cameroon.  

The Anglophone Problem is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. It is real and ubiquitous. The Anglophone Question is the cry of an oppressed people who feel like citizens without a nation. Bate Besong, one of Cameroon’s Anglophone literary virtuosos, has likened English-speaking Cameroonians to citizens without a nation in his docu-drama titled Beasts of no nation (1990). He notes that Anglophone Cameroonians abhor the ultra-centralization of political power in the hands of a rapacious French-speaking oligarchy in Yaoundé where Anglophones with limited proficiency in the French language are made to go through all kinds of odds in the hands of cocky bureaucrats who look down on anyone speaking English.

The Anglophone Problem stems from the supercilious attitude of French-speaking Cameroonians who believe that their Anglophone compatriots are unpatriotic and are, therefore, untrustworthy. This bigotry compounded by conceit has given leeway to the usage of derogatory remarks by French-speaking Cameroonians such as” les Anglophones sont gauches”[14], “c’est des ennemis dans la maison”[15], “ce sont les biafrais[16], les bamenda  ne savent pas s’habiller[17], and so on. 

As the foregoing narrative clearly shows, President Paul Biya’s regime thrives on bigotry, tyranny, abuse of human rights, brutal suppression of free expression, and gerrymandering stratagems. Interestingly, the socio-political tohubohu that has come in the wake of the civil disobedience initiated by teachers and lawyers has its price hidden in plain sight to be paid by ordinary Cameroonians.

Conceptualizing the cost of the civil unrest

The hardest hit is the education sector. Teachers and learners in the English-speaking   regions of Cameroon from kindergarten to university level have lost an entire academic year (2016-2017). In spite of repeated attempts made by the prime minister to persuade teachers and learners to resume classes, the former have remained adamant in their refusal to call off the strike before their grievances have been met. Prime minister’s intention had been to convince education stakeholders in the Anglophone regions to allow pupils go back to school and avoid a blank school year. That did not happen.

Interviewed last year by journalists on Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV), UNESCO’s (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) ambassador to Cameroon, Mr. Paul Ombiono, said that the academic year would be declared blank in Cameroon if sixty percent of the regulatory 900 hours of school time had not been invested in schoolwork. The ambassador further reiterated the fact that if that happened, then all certificates issued in Cameroon for academic year 2016/2017 shall not be recognized anywhere internationally.

It is noteworthy that these predictions have come to pass. School children are now vegetating at home in full glare of bewildered parents who are at a loss about what to do with children stuck in the homestead.  Worse still, this wasted year will never be regained. Time is a scarce commodity the world over. It is like money; once spent it’s gone. In order words, while the rest of the world is forging ahead and making quantum leaps toward academic attainments, Cameroonians are retrogressing on account of the myopia of our leaders. Out of frustration, some parents have asked their children to abandon school altogether and learn a trade for survival.  This attrition has left an indelible mark on the academic landscape of the Republic of Cameroon.

Another consequence of the ongoing civil unrest in Cameroon is brain drain and loss of human capital. Highly qualified Anglophone Cameroonians have fled in droves into the diaspora in order to evade the tyranny of a benighted Francophone majority in Cameroon. This spells doom for nation building. I have the conviction that any nation that dances tango with its intelligentsia is a nation doomed to failure. The economic costs of brain drain to the Cameroonian economy stare us all in the face.

Coupled with brain drain is loss of human capital. Hundreds of able bodied and brilliant Cameroonians have lost their lives on the high seas in an attempt to flee from tyranny of the majority in the homeland. The third price that Cameroonians must pay as a consequence of the ongoing crisis is governmental dysfunction. Come to think of it, what is the track record of Mr. Paul Biya and his Beti nitwits? All there is to it is corruption, lethargy, administrative ineptitude, blind-sidedness, economic doldrums and environmental decay. Sadly enough, that is the buffet meal that has been served to Cameroonians for 35 years of retrogressive governance under President Biya’s dysfunctional regime.


In sum, I feel compelled to remind President Biya and his cohorts in Yaoundé that facts are facts. Facts do not suddenly dissipate simply because someone has opted to not acknowledge their existence. The fact of the matter is that Cameroonians in their generality are hurting badly as a result of President Biya’s inability to pull the country out of doldrums for more than three decades. Anglophone Cameroonians are hurting even more because they feel like citizens without a nation. These are facts.

Mr. Biya needs to get out of his surreal bubble and experience the realities facing the people of Cameroon, the geographical expression he claims to govern. Burying his head in the sand and ignoring the grievances of his compatriots will only aggravate the magnitude of the problem.  The Cameroonian people are sick to the stomach with a president who is too arrogant to address citizens on serious matters concerning the very survival of the nation-state such as the Anglophone Problem. Cameroonians are fed up with an octogenarian who is unwilling to pass on the baton to younger blood.  Cameroonians have had enough of a roi fainéant[18] who perennially spends half the calendar year in European countries chasing shadows. The Cameroonian people can no longer live and let live with a persona who shows outright disregard for the Constitution he swore in 1982 to protect.

In brief, Cameroonians would stop at nothing to get rid of a president who has proven in word and deed that he is a political misfit, an anachronism of sorts.  Mr. Biya ought to be reminded that it does not suffice to be labeled ‘president’.  Bona fide presidents are not tyrants; they are servants of the people that elected them into power. It is incumbent upon this sit-tight president to buckle up and start to perform the duties for which Cameroonians ‘elected’ him as president. Otherwise, exeunt!

* Dr. PETER WUTEH VAKUNTA is Associate Professor at the University of Indianapolis in the United States of America. He’s author of several books on African affairs, intercultural competency development and translation theory and practice.

Works cited

Anchimbe, A. E. 2006. Cameroon English: Authenticity, Ecology and Evolution. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Besong, Bate.  1990. Beasts of No Nation (a docu-drama). Limbe: Nooremac Press.

Cameroon, Government. 1996. Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon. Yaoundé: Government printer.

Orwell, George. 1945. Animal Farm. Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press.


[1] “All Schools in Anglophone Cameroon to shut down.” Online at (Accessed November 7, 2016).

[2] “All Schools in Anglophone Cameroon to shut down.” Online at (Accessed November 7, 2016).

[3] “Cameroon teachers, lawyers strike in battle for English.” Online at html (Accessed June 22, 2017).

[4] “Lawyers in Cameroon are fighting the Justice System. Online at

[5] “Lawyers, Teachers in Cameroon Strike for More English in Anglophone Regions.” Online at (Accessed November 16, 2016).

[6] Lawyers, Teachers in Cameroon Strike for More English in Anglophone Regions.” Online at (Accessed November 16, 2016).

[7] Lawyers, Teachers in Cameroon Strike for More English in Anglophone Regions.” Online at (Accessed November 16, 2016).

[8] “The People of West Cameroon Cannot be Your Slaves.”  Online at (Accessed December14, 2016)

[9] The People of West Cameroon Cannot be Your Slaves.”  Online at (Accessed December14, 2016)

[10] The People of West Cameroon Cannot be Your Slaves.”  Online at (Accessed December14, 2016

[11] The People of West Cameroon Cannot be Your Slaves.”  Online at (Accessed December 14, 2016)

[12] The People of West Cameroon Cannot be Your Slaves.”  Online at (Accessed December 14, 2016)

[13] The People of West Cameroon Cannot be Your Slaves.”  Online at (Accessed December 14, 2016)

[14] Anglophones are clumsy

[15] They are enemies in the house.

[16] They are from Biafra

[17] Folks from Bamenda dress shabbily

[18] Lazy king