There is a situation in the South-West and North-West regions of Cameroon. These, the only English-speaking regions in the country, account for about 19 percent of the population.
In November 2016, lawyers and teachers took to the streets to protest against perceived marginalisation and the use of French in courts and schools in the English-speaking regions of the country.
The government responded by sending soldiers and military police to suppress the protests. The operatives ended up beating people up, and detaining many others; including students who later joined the protests. Videos posted by activists online show security forces kicking lawyers to the ground and photographs show how students were packed into trucks and dumped in detention centres.
Following the government response, protesters began to demand outright break up, or at least a return to a Federal system of government- the kind they had until 1972, when Cameroon abolished the Federal system and moved to a unitary form of government with English and French as the official languages.
This report, traces the history of the dichotomy in Cameroon, profiles the main players from the English speaking region, and explores how this may affect Nigeria.
Nigeria shares its longest border with Cameroon, with nine major trade corridors, and this border presents a great opportunity for Nigerian business, and a great risk.
Trade between Nigeria and Cameroon is complex, and intricate. Trade “policies” vary from one border location to another and can also be impacted by the seasons, the goods involved, and also the people involved. Cameroon’s imports from Nigeria have an average statutory duty of 19.1% including a VAT of 17.5% and other hidden taxes. Nigerian imports from Cameroon on the other hand are faced with an 11% statutory duty inclusive of 5% VAT. All these are done because both countries apply MFM duties on their imports which are also in line with the common external tariff (CET) of the regional bodies of both countries; CEMAC and ECOWAS.
Furthermore, the different trade and price regulation policies adopted by both countries have led to a wide price variation for goods and services, thereby creating an opportunity for arbitrage. An example is the fuel subsidy on the Nigerian side which has led to the re-export of petroleum products from Nigeria to Cameroon where it is more expensive. Another example was in 2012 when the Nigerian government placed a total ban on rice imports. Traders in Cameroon took advantage by re-exporting rice which was cheaper in Cameroon to Nigeria where it would fetch more money.
If the agitation in Southern Cameroon continues and keeps being suppressed as it has always been, there are a few factors that point to a potential escalation.
First, the more moderate men that started the struggle are leaving the scene and younger, less patient men, less willing to accept discrimination, may take over the struggle.
Second, as Paul Biya ages and Cameroon moves towards a phase of succession, there is bound to be political instability after forty years of relative stability under Biya. This, coupled with economic stagnation indicated by GDP growth rates that have been negative twice in 2015 and still hovers around 0.3%, mean that the government needs to handle the crisis through engagement and dialogue as opposed to the current high-handed approach.
A crisis in Anglophone Cameroon will mean that much of the trade that goes on between the two countries will be negatively affected. Nigerians constitute the largest foreign community in Cameroon and most stay in the Anglophone regions which are culturally and linguistically contiguous with South Eastern and South South Nigeria. Such a crisis will see many of these Nigerians returning home. Cameroonians will also move across the border to avoid the crisis, creating a refugee situation akin to that which Nigerians created in Northern Cameroon due to the Boko Haram insurgency.
Such a crisis will give impetus to agitators within Nigeria such as IPOB to become even more vocal in their demands for self-determination even as the Nigerian government continues to take against them a stance similar to the Cameroonian government’s against the Anglophone regions.
Then there is Bakassi. There are many in Nigeria who do not agree with the judgement that gave the region to Cameroon without consulting the people there. If the new agitation by the Anglophone Cameroonians precipitates open violence with the rest of the country, it is likely that Bakassi question will arise again and this time, the people will be asked which country they will prefer to be a part of, and with all indications, they will choose to be part of Nigeria.
Finally, as it has been shown repeatedly in Africa, violence and crisis spills across borders very rapidly especially where people on both sides of the border are culturally and linguistically indistinguishable. The closest example to home for both countries will be the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency which started from Nigeria but rapidly spread into Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic.
Download the report (20 pages)
Gérer La Diversité – Le Problème en Afrique
L’histoire post-coloniale de l’Afrique est pleine d’histoires semblables à celle du Cameroun Anglophone qui lutte pour son droit à l’autodétermination face à une grande majorité, en l’occurrence le Cameroun francophone. Au Nigeria par exemple, il en a résulté la guerre de Biafra, des agitations et des revendications d’indépendance qui persistent dans la région. Plus à l’est en République Centrafricaine, la guerre civile actuelle entre musulmans et chrétiens est une autre résultante de la même problématique sous-jacente.
Les États Africains n’ont pas su bien gérer leur diversité. Ils choisissent soit d’employer la violence et des actes barbares pour supprimer les minorités ou refusent de laisser place à des discussions comme dans le cas du Cameroun, ces discussions qui pourtant, pourraient aboutir à une coexistence paisible où les différences seraient transformées en force.