Garga Haman Adji, a northern politician who once resigned his job as a minister in frustration because he felt President Paul Biya opposed his stance against corruption, would be heading to Anglophone Regions in coming days to try to strike a deal with striking teachers and lawyers there.
Adji said Biya had asked him to undertake the mission in Yaounde on Friday during a ceremony to present New Year wishes to the head of state and he had said yes. It came as the reopening of schools remained in doubt, after the major disruption of last year and a string of failed government efforts, including direct talks, private meetings, threats and allegations of bribes.
The former minister, who is now the leader of a tiny political party called Alliance for Democracy and Development, brings his reputation as “Mr Clean”, which he earned during his anti-corruption campaigns as Minister of Territorial Administration and State Audit from 1990 to 1992, to the assignment. He may also supply the good faith that all parties say has been so lacking in earlier talks and would be perceived as a neutral interlocutor and not as an interested party. But it remains to see how well he would do, being a Francophone.
The task ahead for Adji is, to say the least, daunting. So far, the government has failed to convince teachers to return to schools and lawyers to pick up their robes. The striking professionals have upheld their industrial actions in the New Year, going a step further to call for “ghost towns” in Anglophone regions on Monday. They have not budged from a four-week standoff, in spite of the promise by Biya to set up an “entity” to “go an extra mile” and propose solutions. Earlier this week, the prime ministers held more meetings with different social groups in the North West, as Anglophone elite combed their constituencies, mainly to save the school year. Divisional Officer held a series of what looked like well-coordinated meeting with chiefs and parents representatives. It did not appear the outreach changed much.
Instead, more groups have emerged over the last months, throwing their weight behind lawyers and teachers. It now looks like the crippling protests will expand to other parts of public life in the Anglophone regions. Already, there have been calls to boycott the Youth and National days in February and May, the two most important events on the calendar of national public holidays. In December, Wilfred Tassang, the executive secretary of the Cameroon Teachers Trade Union told us there will be “some major boycotts” this year. The ghost towns declared for Monday, if it works, appears to be the beginning of more trouble.
Biya has undertaken parallel moves to those of the prime minister to try to resolve the problem, including sending private envoys to talk directly with lawyers and teachers. But the decision to put Adji on the task came as a surprise. Just a week ago, the president appeared to endorse ad hoc committees already at work, albeit, with difficulty to continue to broker peace. “All the voices that spoke have been heard,” the president said. “They have, in many cases, raised substantive issues that cannot be overlooked.”
Adji’s task is unclear and how far he can go is even more doubtful. The lawyers have for some time added federalism to their demands, posing a constitutional and political problem that Adji may be unqualified to negotiate. Biya himself did not seem ready to deal with federalism when he addressed the problem for the first time on 31 December, in the speech that inspired hope but promised no immediate action. “We should remain open to constructive ideas, to the exclusion, however, of those that would affect the form of our State,” he said.