Mooted plans for members of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to go to the field (in the coming days, according to some hints) and “mediate” with Anglophone opinion leaders are ill-advised. They would be sheer distraction from the crux of the matter. Their move would be seen by expectant masses as little more than a hurried ploy to earn undeserved outstation allowances out of the 700 million FCFA poured into their purse to give them a jump-start.
The commission must first establish its credibility, make itself trustworthy and be seen to mean business before – if ever – embarking on any mediation mission. It must first show its teeth and muscle and prove it can speak up for Anglophones, knowing the circumstances under which it was created. It is no trifling matter. There is danger in delay!
Outside more substantive issues of discrimination, domination, subjugation and oppression, some of the most vexing issues to Anglophones include the omnipresence of visual and verbal French which makes them feel like a colonized people. If the government is being lauded for redeploying French-speaking and Civil Law judges out of Common Law jurisdictions, and more Anglophone civil administrators have been appointed to Anglophone jurisdictions to make the people feel at home, the commission should advise the Government to go the whole hug by also immediately redeploying or significantly reducing the number of Police, Gendarmerie and Military officers and other Francophone civil service staff who render service to Anglophones exclusively in French and leaves them feeling demoralized with the insulting, “I don’t understand that your patois”.
The commission should also immediately advise the Government to take radical, dramatic action to pull down sign posts and notice boards which, down to the most remote Anglophone villages, show French as a dominant language, that is bring policy and method to the kind of action opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF) member of the National Assembly, Hon. Awudu Mbaya once did in a solo show in Bamenda. These are measures that cannot be taken piecemeal. They must be groundbreaking. They are non-negotiable. It needs no mediation to have them done. They are confidence-building measures. If the commission fails to push the Government to take such radical measures, it will be quickly seen as another white elephant, a ploy to blindfold Anglophones for delay tactics, and it will be roundly rejected. It will thenceforth not receive petitions from aggrieved Anglophones to keep them relevant as the LIVING TOGETHER ombudsman.
Yaounde should not be fooled. The apparent quiet should not encourage anyone to lie on their laurels, hoping the bad blood will dissolve to nowhere or that the poison fumes will dissipate just like that. If the commission has not yet been dismissed by the people, part of the calm may be because of silent expectations that it may deliver something; at least something. The commission must hasten to win hearts and minds by making bold recommendations which the President of the Republic, patron of the commission, must implement immediately to prove his own commitment to see the commission succeed.
In seeking to do mediation before it has made any resounding recommendations at all, the commission is jumping the gun. Its mediation duty, if any, only comes under “any OTHER tasks” (my emphasis) but its primary duties are to guide the Government in taking corrective measures. Section 3 sub 2 of the decree creating the commission, under Chapter II, says of the commission that,
“…it shall be responsible notably for:
– submitting reports and recommendations on issues relating to the protection of bilingualism and multiculturalism to the President of the Republic and the Government;
– monitoring the implementation of constitutional provisions establishing English and French as two official languages of equal status, and especially ensuring their use in all Government services, semi-public bodies as well as State-subsidized body (sic);
– conducting any study or survey and proposing measures likely to strengthen Cameroon’s bilingual and multicultural character;
– preparing and submitting to the President of the Republic draft instruments on bilingualism, multiculturalism and togetherness;
– receiving petitions against discriminations arising from non-compliance with the constitutional provisions on bilingualism, multiculturalism, and reporting thereon to the President of the Republic;
– performing any other tasks assigned to it by the President of the Republic, including mediation.”
“Mediation” as stated in the last point (Point 6) of the Commission’s duties is an “also”, and “also” cannot come before the main points. No please, slow down on this perennial Cameroonian attitude of running after the money even before any work has been done. There is work to do on your desks. Don’t run out just yet!
By the composition of the commission, it has at least some key members who can enable it to hit the road running without wasting time in “conducting any study or survey”. It has two former “prime ministers” or a de jure former prime minister and a former secretary general at the Presidency of the Republic, a de facto prime minister by the job description and realities of the functions of the office.
Without claiming full knowledge of all its members, I can cite Mola Peter Mafany Musonge, former prime minister and head of government for eights year; David Abouem a Choyi, former secretary general at the Presidency of the Republic, who was also governor of the two Anglophone provinces/regions in the 70s and 80s and former minister of Higher Education, one of the top contentious sectors; George Ngwane, author of the proposal for the creation of the commission; and Ntumfor Barrister Nico Halle, Bar General Assembly president. Musonge unquestionably has firsthand mastery of how the Government malfunctioned and failed to respect constitutional provisions of bilingualism. Likewise, as former SG/PR, Abouem a Choyi was even doubly a de facto PM as he held the office from 1984 at the time the post of PM had been scrapped.
So why would the commission waste time on distractions or “studies and surveys” when in the portfolios of its key members, there are handy blueprints? On top of the foregoing, Abouem a Choyi in a January 2017 article (http://www.cameroon-info.net/article/cameroun-opinion-le-probleme-anglophone-pourrait-devenir-le-nouveau-boko-haram-278841.html), gave a masterly, honest diagnosis of the Anglophone problem, tracing its genesis and its manifestations back then. He narrated how former President Ahmadou Ahidjo both sent a fact-finding mission to the field and created an ad hoc committee out of which he (then governor of North West province), Dorothy Njeuma (then vice minister of National Education) and Paul Biya (then prime minister) are surviving members.
Others now of blessed memory, he said were ST Muna, (then speaker of the National Assembly), Ministers Samuel Eboua, Victor Ayissi Mvodo, Samuel Kame, Jean Fochive and the rest were Anglophones: Emmanuel Egbe Tabi, Namata Elangwe, Christian Songwe Bongwa, Joseph Chongwain Awunti, Hon. Thomas Ebongalame and Fon Fusi Yakum Ntaw (then South West governor). Abouem said members were unanimous over the reality of the Anglophone problem. If, as he said, professional obligation of silence prohibits him to divulge the full content of the report from their deliberations of which he was minutes secretary (rapporteur), he and Paul Biya know what they must do to begin solving them if they really mean to.
Also, George Ngwane who, in a June 2016 article (http://www.gngwane.com/2016/06/national-bilingual-commission-cameroon.html) advised the government to create a “National bilingual commission” to address the frustrations of Anglophones, months before the present escalation, is the undisputed godfather of the commission. (Prophet or adviser and instigator? That will be for another day.) But both Ngwane’s standing as author of the blue print and his wealth of understanding of the complexities of the conflict at hand as a major player in the now demonized Consortium, are assets the commission doesn’t have to go searching for before swinging into meaningful action. (Ngwane’s posture as a sellout in the eyes of some Anglophones for standing proudly with the Consortium in their days of glory and tiptoeing away and maintaining a suspicious silence since his comrades were blacklisted, will also be for another day.) That is why I talk of the Musonge/Ngwane Commission. The Musonge/Ngwane/Abouen Commission could even be more appropriate.
The commission is also blessed to have Ntumfor Barrister Nico Halle, a man of many parts who as (former) spokesperson of North West Fons, former president of the Christian Men’s Fellowship of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (one of the aggrieved protagonists) and current president of the Bar General Assembly, can pull some weight, if not a lot, among those groups.
Then take Ama Tutu Muna who as daughter of ST Muna, one of the architects of the now contentious Reunification, brings history and useful experience and character to the commission. If she was criticized for apparent highhandedness during her tenure as minister of Culture, she demonstrated a certain force of character which tells its own story about the plight of Anglophone members of government: she refused to be pushed around as “that little Anglophone girl” in a government wherein Anglophone ministers of good standing find themselves speaking French to Francophone subordinates, including those doing their menial jobs like drivers and domestic workers. Benjamin Itoe is also a former member of government with rich experiences, ready for use by the commission without wasteful diagnosis.
I can’t say much about the head of the National Youth Council, but I may dare to think that Mme Angouing née Ndanga Françoise, being the wife of the minister of Public Service and Administrative Reforms, Michel Ange Angouing, if nothing else, knows a thing or two from informal conversations with her husband, how Anglophones lament their woes in the public service.
There is too much frustration among Anglophones waiting for concrete action, for the commission’s members to dodge and run to the field. By the way, as well as commission members have their unquestionable merits, huge question marks still loom over their credibility in the eyes of angry Anglophones. They must first strive to demonstrate their will to do the people’s will before daring to face a highly suspicious people.
Should the commission take the misstep of going to the field even before it has shown it means business in executing its primary duties, it would be seen to be deceiving the President of the Republic. If President Biya visas their wish to go to the field for so-called mediation, he would be showing to Anglophones, Cameroons in general and the world at large that he meant to whitewash, not sincerely address, the Anglophone problem.
Franklin Sone Bayen is a journalist and political analyst